Companies clueless about software architecture

IT project failures can be prevented, if only businesses realize the benefit of having blueprints, says software industry association IASA.

SINGAPORE--Many companies still do not understand the role of software architects, with some even throwing the job at junior programmers, according to the Asian branch of the International Association of Software Architects (IASA).

IASA Asia-Pacific Chairman Aaron Tan said most IT projects fail because little emphasis is placed on software architecture in most organizations.

Citing figures from analyst company Gartner, Tan said the failure rate of IT projects is around 70 percent worldwide. In countries such as Malaysia, the percentage is even higher--up to 90 percent.

"It's scary that organizations feel happy when they first initiate an IT project, only to end up with a crappy system after three to six months," Tan said. "Problems such as the lack of skills, project management and human factors, can mostly be fixed by looking at software architecture."

Malaysia-based Tan was in Singapore last month to drive expansion plans of IASA's network in the region. Established in 2003, IASA has 5,000 members worldwide, most of whom are based in the United States and Europe. The aim of IASA, Tan said, is to advance and facilitate knowledge sharing on software architecture among its members.

Apart from IASA's Malaysian office which was set up in 2004, Tan hopes to establish similar outfits in Singapore, India, China, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea over the next few years.

Software architects are not computer engineers or programmers who are largely involved in software construction. Rather, a software architect gathers objectives and requirements before developing a blueprint for an IT project. He also oversees software construction while ensuring that architecture blueprints are closely observed.

Currently, very little software architecture work is undertaken at most companies, Tan said. "Even if such work exists, it's done by someone who graduated a year ago," he noted, reflecting how most organizations fail to see the value of software architects.

Tan explained: "Our view is that a software architect should have 10 years of experience in the IT industry, and must have gone through failures and successes while implementing IT projects.

He likened the state of the IT industry to the 18th century construction industry, where building architects did not exist. Today, architecture is an established profession.

"Would you build a house without engaging an architect?" he quipped. "When people started constructing buildings, a lot of those buildings collapsed because they didn't have an architecture blueprint. The same thing exists with the software industry today, and we are hoping to fix it."

Moreover, Tan said, most companies do not understand what an architecture blueprint should have. When he speaks to IT departments and asks for a blueprint, he gets network diagrams prepared by inexperienced programmers.

"Those are not architecture blueprints, which should be a set of standards, policies, and methodologies on how you're going to implement the architecture, among other things," he said.

More importantly, Tan said CEOs and other senior managers should have a joint stake in mapping out the software architecture blueprint, so that business needs can be translated into IT project requirements.


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