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IT Architecture: What Is IT Architecture?

IT architecture: What's IT architecture and how do you do one?
BasicsMisc

This is about IT architecture.

You’ll learn:

  • What IT architecture is
  • Why any company needs an IT architecture
  • How you do an IT architecture
  • Lots more

So if you want to understand IT architecture and how to make use of it, then this article is for you.

It’s time for the first step!

IT Architecture and How You Do One

IT architecture is the flip side of the coin to IT infrastructure.

IT architecture focuses on concept and design, while IT infrastructure focuses on physically implementing those ideas and designs.

You can learn here all about IT architecture vs. IT infrastructure.

When you hear the term IT architecture, there are many related terms that get thrown into the mix.

We hear about information technology as a whole, enterprise architecture, and system design.

What we’re going to do for you is dive deep into the topic, dissect IT architecture as a whole, and discuss its working parts with IT architecture examples.

At Its Core, What is IT Architecture?

Designing information technology systems.

Just like how an architect creates the blueprints for a building prior to construction, an IT architect or IT architecture company will design how all information technology systems will work.

While it’s up to IT infrastructure to implement the solutions, they need a blueprint to operate off of.

Utilizing architecture framework, an IT architect will conceptualize the how’s and why’s of information technology systems working together, not just how to use the system.

To know what IT architecture is, let’s first define what IT (information technology) is. It pertains to the configuration, installation, maintenance, and planning of computer systems that occupy a network.

IT systems are servers to store, transition, and send data to and from various parts within that network.

When we hear “IT,” we think of the guy at the IT department from old college that reinstalls Windows for you and helps you get into your laptop when you forget the password.

On a small scale, IT is used as a blanket term for anyone that knows anything about how computers work, but it’s more than that.

IT Architecture Has Multiple Working Parts

Information technology architecture needs to meet specific business requirements and determine how computer technology systems will work for said business. 

On the business end, people just care about how they can access files, remain secure, and operate their day-to-day jobs without interference or delay. That’s why they turn to IT architects.

Without overcomplicating things, we can break down IT architecture into a few major working cogs and gears, so to speak. These include:

Server Hardware

The physical hardware for servers, how they operate, how to keep them cool, store them properly, supply them with power, and things of that nature. This is one of the most demanding physical aspects of IT architecture.

Software Level

Software that sits on the level of the server, which is what the business in question actually accesses on a day-to-day basis. This could be how a company accesses articles, information, and local files and securely sends things to one another on the same closed network.

Users will interact directly with software.

Client-Side

Clients are basically a mixture of hardware and software.

A client allows access to the capabilities of hardware through software, so a client-side solution is like a key, and the hardware is the lock.

Businesses will use clients to access information.

Each of these parts has its own role that allows IT architecture to function.

Consider each to be a working part in one giant machine that relies on one another for operation, even though some aspects of IT architecture are labeled as more important than others.

How to Plan for IT Architecture?

It’s not as simple as you might think. IT architecture has numerous working parts. It takes an IT architect an extended period of time to properly plan this out. 

On average, an IT architect will have a master’s degree as well as three or more years of experience, and even with all that knowledge and information, planning for IT architecture is still a lengthy process.

With a dedicated professional, there’s a seven-step plan that most IT architecture uses.

Let’s go over them now.

1. Define Objectives

While implementation is one of the most challenging aspects of IT architecture, it’s also hard to determine your objectives.

In terms of cost, length of time required, and designating how much physical space will be taken up by hardware; you have a challenging task of determining precisely what your business needs. 

This is where an IT architect comes in.

You have to decide whether or not you want to focus on one specific aspect of your infrastructure at a time or create a plan to implement all of them at the same time.

If parts of business require specific areas of their IT infrastructure to be up-and-running to either continue operations or at least proceed in the next step of setting up their operations, the process may be compartmentalized.

What you have to realize is interfaces may change during this first process. If certain parts are implemented straight away, the user interface will be rocky (to say the least).

You don’t have the luxury of ironing out one single user interface, which will cost additional time and resources to adjust constantly. 

As we’ll learn, continuous adjustments are just a part of IT architecture, but in an area like this, it would be beneficial to avoid doing it so often.

Your objectives need to be laid out like a plan so that an IT architect has a way to work with it.

Reaching your goals is essential, but how you get there is equally as important. Your strategic IT plan will coincide with your strategic business or enterprise plan, and the two must work in harmony.

2. Baseline

What is a baseline? Your status as of the time of starting your IT infrastructure. When the IT architecture plan begins, it has to start at a baseline. This is important for a few reasons.

You have to use this as a KPI or key performance indicator. Your continued investment in your IT infrastructure has to show payback in one way or another, so if you know where you started in terms of business performance, you can track where it has grown since the beginning of your IT architecture came into place.

You’ll need to start asking specific questions here to outline your plan.

What work has been performed? What is the current or partial IT infrastructure doing for you or your business? What information is needed to continue? There are hundreds of questions to answer when you determine your baseline.

No IT infrastructure is built for the fun of it—you’re a business or service that has needs right now, and your baseline can either grow or shrink depending on how fast you can and will implement your systems. 

It’s important to designate that baseline before you start calculating losses or gains, so you know exactly where you stand now versus where you stood when you began.

3. Target Architecture

You know what you want, you know where you stand, but now what do you want to do with your IT infrastructure?

What does your IT architecture plan need to be in the next six months or in the next two years? Do you have a plan for it?

It’s hard to track progress when you don’t have an idea (and realistic) goal for where you want to be in a certain amount of time. You need a target architecture to set your sights on something worthwhile. It’s difficult to tie your target architecture to your current earnings or whatever KPI you are using to measure IT architecture success.

IT infrastructure is used in nonprofits, data-driven businesses, and user-generated content businesses alike—your target is going to look different than your competitors, and it’s going to look different from other industries as well. 

When companies heavily rely on consistent access and long uptime for their networks, it’s harder to integrate your IT infrastructure while still climbing to your goal and attempting to not experience any issues along the way for your business.

Every business and organization should have a future plan for where they want or need their IT architecture to be.

Set reasonable goals that are actually attainable, with a course of action that leads to continued results.

You can analyze your current IT architecture setup to determine what processes are ineffective and what processes need to be revamped or redone entirely. The messy part of this step is realizing that the way you want your IT architecture to operate in the future may not be reflective of how it’s performing now; some things have to change.

4. Opportunity and Gap Analysis

Now that you know where you want to be, we need to measure the difference between your baseline and your target architecture.

Are you starting off small with big plans in the next two years? What does that gap look like?

Increasing your IT architecture in terms of performance and hardware by a high margin of like 90% is a challenging thing to do.

Presumably, your current infrastructure is the size it is for a reason, and between funding, placement, and implementation, it may be challenging to grow exactly how you want to. 

This is where a lot of people end up getting a reality check when planning their IT architecture.

Assess how much time will be spent on IT architecture in the first place, whether or not the time spent can be increased, and what level of commitment will be required to close the gap.

Where you want to be versus where you are now. Find that growth point, whatever it is, and make sure it has reasonable steps to get there.

5. Migration Options

We know what our gap is, and at this point, we have a realistic goal of what we can really do with our IT architecture.

Now we need to take that gap, and determine exactly how it’s going to be closed, not just by how much.

This is where we need to begin celebrating small victories—different areas along your journey where you can say, “This was a win, this was beneficial,” and be happy with the outcome that directly derives from your IT architecture.

There are immediate benefits to an IT architecture plan, but those smaller victories you get along the way will be the proof in the pudding. They show you that your plan is working in the way you intended. 

Financial growth from IT architecture is difficult to track or plan for, which is why it’s important to track IT architecture progress and correlate it the best you can. Your KPIs should be related to performance and how it’s helping, not just about a direct dollar-to-dollar comparison.

Celebrate small victories, but strive for those long-term goals that align with the end goal of your target architecture as well. In this stage, people and/or groups need to be responsible for the continuity of progress and growth. 

A plan without responsible persons carrying out the next step is a plan that’s destined to fall apart.

During migration, a tool is commonly used among DIY IT architecture plans and IT architects alike: TRM, which stands for technical reference model. This is used to identify current hardware, software, and user interfaces that you specifically need for the operation of your business or organization.

Utilizing TRM plans allows you to prioritize which systems need attention first, which ones need more extensive attention, which can help guide your overall strategy.

6. Implementing Strategies

Now you have to properly implement everything you’ve done.

Doing all the planning you’ve done so far will be useless if you don’t implement strategies and systems to go to work.

Implementation can mean a few different things. 

You can either actively begin your IT architecture plan and get your systems into place, or you can have someone else do it for you. Either way, it has to end with some kind of action that allows your IT infrastructure to begin working for your company in whatever capacity you determine.

Through implementation, all members of a business or organization need to know what their role is. If they are not directly tied in with carrying out implementation tasks in the IT architecture plan, that’s okay; they just need to know how to interact with new systems and utilize everything to their best abilities. 

After all, what is an IT architecture system worth if people can’t access it?

During the implementation process, feedback is critical. This could be from employees directly interacting with the new system, financial records that correlate to your new infrastructure, and things of the sort. Feedback is feedback, whether it’s positive or negative. 

The hardest part about implementation is realizing hiccups and where you may need to change tact along the way.

7. Continual Reviews and Updates

Your needs will change.

The demands of your business or organization will change.

How are you going to stand up to the task? Despite all that work that just went into designing your IT architecture plan, you now have to put it under a magnifying glass, regularly reviewing it for errors as your business or organization grows.

The goal here is to track changes, successes, and failures and adjust your plan accordingly as time marches on. If you even look at the last five years of technological advancements, you’d see just how wide the gap is between different information technologies. It’s an evolving field; being outdated means being left behind and underperforming.

If your systems aren’t maturing, then progress will slow down. It might not be an immediate drop-off, but it will happen.

Address changes, make plans to adjust your systems or expand them as needed, and stick to your plan to close the gap that you’ve located from where you are to where you want to be.

How Does IT Architecture Help Businesses?

Businesses are the ones who benefit from IT architecture the most.

A well-designed and executed IT architecture plan can be a game-changer, but in order to justify creating and carrying one out, you need to know how it positively impacts businesses and what it can do for yours.

1. Enhanced Security

In the modern era, digital security is one of the most significant issues that we see affecting just about every business.

We can all think of a handful of big businesses that seemed “too big to fail” that were the subject of intense hacking, resulting in lawsuits and stolen sensitive data and information. That’s the last thing that any business or organization needs.

Digital security is a tricky thing, which is why we see these security holes pop up from time to time.

When you begin with an optimized IT architecture plan that really works for your business, you’re starting off with stronger security, or at least the ability to have stronger security.

Optimizing your system means that you’re trimming the fat: cutting out things that you don’t need or practices that won’t benefit you in the short-term or long-term. Doing this, and being scrutinous when you carry out these decisions, helps make a more tight-knit network with better safety.

2. Enhanced User Interface

Whether it’s clients, the public, or just your employees that use your information technology systems, a better user interface is something everyone can benefit from. There is some non-technical design that goes into place here to make it aesthetically pleasing and easy to navigate for your users. 

Still, the only way that information can be easy to navigate is if it’s easy to access (client-side, meaning it’s still secure like we mentioned in the first point).

You don’t need your users continually trying to locate a way to find data or access information.

One of the most significant business rules is that time is money, and the more time it takes to locate information or an avenue to access that information through a user interface, the more time/money is being wasted. 

This doesn’t have an immediate pay-off, which is why some businesses act a bit too hastily and avoid developing a useful UI.

3. Integrates Multiple Working Parts of a Business

Your HR needs to be able to contact employees directly in the fastest way possible.

The HR manager and the employee are both parts of the same system, which means they can discuss issues easily or relay critical information, files, or reports to one another to clear up a problem quickly.

Do you see how this could be applied across your entire network and company?

Having a reliable IT architecture plan in place is how you integrate the other parts of your company that don’t usually mingle with one another but have something to do with each other. 

It helps to optimize the time spent on tasks between departments and makes it easier for individuals to do their jobs.

We could go on and on about how the user experience dramatically improves their end results, but that’s a long rabbit hole to go down right now.

The basics of why this is important: your company isn’t segregated, so it’s easier to access information and contact others in a time-efficient manner. We can all agree that this concept has significant benefits to productivity and efficiency.

4. Helps Comfort Stakeholders

Your business has stakeholders. They want to know how everything functions so that they can make a decision to either continue their stake in your company or cash in their chips.

Any company or entrepreneur worth a penny knows that we’re in a digital age that demands better performance and optimization.

Maybe they’re worried about security risks: you can show them your IT architecture and how it’s been created to enhance security.

Stakeholders will look at every little detail of a business, and when they see that all the working parts of that business integrate well with one another, it puts them at ease. They want to see efficiency.

5. Smoother Transitioning

As we discussed earlier, information and technology are rapidly changing fields.

Tomorrow’s needs will soon be yesterday’s solutions, and to keep up with the rat race, businesses and companies need to be able to transition to newer technologies and process fast. 

They need to be able to adapt to recent changes and roll with the punches.

How Does Unified Modeling Language Fit Into This?

Unified modeling language, or UML for short, is basically how developers, software engineers, and IT architects navigate a system.

UML is integral to IT architecture, as it was made to simplify and standardize the vastly complicated subjects of software design as a whole. 

When software is designed for a specific system or IT infrastructure, you need a way to navigate it.

Consider UML to be a skill that many software engineers can and do learn so that they can navigate systems. If you were to hire a new IT technician to handle your servers, they would utilize their working knowledge of UML to read what the previous IT architect did while creating the system.

While UML isn’t used 100% of the time, it is based on optimized modeling to best represent sound engineering practices.

What are the Components of IT Architecture?

You don’t receive a desired outcome or function by simply sticking two pieces of hardware and the same works with software. There needs to be integrated.

IT architecture measures and applies levels of sustainability and performance for your IT systems.

Components are the working pieces of how your IT systems work, like cogs in a big machine.

Without them, the machine isn’t going to run, no matter how powerful it looks.

IT architecture focuses on hardware like servers, disk arrays, network equipment, software, service layers, management access, and data center service.

What is IT Architecture Design?

This simply refers to designing the way systems work with one another. There are no actual design elements here in the traditional sense, but you can’t just take all the working parts of your information technology, jam them together, and hope it works.

Everything has to be optimized for performance.

IT architecture design refers to the way that physical systems integrate with one another, but also how information is displayed. This could be the UI designed for your specific system, down to the way that information is accessed on the client-side.

IT Architecture Examples

IT architecture examples come in many different forms. We’re going to go down a list of a few different ones here to give you some direction.

No two diagrams will look the same because they’re for different companies, needs, and provide different solutions.

This conceptual layer showcases the concept, logical, and physical design from objectives down to instances and deployment groups. It’s a quick IT architecture diagram, but it gets the point across pretty well.

Another diagram shows us the different depths of enterprise sub-domains, which can have so many layers that you almost start to get lost (depending on the size and need of your systems). This specifically talks about different types of business architecture and how they’re forced to integrate.

Finally, there’s one last diagram that shows us about the multiple layers and their importance in IT architecture. From software to networking, security, and privacy to project management and beyond, you can see how many different layers are at work.

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