The role of solution architect has never been more important than in today’s market. We live in a world where IT change is rapid, ubiquitous, and ruthlessly complex. Making the right technology decisions for your organisation for now and the future can make the difference between success and failure.

If you are a solution architect or want to become one, you’ll want to ensure that you have the ‘right stuff’. If you’re an enterprise looking to make the right technology choices, you’ll want to ensure you pick solution architect employees or consultants who ‘move the needle’. Either way, you will be asking yourself ‘what defines a good Solution Architect?’

While each project is different, at a high level these are the traits I believe make a damn fine Solution Architect:

1. Good Solution Architects are expert communicators

A solution architect is a techie and a communicator in one. We all know geeky techies who are more comfortable interfacing with their technology than they are with other people; these folks do not make good architects. The role is about understanding needs, providing advice, managing risks and delivering the right technology results. It can involve working closely with business decision makers, enterprise architects, business analysts, project teams, vendor representatives, and countless other roles. This is all about communication. Architects need to be able to listen, empathise, explain, advise, influence, and negotiate, all whilst navigating complex project environments brimming with competing stakeholder expectations.

2. Good Solution Architects have technical pedigree

The best solution architects have moved into the position from technical disciplines within IT where they have accumulated significant experience and battle scars using technology to solve tough business problems. This gives them the knowledge, skills and credibility to provide technical advice to the business or project team. In our experience good solution architects often have 5+ years working within other IT disciplines, such as software development, prior to becoming architects.

3. Good Solution Architects bring a breadth of experience

Great architects have an uncanny ability to know ‘what to do’ in just about any situation. This comes from them normally having ‘been there, done that’ across a broad range of technology, organisational and industry scenarios. Sure there are very good technical specialists, who understand a particular technology to unimaginable detail, but in our experience the best solution architects have real breadth which allows them to add value across a myriad of business, project and technology situations, and industry sectors.

4. Good Solution Architects zero in on risk

In Europe we have seen many recent examples of organisations who have been embarrassed by technology issues including security leaks, calculation errors and systems failing under peak usage loads. The solution architect is responsible for helping organisations deliver technology solutions that avoid these unfortunate results. The best architects will understand what the technology needs to do and will zero in on and mitigate risks that may inhibit the technology delivering what the business needs.

5. Good Solution Architects helicopter and deep dive

The right technical solution for an organisation isn’t one dimensional. Depending upon the nature of the project architects may need to ‘helicopter’ up to get the big picture – what the organisation is trying to achieve and what business processes is it using. At the same time they need to deep dive into the specifics – the technical solutions, the interfaces, the data, the trouble spots and so on. The architect may need to move between the layers often and must be comfortable and capable of doing so, to ensure that the technology solution delivered meets the organisation’s needs at all levels.

6. Good Solution Architects fight for the right solution
The best solution architects will give the right advice for the business result required. This may mean standing firm on a decision and not being persuaded by vendor hype or product claims. This may also mean telling organisations the hard facts that they may not want to hear.

Good Solution Architects are lifelong learners

The technology that we all use today is remarkably different than it was even five years ago. It would be very easy for solution architects to quickly become irrelevant if they did not keep abreast of the business, technology, and IT practice changes affecting our world. The best solution architects that we know are always learning, reinventing themselves and staying relevant.

I hope that this list has provided value to help you make the best technology (or talent-related) decisions for your organisation.

If you have any thoughts or suggestions we’d love to hear your comments!