The Guide to Practical and Pragmatic IT Architecture Design

What is IT Architecture & Types of Architectures

What is IT Architecture

We talk a lot about IT architectures, but a lot of times people are confused how to interpret what exactly an IT architecture is. According to Wikipedia "Architecture is the art or practice of designing and constructing buildings". IT market analyst Gartner defines IT architecture as "a series of principles, guidelines or rules used by an enterprise to direct the process of acquiring, building, modifying and interfacing IT resources throughout the enterprise.” 

And both are right. In one way IT architecture is the process of designing and constructing IT solutions guided by principles and guidelines. But still the definition lacks what should exactly include a well defined architecture deliverable. 

IT architecture should cover and facilitate the following:
  • Is a high-level diagram of the IT components in an application, covering the software and hardware design,
  • Shows the fundamentals of how custom-built solution(s) or vendors´ product(s) are designed and built to integrate with existing systems and meet specific requirements,
  • Is integrated in the software development methodology to understand and design IT software and hardware specifications and models in line with standards, guidelines and specifications, 
  • Leverages Best Practices to encourage the use of (for example "open") technology standards, global technology interoperability and existing IT platforms (integration, data etc),
  • Provides a consistent, coherent and universal way to show and discuss the design and delivery of solution´s IT capabilities.

Types of IT Architectures

The other thing that confuses people is there are different types of IT architectures. The fact is that like when talking about designing a building as a parallel example, there are different levels of architecture such as the overall architecture of the building, floor plans for each floor, and the interior designs. Same applies to IT architecture and we can distinguish three types of IT Architectures:
  • Enterprise Architecture (EA)
  • Solution Architecture (SA)
  • Technology Architecture (also referred generally to as IT Architecture)
IT Architecture Types


We will explain each of these types here below:

Enterprise Architecture

Enterprise architecture (EA) is the blueprint of the whole company and defines the architecture of the complete company. It includes all applications and IT systems that are used within the company and by different companies' departments including all applications (core and satellite), integration platforms (e.g. Enterprise Service Bus, API mgt), web, portal and mobile apps, data analytical tooling, data warehouse and data lake, operational and development toolings (e.g. DevOps tooling, monitoring, backup, archiving etc.), security, and collaborative applications (e.g. email, chat, file systems) etc. The EA blueprint shows all IT system in a logical map.

The objective of an enterprise architecture is to focus on making IT work for the whole company and business and fit the companies' and business' goals. It looks at the business strategy and find IT solutions to make it work including innovation and digital enablement. Therefore, an enterprise architect needs to be able to understand both IT and business at a high level.

The intent of EA blueprint is to improve transversal consistency, coherence and efficiency across the whole company while meeting its current and future business and IT objectives. 

Enterprise architecture is important to clarify how business and IT align and how they support, enable and facilitate each other. In this article about Enterprise architecture, we discuss more about this specific IT Business alignment.  

In a company there is one overall corporate enterprise architecture view that all applications are embedded in. However, each and every application has its own solution and technology architecture. So, each application uses enterprise architecture standards and technologies, but designs and builds its own solution and technology architecture to serve its application purpose. The following diagram depicts that situation how companies have their architectures structured:
Enterprise architecture

In the following sections we explain the concepts of solution, technology and IT architectures in more detail. 

Solution Architecture

Solution Architecture describes what functionalities a specific system needs to perform. It is a detailed description of the functionalities needed to meet business objectives, the logic that governs them, and the information associated with them. It is also described as the functional architecture of an application or system.

A Solution Architecture typically applies to a single project or project release and facilitates the translation of requirements into a solution vision, high-level business and/or IT system specifications. This blueprint receives direction from the Enterprise Architecture team in terms of corporate business, information and technical guidance. Difference between a solution and enterprise architecture and is that its context is to a specific solution as opposed to an entire company or enterprise. 

Technology Architecture

Technology Architecture is the detailed description of the various technology components needed to meet business objectives, the logic that governs them, and the data associated with them. In summary, IT architecture shows the software and hardware architecture and is less relevant to overall business and company strategy, but more focused on how the specific solution can be served by this platform. 

Technology architects focus on how components are designed and built to help you find robust and cost-effective software and hardware solutions. They act as the gateway between the software development team and the business to make sure that business needs are met.

IT Architecture = Solution + Technical Architecture

So, IT Architecture is the combination of a high level functional solution architecture together with the alignment of the Technology Architecture. 
IT Architecture alignment
It contains the main functional components, but also the channels, architectural components, databases and infrastructure. It is the view that aligns business and technology as it shows the overall solution blueprint. Once you want to put a double click on each of the architectures, you get a more detailed solution or technical architecture.

This post does not go all in depth in all architecture layers, and you can read in more depth the following articles about enterprise architecture and IT framework, but here I show you a diagram that shows the full spectrum of all architectures:

Architecture Types





Is Digital Architecture an application or enterprise architecture?

A question I am asked often is whether digital architecture is an application or enterprise architecture topic. The truth is that digital architecture is an enabling platform that integrates multiple applications (back-ends, web portal, mobile, analytics etc.) and optimizes its interaction. Therefore, digital architecture is an enterprise architecture pattern and not an application architecture per se. We explain more about digital architecture in the post "what is digital architecture and how to design".

But that does not yet respond to who is responsible for designing a digital architecture. In most companies, digital transformation is a project or even a department on its own. Its responsibility is to define digital strategy, roadmap and enable a digital platform. Therefore, design of digital architecture is typically led by digital transformation as such, in collaboration with enterprise architecture to ensure it is aligned to the corporate IT standards and vision.




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