Group tackles issues of IT architects

The newly founded New Zealand Council of Software Architects is about to launch a web portal to provide information on the challenges facing its members.

The newly founded New Zealand Council of Software Architects is about to launch a web portal to provide information on the challenges facing its members.

The council, which was formed in May and held its second meeting in Auckland this month, will hold quarterly meetings and use the portal, due to go live in the next two weeks, to build a community.

Microsoft .Net evangelist and council member Garth Sutherland says major challenges the council wants to address include understanding the “ities” — scalability, reliability, flexibility, accessibility and complexity — of architectures, understanding TCO and the cost implications of architectural decisions, being understood as an architect within business, and promoting the role and the value of architects.

“We want to develop content and address those challenges. In particular, we want to do case studies and feature local solutions.”

Sutherland says there are probably about 300 people in New Zealand who would fall under the definition of architect, with backgrounds from three main areas – business, systems/infrastructure and software development.

He says one of the challenges is a lack of understanding of the role. Sheridan says architects focus on the structure and vision of where a project is going. “In computing we are now recognising a new generation of high-end integration. We’re taking subsets of systems that have already been built and solving large problems and with the web we’re now rolling that out to a worldwide market.”

Previously architect was “a side-effect” of other roles, says National Bank intranet developer Tim Simpson. He doesn’t think anyone specifically took on the job of software architect.

However, the role has now arisen because there is now more choice on how systems are built, says Geac’s group leader of architecture and technology, Simon Hacket Pain.

He draws an analogy between software and the building or construction industry.

“Today we have a lot of choice. In the days of big iron we had no choice so the architecture was more dictated. In those days we didn’t have to worry about robustness, scalability etc. But you shouldn’t get the impression that architects are always working on ground-up new projects. In the roading industry it’s more difficult to keep the traffic going than to build the road.”

So what skills make a good architect?

Sutherland lists communications skills, a strong background in development and a good understanding of technology strategy. Hacket Pain also stresses solid business knowledge.

Microsoft is a partner to the council but other IT vendors are welcome, says Auckland University lecturer Don Sheridan. “Microsoft has never expressed the view that this would be anything other than a genuine effort to create a networking opportunity. There has been no suggestion that they would try to ring-fence the council.”

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