On Architecting, Designing, Engineering: New Year Thoughts

The emergence of the Web from the network-of-networks more commonly referred to as the Internet, has enabled the majority of technology shifts in 21st century. It impacts modern society and unsurprisingly influences the world economy.

We can trace the rise of the Web back to the beginning of the century, where various elements and conditions created a tipping point for disparate networks to combine sharing common protocols (TCP/IP, HTTP) and language (HTML) into de-facto standards. At broadly the same time, there was a move away from product-orientated to service-based business models (Fig. 1). This shift called for a re-evaluation of the activities involved in Architecting, Designing and Engineering. The activities and functions that existed before in a Product-orientated approach would still exist in the Service based model but now with slightly changed focus.

All current experiences confirm this changed landscape embodied in contemporary developments in cloud computing, big data and artificial intelligence. The Industrial Age was dominated by designing, manufacturing and distributing things – so inevitably all our thinking was all about “product”.

In stark contrast, The Information Age is characterized by data/ideas/concepts – things that can be produced and consumed and consequently our thinking is predicated towards creating “services”. This shift is profoundly different. (Ref. 1)

The Digital or Gig Economy exhibits three principal shades of difference: acceleration, augmentation and amplification. Let us take a few comparative examples to demonstrate these differences. Firstly, the physical efforts of sending a letter or postcard versus the digitally enabled instant Skype or Facebook status updates/check-ins. Secondly, the various logistical efforts involved in “going out shopping” purchasing from local market/retailers/stores versus the online Amazon shopping experiences. Finally, we might look towards the traditional tabloid press media versus Twitter/Instagram online channels in terms of providing different information experiences. Days have now been shortened to minutes and seconds, thousands of choices are transformed into millions and news influences spread over billions. Amazing power of re-scaling, indeed!

In our early thinking and publications, we marked architecting, design and engineering (Fig. 2) as the fundamental components of any business using ICT (Information Communication Technologies) to operate in markets as shown in the upper part of the diagram.

We observe that the entire theory and practice of economics should be updated and improved considering observed behaviors such as growth, shrinking, evolution, adaptation etc. as shown as lower part of Fig. 2. Digital Economy should be regarded as a complex system exhibiting several interesting properties which deserve further, deeper research and much better understanding.

If we fast forward 10 years to March 2017 in Lausanne we presented a practical example of our thinking for domain of IoT – as shown in Fig. 3 below.

Read from left to right we see Architecting requiring a holistic, global view; defining the purpose, vision and conceptual functionality of the system.

Designing in the middle involves pragmatic abilities coupled with knowledge of critical choices relating to technology components required to fulfill the architectural vision, whilst Engineering demands near obsessive attention to detail and perfected praxis.

In practical terms, the Architect will create the vision and sketch the system architecture to include the base building blocks such as cloud, database, broker, and sensors whilst the Designer will choose specific products or technologies such as Azure cloud, SQL database, MQQT broker and Raspberry PI sensory edge. The Engineer will refine the elements further and consider various system, technical and operational requirements as well as considering performance objectives alongside design constraints before constructing final blueprints.

So how do these activities, coupled with everything as a service and distinct technology roles, impact our thinking and approach? On one hand, for the small niche start-up ventures it is highly likely that tech savvy entrepreneurs will occupy all three roles. This is not to say that one single person cannot perform the different functions. Within large corporate organizations the tendency will be to separate the responsibility for the defined roles. Furthermore, role responsibility may even be shared across different service providers. However, separation of duties has clear benefits of ensuring reliable, consistent and secure service delivery solutions.

A final note regarding characteristics of the three roles and critical choices

The Architect should be visionary with a gift for inspired design and an eye to the future. The Designer should be able to translate the dreams and apply pragmatic knowledge to construct robust solutions. Finally, the Engineer should be detail oriented and able to fine tune the design elements. These are three indispensable actors in your future business play. Happy New Thinking Season!


  2. BIG DATA & DIGITAL ECONOMY, EC, January 16, 2015


Kemal A. Delic

Author: Kemal A. Delic

Kemal A Delic is a senior technologist with DXC Technology. He is also an Adjunct Professor at PMF University in Grenoble, Advisor to the European Commission FET 2007-2013 Programme and Expert Evaluator for Horizon 2020. He can be found on Twitter @OneDelic.

Kevin G. Walshe

Author: Kevin G. Walshe

Kevin G. Walshe is a Chief Engineer/Lead Architect with DXC Technology. He holds an MA Hons from Edinburgh University and has worked with global clients across UK, Europe and North America.