The Consulting Architect
So you’ve engaged a Solutions Architect to help build an e-commerce application for your company. When you decided to look outside the company for help, you considered what you wanted in the individual that you would eventually select. For instance, you wanted him or her to have experiences building e-commerce-type applications and possibly other types of applications as well. You wanted someone current on the state of various IT technologies and architectures. You wanted someone able to assess and understand your company’s business needs as they relate to e-commerce. As importantly, you wanted someone who can tell you what you need to know about building and managing an e-commerce application. (Feel free to substitute “e-commerce” with any LOB application.) Net, you wanted someone to transfer their expertise to you and your company.
What you may not have considered is that a good Solutions Architect is as much a Management Consultant as they are a technical consultant. By definition, a Solutions Architect has cross-domain, cross-functional, and cross-industry expertise. In accruing this expertise, they’ve seen and performed assessments of many different businesses, applications, and organizations. As importantly, they’ve observed and often experienced what works and what doesn’t, not only in terms of technical solutions but also in terms of business processes and organizational structures. These experiences position them to be able to help businesses improve their performance on a number dimensions.
Further, while the Solution Architect drives solution designs and implementations from the current business needs and IT landscape, good ones also look to their clients’ business and technology roadmaps in order to anticipate and incorporate future needs. They can help you build a solution that will provide the best value, both in the near- and long-term. If their client doesn’t have roadmaps, the Solutions Architect can help them think about where they want their business to be in two years, five years or even further out.
The combination of experiences in both the business and technical realms makes the Solutions Architect more of an asset than you may have suspected. In a nutshell, they fit the definition of a Management Consultant.
How to Leverage a Solutions Architect as a Management Consultant
First, keep this new perspective in mind when thinking about what you want in a Solutions Architect. Consider adjusting your criteria for finding and interviewing candidates to include past Management Consulting-like experiences. During the interview, present some scenario problems and ask candidates how they would approach solving them. Ask them about their previous experiences and why they were more or less successful. Ask them about how they worked with past clients to move those businesses forward. Look for both technical and business aspects in their answers.
Second, when defining the Solutions Architect’s activities and deliverables in the context of the engagement, consider including specific business performance-related expectations such as an assessment of specific business processes, team organizational structure, or team skills, i.e., what business performance improvements you, the hiring manager, want to get out of the engagement. Socialize these activities and deliverables to interested and affected parties within the organization so that, when the Solutions Architect schedules meetings with them, they won’t be surprised.
While this article has focused on Solutions Architects, the notion of ‘Consulting Architect as Management Consultant’ can also apply to System Architects, Business Intelligence Architects and other types of technical architects as well. When the need to engage a technical architect arises, be sure to wring the most possible value, both business and technical, out of your investment.
Plaster Group is a Management Consulting company located in Seattle. Our consulting Architects can help you design and build custom applications, or install packaged applications, in a holistic, integrative way. We’ll help you move your business forward, now and for the long term.