The unprecedented times have forced business needs to evolve with a digital-first approach. How can solution architects help with this transition?  What are the skills that make a solution architect relevant in the present times? Read the blog as I answer your questions.

I have an analogy where I compare solution architects to lifeguards. The role of a solution architect is all about solving problems by orchestrating digital components to address an organization’s needs. It is all about planning strategies that are concerned with reducing costs, eliminating redundancies in technology and processes, and preparing for the impact of change through appropriate mitigation and management. While pandemic has changed everything but I see it has created a new level playing field for everyone and as we have an opportunity to start from a clean slate and redefine roles in the ecosystem of cloud computing, and broadening the scope of solution architecture and enterprise architecture.

The majority of the population wince at the mention of “new normal”, but the pandemic has imposed drastic adjustments to our lives by changing our perceptions and altering our priorities.  With this, we can witness an acceleration of digital adoption, and it has opened various avenues that are yet to be explored.

Businesses have considerably expanded the threat landscape by sending employees home which has amplified the need to challenge and redefine all business processes and policies. For instance, due to on-site working restrictions, many organizations have turned to the WFH system. This means that unprotected networks have access to corporate data without proper vigilance. This calls for action to protect the data through Zero Trust Design. 

Additionally, the narrative in the cloud computing industry has changed from ‘build this huge architecture’ to ‘build a sustainable architecture that proves to be efficient’. It’s much more than just about Agile development with a series of Minimum Viable Product (MVP). Now, it is a continuous process where Agile is not even enough anymore. You must be capable of constantly shifting to a state of “Being Agile in using Agile Development”.  

While one cannot foresee the future, they can create logical analogies that are based on the current situation and our first responses. In my opinion, solution architects can take these observations into account while dealing with the current uncertainties – 

a.) You need to move past the conventional approaches for solution development (Cloud Migration : Discover -> Access -> POC / POA -> Pilot -> Build or solution Build : Planning -> Requirement Analysis -> Design -> Build -> Test -> Go Live)

This, unfortunately, wouldn’t work in a modern, post-COVID setting. Organizations need to follow the “Act fast, Fail Fast, Learn Fast” approach.

b.) Don’t be bound with earlier experience and limitations – Keep in mind that business priorities have changed, and every past policy and assumption can be challenged now.

c.) Get involved in the development of new capabilities that cooperate with the new ways of working. At the very least, this would help to bless the design and ensure organizations are not creating a technical debt of significance.

d.) Do not focus on multiple long-term goals. If there is one thing that the pandemic has taught us, it is to make plans while keeping the scope of adaptability to uncertainties wide open.

As a result of the pandemic, businesses have changed. Customer expectations and buying patterns have changed. This calls for a thorough review of business capabilities which result due to a lot of reasons – suspension of processes, adaptation to environmental changes, replacement or extension due to a merger/acquisition, expansion due to significant adoptions, modification attributed to improved business resilience, and introduction of new products and services. Thus, solution architects need to look at new realities and change their way of working. There is a need for solution architects to unlearn old skills and embrace new skills.

By unlearning the old skills, I don’t mean abandoning the fundamentals of being a solution architect. My experience has taught me that there are 6 guiding principles that an ideal solution architect should swear by:

  1. You should always be a technical leader in the team.
  2. You should possess a thorough understanding of software development.
  3. You should possess requisite technological and problem-solving expertise.
  4. You should try to minimize risk through negotiations, collaboration, and communication skills.
  5. You should aim to maximize returns through the cloud, financial engineering.
  6. You should possess a strong set of soft skills.

Let’s dissect these skills to understand them better.

1. Leadership Skills

A solution architect is essentially the leadership figure that moulds business solutions to fit into the enterprise architecture. This requires an individual to bring technical leadership to the table which can be achieved only by staying abreast with all the innovations in the field of cloud computing and solution architecture, and spending resources to upskill and reskill yourself.

2. Technical Knowledge

With the changing ecosystems, technology decisions take a front seat and an architect’s capabilities play a big role in promoting the long-term strength and scalability of the organizations. To be relevant in the post-COVID world, Solution Architects need to upskill themselves to acquire knowledge in the following area

a.) Adaptive integration scenarios that involve a new B2B Partnership

b.) Site Resilient Architecture & Engineering 

c.) Distributed Cloud 

d.) Creativity and re-imagine business with the Internet of Behaviours (IoB), Human Augmentation, and 5G

e.) Zero Trust Architecture: Virtual operations have exposed every organization’s functions to potential threats. This is where the knowledge of Zero Trust Architecture helps a solution architect.

f.) Distributed Digital Identity: – Familiarity with identity standards such as Self Sovereign, DLT, Biometrics, facial recognition, and cryptography.

g.) Architecture patterns like Digital Decoupling, Event-Driven Architecture, Observability

h.) Architecture patterns beyond Data acquisition (Hot path, Cold path), Data Curation, Master Data Management, Data governance, BI & Insights for elevating data estate conversation to “Data as Asset” 

i.) Responsible AI

j.) Hyper Automation

k.) Low Code/No Code Platforms instead of developing prototypes and multiple POC. This involves using Intelligent Process Automation, which works great if the future form of the target operating model is not clear. 

l.) Knowledge of Event Storming and how to apply it along with the traditional Design Thinking

m.) An eye on the technological transformations and upcoming trends.

n.) Responsible Enterprise

3. Understanding of Software Development Lifecycle 

A Solution Architect needs to possess the know-how to achieve Rapid Solution Delivery at Scale. This can be possible by an increasing reliance on adaptive reuse, encouraging innovations in lightweight architecture, moving beyond simple Design Thinking, and expanding knowledge about DevOps/DevSecOps and AIOps.

4. Negotiations & Financial Engineering

Going forward Solution Architects would be seen as owner of the overall business case for the solution in context and that effectively would require Solution Architect to develop expertise in the area of Financial Engineering. 

The catch to successfully evolve here is to learn How to build a Business Case. Solution architects need to think beyond technological solutions and learn how to build a business case keeping the entire operations of the organization in mind. While TCO and ROI are measurable metrics, solution architects need to think beyond numbers and focus on the joint business case with Technology vendors and Cloud providers. Another thing that helps is to think beyond the App-level business case and start thinking Portfolio-Level. I am, personally, for a shift to quicker, short-termed ROI of 2 years, instead of the usual 5-year ROI.

When you are a Solution architecture leader, you are expected to collaborate with various teams and get to a middle ground – this is called the art of negotiation. Every individual’s success depends on creating value for the organisation through gaining resources, solving a problem or coordinating mergers, acquisitions, joint ventures, alliances, management buy outs, share issues and financial restructuring. A solution architect needs to know how to get out of misunderstandings that kill potential deals and leave stifled opportunities.

5. Functional skills for Cloud Computing

In the past, the solution architect role was seen as a bridge between Infra Architect, Network Architect, Security Architect, Storage Architect, Application Architect, and Database Architect. With Public Cloud adoption, some of the roles have been shifting or becoming irrelevant with a new persona of Cloud Solution Architect. Going forward, Solution Architects needs to transition to Cloud Solution Architect persona and kind of become jack of all for the cloud technologies (with knowledge of L300+ and network of subject matter experts with L400+ skills) and Risk Management expert for Cloud solutions from a perspective of scalability, resiliency, sustainability and cost optimization.

5. Soft Skills

Along with the technical skills, a solution architect needs to demonstrate the following soft skills to lead the technical vision of the enterprise – 

a.) Creativity

b.) Collaboration

c.) Adaptability

d.) Decision making

e.) High EQ

f.) Problem Solving

g.) Communication

Take a look at my blog to get a perspective on how these soft skills can help an ideal solution architect to achieve the peak of digital innovation in the current times. 

The continuing digital revolution, accelerated by the pandemic, will introduce new challenges along with a major requirement of new capabilities. The above-mentioned guiding principles help prove how solution architects can face the challenges of the present times and help enterprises with their digital journey. By adhering to these guiding principles, architects can assure that they are focused on assisting with both near and long-term growth.