Master Builder

Paul Preiss champions the role of software architects.

At the International Association of Software Architects (IASA) conference in New York last month, Paul Preiss spoke on a subject that he's passionate about: empowering the careers of those responsible for the architecture of systems, applications and business technology strategy. Preiss, who's president of IASA, founded the group in 2002 to help give enterprises a common definition of architects and to provide members with a career path aided by certification. Today, IASA boasts 6,000 members in 50 countries. Preiss spoke with Executive Editor Jeffrey Schwartz about championing the role of architects in budget-driven technology environments.

Would you characterize your key goal as getting organizations to recognize the role of the software architect?
Yes. Our focus is getting organizations to recognize the architect's role and to understand what architecture is really focused on in terms of delivering value, and to recognize that architecture is the key success criteria to their business and their IT projects. Our biggest focus right now is clarifying what architects do. We're doing outreach programs. Too many organizations listen to too much high-level vendor talk ... [we] get them focused on the practical aspects of architecture as it revolves around enterprise, yes, but also on software infrastructure and business architecture.
Paul Preiss, Founder and President, IASA "The enterprise architects and the software architects have to get together and stop fighting each other."
Paul Preiss, Founder and President, IASA

Might that be viewed in some enterprises as disruptive to the status quo, so to speak?
There are definitely groups that don't necessarily agree with the approaches, but that's existed ever since there was architecture. I'd say that architecture is by nature transformative and somewhat disruptive because it's focused on practical value and not political agenda. Architects use tools -- including politics -- to accomplish the technology strategy of an organization, but sometimes that means getting under enough people's skin until you can make it happen.

What are the biggest challenges facing architects right now?
There are so many. I think our biggest challenge is to recognize the opportunity of banding together. I hesitate to use the word 'union,' but if we don't get the concept of joining together to make our profession what it is and utilize the forums necessary to define what we do and our value ... until we get together, we're always going to be disjoined and unable to show our value to an organization. I know that seems odd, but I've always said the biggest risk to the architecture profession are the architects themselves.

What do you mean by that?
Most fundamentally, the enterprise architects and the software architects have to get together and stop fighting each other. Quite often these individuals work at cross-purposes instead of together, which ends up sabotaging the overall success of architects. In fact, a major speaker from Microsoft's Enterprise and Partner Group said to me that recently enterprise architecture looks more to him like it's simply a governance role.

This leaves innovation at the software architecture level, which then causes major constraints and battles within the architecture teams and loses the respect of the other business units.

What impact is the current business climate having on this effort in general?
I have to admit, we've felt the crunch. We've had activities ongoing that were curtailed due to operational crunches.

The nice thing about the IASA is it's a viral organization. It's hard to squelch because we're all over the world, run by architects at a local level, so regardless of the phase and cycle of economy, I think we're at an exciting point. It's partially the bubble itself bursting that caused the resurgence in architecture through the requirement to reduce new spending, and focus on doing more with what you had.

That focus on reuse, utilizing activity that was already at your disposal as opposed to buying a new version, is one of the things that helps architects do what they do. That's the focus: to do the most with what we have.

How are architects affecting software development?
Good architects build an environment in which developers can excel without the standard ramifications and politics that go along with it. There are a number of organizations where developers have suffered at the hands of 'the business' or cost cutting and operational efficiency.

If 50 percent to 60 percent of projects fail, then obviously software developers aren't enjoying that. They don't fail as often with architecture involved. So you see more successful projects that allow software development to focus on what they do well. A good architect adds to the picture, not takes away from it. What I'm seeing-again, we've got a long way to go-is the beginning in terms of good technology strategy. Architects actually are empowering the development team to do what they do well, so they're more peers. But there are also other impacts. There are aspects that require a good technology strategy; one that does impact the software development lifecycle like product selection and framework selection, including underlying technology frameworks, maybe for persistence or Web platforms and whatnot.

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.

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