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Anatomy of a technical architect

drawing of human skeleton

A technical architect is a little like a sound engineer at a mixing desk in a studio with a number of sliders on it, trying to find the optimum mix.

The technical architect’s role is pivotal in any large organisation operating at the scale of DWP. Their job is to bring together the demands of the business and IT teams and find a technical solution that satisfies the various different stakeholder requirements.

They work with complex business architecture, at almost unrivalled scale, integrating a mix of old and very new technologies.

What a technical architect does

The range of people who called themselves architects these days is endless - from building architects, software architects, data and ‘dba' architects, infrastructure architects, security architects, data architects, information architects, to marine and naval architects.

In essence a technology architect’s role is to clarify and focus everyone involved in a technology project on the critical questions, namely:

  • why the project is important to the stakeholders
  • what needs to be done
  • how to tackle it and what tools, components and standards might be used

The technical architect’s job is to shepherd a project from concept, through definition, design, delivery and deployment.

Why architects are vital

There is always an architecture, even if it’s not documented or explicit. It could be a simple, shared understanding of the project. In the best agile teams, that’s exactly how it should be, with the minimum necessary documentation to get the job done.

In a large and complex environment, architects support the teams. Without architects, the teams would risk:

  • working ‘in silos’ in different directions, to different assumptions
  • losing sight of the goals
  • missing out on wider opportunities to consolidate, replicate, simplify or transform the business
  • failing to keep up with emerging technologies
  • making arbitrary choices in standards and technology, resulting in poor or inconsistent overall citizen experience, and unnecessary complexity

Technical architecture is a means to an end

Architecture is not a method or methodology that leads to an elegant result. It’s a means to a business end, not an end in itself. It’s about bringing a structure, and creating a collective stakeholder understanding of a particular set of problems. The technical architect does the hard part helping people make the right decision, and then be able to justify it.

The best architecture solutions are not always elegant, or perfect. They’re simply the solutions that most people can agree on, and can stick to.

A master of listening and communication

Effective communication between the business and IT is an important tool in the architect’s armoury. Understanding the audience and stakeholders is the first step towards good collaboration.

In a large organisation, it’s critical to work with the right stakeholders. That means understanding the scope of the problem, the specific problems within it and stakeholder concerns.

The architect may not have the luxury of making a rational choice of stakeholders. There may be strategic stakeholders who have broad visionary goals, and delivery managers, who wish to contain scope. Each has a different viewpoint, goals and concerns.

The architect must mediate between these conflicting groups, and suggest alternative plans. This includes identifying the relevant principles used, their scores and weightings. Then the architect must make sure that the stakeholders have some sort of consensus on the rationale for the decision made.

Managing conflicting objectives

The architect must drive the decision-making process, by creating a rational (not emotional or political) basis for decisions. This must be based on an evaluation of alternatives against agreed principles. The architect builds models to present a set of solution alternatives so the stakeholders understand the options and the tradeoffs they need to make. These include:

  • tactical versus strategic solutions
  • benefit realisation in the short and long-term
  • orientation on the fast, cheap, good triangle
  • how scalable and flexible the solution is
  • business change versus technology change
  • whether to re-use, buy or build bespoke

So the architect is a a diplomat, a strategist a first-class communicator and a negotiator. It's a tough but rewarding role.

Visit our LinkedIn careers page to find out more about being a technical architect at DWP, and to see the technical architect roles we're recruiting for.

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