The Value of an IT Architect – Why Focusing on Outcomes

By Gunnar Menzel, FBCS, Chief Technology Officer North & Central Europe & Master Architect at Capgemini, BCS Fellow


Compared to the role of an architect in civil engineering the role of an architect in the IT sector is still relatively new. Designing buildings can be traced back to 10,000 BC, with the first architect being recognised as such back in ancient Greek. Until the 18th century, when the architect’s trade was more standardised via governing bodies, anyone could call themselves an architect. Today, this is not dissimilar for us in the IT sector – an IT architect is a relatively new role (with IT architects only really emerging in the 1970/80) and today it lacks a clear qualifications or legal safeguards, which causes several issues and challenges. Next to the fact that the title is not being governed, it can be difficult for a client to understand why an IT architect is needed in the first place.

Our Challenge

Challenged with having to justify our involvement we tend to turn to explaining what architecture is, what a methodology is and how we design solutions. In order to sound convincing, we also tend to over emphasise how complex our role is, and how hard it is to execute the role of an architect. Whilst that might be true the result of explaining this to someone who does not understand the role and value of an IT architect is that the person is none the wiser afterwards. Even worse, detailing the way we execute our role might even confirm to the person asking the question that there is no real value of having an IT architect involved.

The Carpenter’s Example

Instead of showcasing our tools focus on the value and impact you provide as an architect. Let’s use an example : imagine you go to a carpenter and say, “Build me a beautiful wardrobe that also acts as a desk and a bed”. The carpenter will never respond with explain you the different types of tools they might use. What training were needed to handle the equipment and explaining the pros and cons of a cobalt based drill bit to that with titanium coating. Instead, the carpenter will show the product – the outcome. How they designed, developed and delivered/build the beautiful wardrobe is irrelevant to you as customer.

And this ideally should be the same for us as IT architects. Try to focus on the outcome you will be creating and not the tools, methods, steps, views, diagrams you are using to create the outcome(s). Of course, given that architects mostly focus on reducing complexity, risk and cost it can be hard to explain the impact in absolute terms. However, if you are not clear what impact you will have our client / stakeholders will not have any either.

How To Establish The Impact I Make?

First and foremost an IT architect’s main role is to drive change that creates business opportunity through technology innovation. IT architects shape and translate business and IT strategy needs into realizable, sustainable technology solutions, whilst taking end-to-end solution delivery ownership from idea to benefits delivery. Without an IT architect most solutions will end in being more expensive to operate, delivery will be late and customer satisfaction will be poorer. So, the main value of an IT architect is to reduce cost, risk and increase quality.

There are several papers that details the value of IT enterprise architecture. One example is a article issued in the Journal of Systemics Cybernetics and Informatics in March 2018 by Kurek et al. The research paper provided empirical indications for the effects of enterprise architecture on 3076 IT projects in 28 organizations. It summarised that it had seen an increase of 14,5% of successful projects, and a decrease of 26,2% of failed projects when the organization has an enterprise architecture. Other studies focusing in on enterprise architecture are finding similar results (see [2-6]), albeit some seem to be contradictory.

There are also studies focusing on solution architecture. One example was created by an Capgemini employee in 2010 [7] – Dr. Raymond Slot compared a small selection of projects with an IT architect and without and found that with an IT architect the project had a 19% decrease in budget overrun, 40% decrease in time overrun and 10% increase in results delivered.

Summary We all have experienced the situation where we as IT architects have to answer the question “what value do you provide?”. To answer we tend to turn to explaining the tools, methods, and artefacts we use to execute our role. This can cause further confusion and most of the time will not address the value question. Instead, focus on the outcomes; outline what benefits or outcomes you, as an IT architect will create.

Thanks for reading!

References [1] Kurek et al. 2018; [2] Foorthuis et al. 2010; [3] Hazen et al. 2017; [4] Lange et al. 2012; [5] Schmidt and Buxmann 2011; [6] Niemi et al. 2019; [7] Slot et al. 2010; [8] Capgemini, EA As Success Factor In Digital Transformation 2020;