Solutions architecture learning guide

The need to understand solutions architecture is increasing as 'solutions architect' becomes a popular IT title in more and more organizations.

Talk of solutions architecture is increasing, and the role of the solutions architect is coming to the fore. As one might guess from the name, solutions architects are similar to the familiar roles of enterprise and SOA architects. However, solutions architecture is more about specific projects or initiatives than about ensuring interoperability between projects. The solutions architect leverages all the tools and design principles delivered by enterprise and SOA architects to make each solution a success within the larger framework.

Solutions architecture today

According to Mike Rosen, chief scientist at Wilton Consulting Group, the definition for solutions architecture is still emerging, but it generally refers to the process and art of developing solutions that fit within the enterprise architecture in terms of systems portfolios, information architecture, integration requirements and so on.

The solutions architect's focus is narrow enough to manage fine-grained tactical initiatives but broad enough to require multiple approaches. The skills needed to be a successful solutions architect vary from project to project and from organization to organization but usually require being able to solve a given problem with a given set of resources in a given amount of time.

The difference between enterprise architecture and solutions architecture

To Graham Berrisford, who has served as both an enterprise architect and a solutions architect, enterprise architecture and solutions architecture are primarily differentiated by the scope of their focus. While enterprise architects take a strategic approach to optimizing the interplay between a large number of systems or applications within an enterprise portfolio, solutions architects take a deep, tactical approach to a narrower band of applications.

Rob Daigneau, the principal solutions architect at ArcSage LLC, defines the role of the solutions architect as an extension of the software architect's role. Taking an Agile view, Daigneau feels all developers should have some architectural training and input, but usually one or two senior architects take on most of the architectural guidance responsibilities. These individuals are identified as the solutions architects and enterprise architects.

Solutions architecture best practices

Rosen says, "The solutions architect really has to understand the principle of 'good enough is good enough.'" Like all architects, solutions architects rely on certain fundamental principles for a successful project, including the separation of concerns, abstraction and the ability to create conceptual models and formal specifications.

But, solutions architects must also understand how company systems, applications and requirements work together. They must find the most appropriate industry patterns and standards for each solution. They need a background in the subject matter and a wealth of experience applicable to the project at hand. Most important, solutions architects must solve problems on deadline and on budget.

This was first published in September 2012

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