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Presentation: IASA’s Five Pillars of Architecture

by Michael Stal on Jul 19, 2012 |

In his online presentation  “Five Pillars of IT Architecture” Jim Wilt, architect at Microsoft, introduced  IASA's view on the foundation of architecture. Wilt explained the origins and development of the five pillars that  include business technology strategy, IT environment, quality attributes, design and human dynamics. He also covered the rationale and details behind these pillars, as well as the skills IT architects need to successfully drive their projects.

The IASA determined the following pillars for IT architects:

  • Business Technology Strategy: architects need basic business competence and understanding of the business of their business. Otherwise, they are not able to support their organization’s or customers' business goals. This knowledge comprises financials, IT business strategy innovation & validation, as well as industry concerns, trends, standards, and compliance.
  • IT Environment refers to the architect’s “skills in the functional and procedural aspects of technology organization to ascertain solution and organizational maturity.” It is about running things and creating new things in terms of the application development processes, technical project management, leveraging platforms and frameworks, change management, asset management, governance, as well as testing and quality. For example, architects should be familiar with industry trends, understand the benefits and limitations of technologies, but also know about methodologies and technologies being used in their environment.
  • Quality Attributes are mapped by IASA to four categories: Qualities that define usage aspects such as usability, developmental qualities such as changeability, operational aspects such as performance and last but not least, security. Such qualities are typically cross-cutting and lead to trade-offs due to constraints in time, cost, requirement and resources. Wilt emphasizes that these qualities need to be measurable and monitored. They also need to be practical. While customers might be interested in five nines of availability, they might not be willing to pay the price for achieving this quality goal.
  • Design skills are an “architect’s primary tool in delivering architecture strategy and product to the business.” As Wilt emphasizes, it is not only about architecture creation but also about design review. It is not about “pretty pictures,” but about  “justifications, reasons, and trade off considerations” when capturing decisions. Skills required in this area include knowledge of design methodologies and techniques. Of course, architects should know tools for design, and also design artifacts such as patterns, styles or views. To achieve appropriate design decisions, architects must  be able to tie their decisions to business requirements.
  • Human Dynamics is about managing and influencing people as well as interrelationships in the context of an IT project or environment. There are many skills required by architects in this context, as Wilt explains. They need to manage the culture but also deal with customer relations and with peers in the project environment. Although, architects mostly neither own line management nor project management responsibility, they require leadership and management skills. Collaboration and negotiation skills are essential. So are presentation and writing skills.

According to Wilt, IASA determined the pillars in a three step approach. First, selected industry experts came up with the five pillars in a qualitative analysis. In the next step, the IASA provided the pillars in a quantitative evaluation phase to 7000 members who confirmed the pillars. And finally, the organization developed trainings and certifications so that interested engineers can achieve the required skills.

Most architects in the  community agree to the five pillars. For example, Mikael Sand was referring to a previous version of Wilt's talk in his blog post:

The wrap up I would say that pillars is a fair analogy. You need them all to build something really good and to be a good architect you have to be able to master them.

IT architects who like to know how to improve their current skills profile, may download the IASA Skills Matrix. This Excel table contains possible education courses for all of the skills required within the five pillars. The IASA is providing certification programs and trainings to software engineers.

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