How to be a better architect – what should I do? Part 2/2

 

 

This follows part 1 of this article available here.  I recommend reading them in order!

In part 2 , I look at what initial steps you can make in your career journey from “technical solution designer” to “IT architect”.

 

Phase 1 – Looking at what you already do in another way

How you already work can probably be formally defined as a technology agnostic framework using architecture terminology.  Unless you’ve become familiar with architecture terminology you may not appreciate the structure and rigour around what you hopefully do already. 

For example, I didn’t realise my design methodology used waterfall principles for years after I’d started using it. And , once I’d read ISO42010, I started to see my architecture reports contained views using viewpoints.  

Despite this “what you’re doing already is a good start” phase, a lot of people feel the need to replace how they work today with a formally defined enterprise architecture framework as that will improve how they work.

The reality probably is that how you work today is probably the best way for you to be working….for now, you just haven’t formally defined how you work before.

Once how you work is defined and documented – even just in diagrams created in Visio, you can then look at the gaps, weak points and areas to optimise.  For example, is most of your effort spent in the solution design phase but little in mapping design decisions to a specific business requirement – or do you skip the business requirements analysis phase altogether?

Finally, once you have how you work documented in IT architect terminology, you can describe how you work to another IT architect in a universal language you both understand.

 

Phase 1 Resources

Everyone has their own preferred books and articles that help them, but these are mine relevant to this phase:

12 Essential Skills for Software Architects
http://www.amazon.co.uk/12-Essential-Skills-Software-Architects/dp/0321717295

Software Systems Architecture: Working With Stakeholders Using Viewpoints and Perspectives
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Software-Systems-Architecture-Stakeholders-Perspectives/dp/032171833X/

Design, Build, Run: Applied Practices and Principles for Production Ready Software Development
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Design-Build-Run-Principles-Development/dp/0470257636/

 

 

Phase 2 – Changing the purpose of your solutions

 

The second phase I’m going to discuss is one of the hardest I went through in my transition to becoming an IT architect – respecting the fact that very few outside of the IT department have any interest in anything technical. 

The best quote that helps me remember this was someone telling me “The only person who cares about downtime is the person who pays the electricity bill.”  The only thing anyone outside of IT cares about is business outcomes and business metrics – orders per hour, £revenue per hour, website registrations per day, profitability, costs etc. 

You may start to say you have no idea how much money your system generates, how much operating your system costs, but that doesn’t mean you can’t talk about the impact your system has on business outcomes.

By the way, I’m not suggesting you change what your solutions do – just how you describe them to new audiences.

 

Elevator with the CEO question

If you’re in the elevator with the CEO for 20 seconds and he asks you what you do say

a) I’m designing some software to connect our web and ordering systems

b) I’m one of your IT architects

c) I help us use technology to sell more clothing

The answer jumps out at us when we read the three options, but did the same answer flow naturally out of your mind?  Of course, you shouldn’t give the same answer to everyone in your organisation, but you can start to see the change in thinking when you describe what you do to people outside of IT.

The same approach needs to be taken when we consider what the goals of our solutions are.  Could you describe anything you’ve done recently as:

  • enabling existing product digitalisation by integrating with social media
  • increasing IT’s agility by using cloud services
  • reducing operating costs through consolidation or standardisation

Those three statements might sound non-specific to you, but they’re messages that your boss and your boss’s boss will be glad to hear as they will help everyone to understand how you’re helping the business grow, not just keeping the same old wheels turning.

 

Phase 2 Resources

Finally, I’m going to share two useful books that helped me transition this phase, I hope they’re useful to you too:

Real Business of IT: How CIOs Create and Communicate Value
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Real-Business-Create-Communicate-Gartner/dp/1422147614

Financial Intelligence for IT Professionals: What You Really Need to Know About the Numbers
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Financial-Intelligence-Professionals-Really-Numbers-ebook/dp/B0026L7BLM/

 

 

 

 

How to be a better architect – what should I do? Part 1 of 2

 

Recently, I’ve been asked by several people about how to develop their IT architect skills further as they transition from being a “technical consultant” or “technical solution designer” into more formal IT architect roles.  Hopefully my own views in this article will help people when looking for that guidance.

 

It’s different to learning another technology or just another skill

With technical subjects, it’s mostly the case that you can read a book containing facts, start using those facts, and how you then use them is either right or wrong.  Although there’s some leeway for misinterpretation, ultimately technical things work or they don’t.

With IT architect skills, you need to take an education and experienced based approach to achieving what you want to achieve but you’ll do it your own way that suits the environment you’re in.  One person’s perfect way can be the most un-suitable for another etc.  That’s why when you take senior IT architect certifications, you have interview boards rather than exams as the best way of working is sometimes contextual.

 

That annoying gap between “technical designer” and “enterprise architect”

When you start searching for IT architect resources, like me you’ll probably start to realise most books, presentations, blog posts and guidance drop into one of two buckets:

  • Technical solution designer – someone who makes a combination of technology components meet functional and non-functional requirements yet has no need to explain the solution’s benefit in non-technical terms to non-technical leadership.  At this stage of solution design, business metrics such as revenue, costs, margins and profitability are rarely discussed.

 

  • Enterprise architect – someone who helps a business achieve its organisational goals through the use of technology and business processes – and who’s audience is typically the organisation or business unit’s executive leadership.  At this stage of solution design, justification for any solution is all about business metrics and business outcomes.

 

image

      By the way, if you now realise you work in an organisation where “enterprise architects” design only technical solutions that involve systems of systems or large numbers of servers I recommend reading the Open Group’s definitions available here.  It’ll help you understand for example how using Twitter Direct Messages to sell your company’s services is a big consideration for some EA’s right now. 

      Education for Technical Solution Designers

      As technical solution designers we were used to learning how infrastructure components, software code or software products are implemented successfully.  Typically, a solution couldn’t be considered complete until all of its components were working and users got the results they expected.

      The education resources for this area are mainly vendor training courses and academic guidance based on software engineering.  As we can all probably testify, for this stage of career development, these resources are fairly effective.

       

      Education for Enterprise Architects

      With our other example enterprise architects, you’ll start to find mention of formal enterprise architecture frameworks.  These allow an organisation to manage its business transformation and have names such as TOGAF, DoDAF and PEAF. 

      These are usually only seen in large organisations or projects wanting to implement an end-to-end framework for many architects that need to co-ordinate their activities.  They need something that has been validated time and time again and is suitable to manage critical business changes in large organisations.  However, they can struggle to scale downwards to small teams traditionally focussed on deploying technology solutions.  Even worse, they can be overwhelming for individuals looking for their first formal architect training.

       

      So what fills that gap?

      I like to think of the gap we’ve just identified as being where infrastructure, software, information and business architects find their feet.  There’s no reason why people doing these roles cannot have successful and senior careers.  The internet would make us think we all need to become enterprise architects or we’ve failed – not true.  It’s true that enterprise architects routinely have conversations with senior business leaders but when a data centre needs re-locating only an experienced and senior infrastructure architect will get the project completed.

      Let’s looks at version 2 of the figure shown above:

      image

       

      I’ve used IASA’s definitions here, other groups have slightly different names for slightly different roles.  Either way, you can hopefully see something Google searches won’t easily show you! 

      The question you probably have now is what kind of architect am I?  Well my advice is don’t worry about that for now.  Your “technical solution designer” skills right now are your strongest tools in your armoury for good reasons

       

      Part Two – Adding more tools to your armoury. 

      Part two of this article will look at how you can start adding additional tools, skills and knowledge to your existing way of working to start demonstrating your value in new ways to new audiences.

      It is available here.

      Oracle pricing in Azure – who’s the target market?

       

      Overnight, Microsoft released the General Availability pricing for Oracle software provided inside Windows Azure virtual machines.  For those not familiar with Oracle’s licensing rules, traditionally its been infamous for being very un-friendly in virtual and cloud environments.  As a result, I imagine the number of Oracle deployments in virtual let alone cloud worlds has been significantly lower than its competitors, most significantly Microsoft.

       

      Initial public pricing

      The table below is a quick summary of the current Microsoft SQL Server and Oracle Database Server software licensing costs when you buy your licensing from within the Windows Azure:

       

      Msft Std

      Oracle Std

      Msft Ent

      Oracle Ent

      Cores

             

      1

      304

      209

      1037

      559

      2

      346

      417

      1080

      1113

      4

      431

      607

      1165

      2226

       

       

      A few initial observations and thoughts

      When I compared Microsoft SQL Server’s pricing next to Oracle’s,  a few things jumped out at me straight away:

      • Oracle are keen to get into the small footprint database server market – being roughly 30-50% cheaper than SQL Server for a 1 core VM is an interesting move
      • Microsoft are keen to get larger VMs running SQL Server enterprise edition in Azure – the price differences are almost minimal between the 1 and 4 core VM options
      • Even in the cloud, the cost of Oracle’s enterprise edition has never been an issue for its target market.  What I mean by that is that application systems that use the enterprise edition of Oracle’s database server software are so large the cost of the database server software becomes less of a competitive component.

      Unless you’re a weatherman, a cloud will remain just a cloud

      In the last few years we must have heard every way there is to describe an IT cloud: private, public, federated, hybrid, government, open source etc. etc..  Although there are several cloud delivery models (public, private, hybrid) and several cloud service models (SaaS, PaaS and IaaS), ultimately clouds are a concept, a style, or perhaps even a design pattern. 

       

      Public + On-premises = Hybrid

      Right now, we’re starting to see the vendors and analysts are planning for most of us to be using public cloud services in the near future.  We’ve heard that story for a few years but what’s changed is that we are about to start transparently integrating them with what we do in our own data centres, and think nothing of it

      A Gartner survey for example has recently found that 70% of the companies asked will be adopting a hybrid cloud strategy by 2015, while both Oracle and Microsoft are making their on-premises products seamlessly integrate with public cloud services.  In fact, this week Microsoft have put their foot down really hard on the “hybrid cloud” pedal. (“New Hybrid Cloud Capabilities and Enhancements” from http://blogs.technet.com/b/dataplatforminsider/archive/2013/10/17/sql-server-2014-ctp-2-now-available.aspx)

       

      Did we ever realise we now have private clouds?

      We heard a lot about private clouds, especially how they could extend the value of a virtualisation platform to provide self-service and on-demand application services etc.  However, this is one example where I think the technology has overtaken the marketing messaging.  Increasingly, today’s enterprise virtualisation infrastructures are very close to what were described as private clouds only a year ago ago, we’ve just never fully adopted the term. 

       

      What will we use hybrid clouds for?

      What I see happening though is the borderlines between on-premises and public cloud services blurring for most people in the next 18 months. 

      My expectation is it’s going to become normal for most to have some disaster recovery, offline storage, complex logic computation or burst capabilities for on-premises systems using public IaaS or PaaS services.  (I’ve ignored the fact that most people are already using SaaS today, even if its just for email etc.)

      I think it’ll also become normal to have our development platforms for our mission critical on-premises systems on a low cost public cloud  platform.  The two platforms might be used in different parts of our infrastructures or application lifecycles, but I suspect the names private and public cloud will feel too technical and disappear from general use.  We may replace them with the terms internal and external but they’ll all be part of our hybrid cloud. (http://www.gartner.com/it-glossary/hybrid-cloud-computing)

       

      My guess is we’ll even drop the word hybrid and just have “a cloud”

      I suspect we’ll never adopt the word hybrid en-masse.  As always, we’ll use the right tool for each task regardless of whether it comes from our public or private clouds, but in the same way we use virtual and physical services today without thinking twice about how they’re delivered, the same will happen with cloud services.  We’ll just have “a cloud”, our cloud.

       

      Quick links to what’s new in SQL Server 2014

      Below is a set of links or updates from Microsoft’s “what’s new” web pages for SQL Server 2014.

       

      Features per Edition

      http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc645993(v=sql.120).aspx

       

      Database Engine

      http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/bb510411(v=sql.120).aspx

       

      Replication

      “SQL Server 2014 has not introduced significant new features to SQL Server replication.”
      “SQL Server 2014 does not support replication to or from SQL Server 2005 or SQL Server Compact.”

       

      Analysis Services

      http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/bb522628(v=sql.120).aspx

       

      Integration Services

      “SQL Server 2014 Integration Services is unchanged from the previous release.”

       

      Reporting Services

      “SQL Server 2014 Reporting Services is unchanged from the previous release.”

      Learning by reading things I don’t understand

      In the age of Twitter, LinkedIn groups, Google Plus and the rest, I still read blogs as RSS feeds in Outlook.  I only read about 20 so that’s why it might be easier for me to use Outlook than newer methods.

       

      I really was reading the same blogs as I was last year

      A lot of my RSS subscriptions are to blogs by some leading technical authors in my technical space.  They’re still very valid and relevant to what I do but I realised a few months ago they bought too much comfort and not enough long term personal development.  In fact, my list of RSS subscriptions hadn’t changed much in a couple of years.

      My realisation was that to learn half a dozen new things, I was having to read two dozen articles.  Reading wasn’t an efficient use of my time like it used to be.

       

      The less I understand, the more I learn

      In recent months I’ve expanded the list of blogs I read to include those I want to understand but today do not always understand.  In actual fact, what I’ve done is flipped the numbers I mentioned above around: I’m now learning two dozen things from every half a dozen articles I read.  I’m making learning easier, by reading harder materials.

       

      What am I now reading?

      What surprised me when I started looking for less technology specific IT architecture blogs was that I didn’t have to look very far.  In fact, all of the personal rather than commercial architecture blogs I now read are all either on Microsoft’s MSDN or TechNet web sites.  It’s reassuring for now that I didn’t have to dive straight into the TOGAF or COBIT communities to start finding new gems.

       

      The blogs I now also read

      Below are links to the blogs I’ve started reading recently.  Some don’t have new materials published very often, but when they do….etc. etc..

      So here are the links:

      http://blogs.msdn.com/b/mikewalker/

      http://blogs.msdn.com/b/nickmalik/

      http://blogs.technet.com/b/in_the_cloud/

      http://blogs.msdn.com/b/gabriel_morgan/

      http://blogs.msdn.com/b/zen/

      A conversation with a CxO

       

      Recently, I’ve had some short conversations with CxO stakeholders that made me remember they can be very different to those I’m used to.  I wrote these notes that I thought I’d share.

      Introduce yourself in one line

      Start the conversation by saying in one line what you’re there to do in a way that they’ll understand.  Be confident and specific about what you personally are doing for their organisation. 

      The first thing they’re probably thinking is who is this person and why do they want to speak to me.  Get that concern out of their head from the moment you start talking.

      Prepare topics not questions

      Have a list of two or three main topics you want to discuss as you’ll find it hard to ask specific questions or get the type of answer you wanted to a specific question if you do.

      Your topics might be: your priorities, your challenges, industry trends, or your success measurements.

      Expect them to do 99% of the talking

      Time with them is valuable because their time is valuable to their organisation, so don’t waste conversation minutes by asking long questions or saying more than you need to.

      They also like talking lots because they’re considered an important opinion and are used to having to share it.  Enjoy the fact they’ve chosen to want to talk to you, and are.

      Remember keywords not details   

      It’ll be difficult to take notes during the conversation.  Lots of things will be said in a short space of time, too much for you to write notes as the conversation progresses.

      Instead, remember keywords to write down immediately after the conversation, such as simplification, standardisation, new leadership, or new markets. 

      If you really must take away something very specific, like the name of someone they suggest you speak to, pause the conversation while you make sure you write down the correct name.  But I’d only allow myself to do this once, at the most twice.

      Enjoy it

      Be relaxed, natural and yourself when you meet with them.  Too much of their day will feel like it’s filled with people they don’t want to meet, make them glad they chose to meet with you.

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