IT architecture models

How can an IT architecture be rebuilt? What role do IT architecture models play? And which current trends are currently changing the view of IT architecture? You can find the answers here.

Basics of the IT architecture models

The requirements for IT architectures are constantly changing. This process of change is caused on the one hand by technological developments and on the other hand by a changed role of information technology (IT) in companies.

In the past, IT in companies was used in particular to ensure the smooth control of IT-supported business processes.

Increasingly, however, it now forms the basis for innovation. Today, companies can no longer manage to deal with the issue of IT architecture.

On this page you will find basic information about IT architectures.

In this article you will learn, among other things:

  • what is behind the term,
  • how IT architectures can be analyzed,
  • how the modelling looks like,
  • provide information on the profession of IT architect and
  • illuminate current IT architecture trends.
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What is an IT architecture?

"IT architecture" is a collective term for all aspects of IT in an organization - whether static in the form of hardware or dynamic in the form of software.

The term thus covers infrastructures, software and interfaces as well as the management instances used to organize IT.

Infrastructures include hardware, networks and locations. Management instances include aspects such as configuration, capacity and load distribution, availability, reliability, data security and disaster recovery.

All the elements mentioned are related to each other in the form of business processes and data objects. Thus, IT architecture defines the basic structures of the IT organization on the one hand. On the other hand, it defines rules for the dynamic interaction of all components.

Setting up and operating an IT architecture is always done with the aim of providing the best possible support for the strategy and the operative business of a company.

Digression: What is the difference between IT architecture and enterprise architecture?

The term Enterprise Architecture (EA) describes the interaction of IT and business processes in a company. In contrast to pure IT architecture, Enterprise Architecture Management (EAM) is a more holistic approach, which is often associated with a higher degree of abstraction. The overriding goal is to align the company's IT with the business objectives.

Enterprise Architecture has four subarchitectures:

  • Business architecture: process map, organization, resources, goals
  • Information architecture: data models and data objects and their relationships
  • Application architecture: actual and target system landscape
  • Technological architecture: architecture from an operational perspective, physical components (servers, networks, etc.), service providers, service levels

The enterprise architecture is also supplemented by frameworks that describe the levels. In many cases these are freely available on the market.

TOGAF (The Open Group Architecture Framework), for example, is very widespread. The framework contains a structure as well as the necessary basic elements for building your own Enterprise Architecture Management.

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Modelling of IT architecture

The design of an IT architecture involves numerous stakeholders. Models are used to support communication and illustration.

There is no uniform standard in IT architecture management. In order to find a suitable type of modeling for a company, a number of questions must therefore first be asked and answered:

  • What is the purpose of modelling?
  • What are the stakeholders' information needs?
  • Which decisions are made on the basis of the model?
  • Which committees or roles are allowed to change the model?
  • What will the continuous updating process look like?

Common models for applications and processes are

  • Process map: provides a technical overview
  • Process support card: represents the IT support of processes
  • Business process models: represents business functions, tools and required systems
  • Cluster map: supports the development planning and decision making

Let us take a closer look at these types of modeling because of their practical relevance.

1. Process map

The process map is an abstract form of representation. It contains only business processes.

A distinction is often made between control and core business processes. IT architects and other stakeholders use this method to obtain a rough overview of the company structure.

2. Process Support Card

A detailed level below the process map is the process support map. It shows which applications support a particular process. As a further refinement, organizational units can also be included in the display.

In this way, the IT process support of individual locations or departments can be visualized. Among other things, it becomes clear how heterogeneous the system landscape is. This is an important point of reference in standardization projects.

3. Business process models

If a targeted consideration of specialist functions is to be carried out, business process models can help. For example, a business function can be "Post payment". For this process detail, the following questions are then answered (graphically displayed):

  • What is the status of the specialist function (here, for example, "Payment posted")
  • Which organizational units use the specialist function?
  • Which business objects are required (for example, "invoice")
  • What applications are required to run the function?

4. Cluster map

The cluster map is a universal tool in the modeling of IT architectures. Several levels can be defined for each map. Example:

  • Level 1: Process (e.g. sales)
  • Level 2: Organizational unit or location (e.g. Munich, Berlin)
  • Level 3: Applications per site

The following question is therefore answered at a glance: Which applications are used by my organizational units in process XY (for example, Sales and Distribution)?

How is an analysis of the IT architecture carried out?

Before IT architectures can be designed, the existing IT landscape must first be analyzed. This involves determining which systems, software, hardware and other components are currently in use.

An IT architecture review can answer the following questions, among others:

  • Is my IT architecture sustainable and future-proof?
  • How secure is the architecture?
  • What measures are necessary to realize the target vision?

In the course of time, IT architectures sometimes grow uncontrolled. It is then no longer guaranteed that they meet the goals of all stakeholders.

Professional architecture analyses therefore always include the stakeholder goals and identify critical elements at an early stage. Weaknesses are systematically uncovered using suitable evaluation methods.

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What does an IT architect do?

The professional profile of the IT architect is broadly defined. On the one hand, the activity includes basic work such as the preparation and supervision of IT development plans. On the other hand, however, it also includes highly specific work that requires specialist knowledge of hardware or software components.

Specialized IT architects are responsible for defining software architectures and system solutions and planning their implementation. This is done on the basis of existing processes. For this purpose, the IT specialists record the business management structure and the requirements of a company.

The IT architects are also responsible for integrating new applications into the system landscape. In doing so, they ensure that the implementation of new components has no negative effects. They also find solutions to any difficulties that arise.

For work on the IT architecture, the knowledge of all IT systems used in the company is bundled. The IT architects create so-called IT master plans, which visually represent the IT system landscape of an organization.

Often there are different views with different abstractions and approaches for possible solutions. The goal of the development plans is to create transparency with regard to the current and future IT landscape. In this way, the later implementation can also be prepared. Accordingly, a distinction must be made between actual and target development landscapes.

All plans and models are used for interdepartmental and cross-company communication. In addition, the management can be informed about the current situation regarding the IT infrastructure.

It must be ensured that the development plans are always up-to-date. IT architects need support from other IT experts such as software architects, business analysts, requirement engineers (requirement managers) and developers.

Last but not least, the IT architect derives the IT strategy including the relevant IT services from the corporate strategy. Thus, he also fulfils an important task of Enterprise Architecture Management.

  • In summary, work on IT architecture touches on the following areas:
  • Definition of the IT strategy based on business requirements
  • Creation and updating of IT development plans
  • Holistic representation of system connections
  • Recognition of synergies in the IT landscape
  • Modelling of processes and IT architectures
  • Communication with decision-makers and those responsible for implementation, consulting

What should you pay particular attention to when working on the IT architecture?

IT architects must draw a picture of the company-wide IT architecture that is as holistic as possible, which can then be broken down to different levels. Ideally, they should therefore include not only all levels of architecture, but also all organizational levels in the modeling for later implementation.

In large companies, architecture frameworks are often used for this purpose. These are approaches for different phases of Enterprise Architecture Management - for example, design, planning, implementation and maintenance.

For work on the IT architecture, therefore, only specialists with strong IT and business management know-how should be commissioned. They must be able to communicate with all organizational levels of a company. This is particularly true for Enterprise Architects, who are often in contact with management.

If necessary, employees can develop the necessary communication skills in special training courses. Due to a lack of neutrality or complex issues, in some cases external IT architecture consultants are also consulted.

IT architecture training

Employees and managers from the IT environment have the opportunity to further their education in the form of IT architecture training. Appropriate training courses can provide basic knowledge of IT architecture plans and international standards (e.g. TOGAF).

The introduction of EAM (Enterprise Architecture Management) is also often discussed. The scope of an IT architecture training course should also include the analysis of actual architectures and the definition of objectives. Current technology trends such as the cloud and hybrid infrastructures should also be covered.

Read here how GAMBIT introduced a smart two-layer architecture with SAP S/4HANA as central data hub at Lohmann.
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Modern IT architecture in companies

Outdated IT architectures slow down the digital transformation and thus endanger competitiveness. But how do modern IT architectures present themselves in companies?

Experts assume that loosely coupled systems, external data centers and automatically configurable infrastructures will gain in importance.

In detail, agile and modern IT architectures consist of several building blocks.

  • The first step is to retrofit "slowing" legacy systems.
  • Microservices are also becoming increasingly important in terms of agility, scalability and stability. Microservices break down complex applications into individual parts.
  • Increasingly, it is also necessary to integrate systems and applications developed in-house by a wide range of manufacturers. Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) is clearly on the rise here.

A further challenge is the constantly increasing amount of data. Information available from various sources must also be subjected to increasingly sophisticated analyses. This is where in-memory technologies such as SAP HANA play a decisive role.

As far as infrastructures are concerned, the trend is clearly towards the cloud. Hybrid environments (on-premise and cloud) require close integration. This is especially true if the systems come from different providers or are based on different IT architectures.

Last but not least, IT security must be considered. Protective measures must no longer relate to individual applications. Instead, a holistic concept is required. This concept must also include external partners such as suppliers and customers. Experts expect Security-as-a-Service to become more widely accepted in this area.