Securing a top-notch technology team is a moment that invigorates every business leader. Let's say you're a startup, fresh off the first rounds of testing your concepts through an MVP and looking toward an implementation at scale. You've found a set of individuals who are not only technical wizards but also show a keen interest in what you're building. This is the pivotal moment to scrutinize whether the team understands your broader strategic goals, your corporate culture, and your technology roadmap. In many cases there's a lack of folks that can navigate both the technical and business aspects of any initiative from a strategic level. I've heard, over and over, in my time in industry that an individual like that is a "unicorn" that doesn't exist.
But that's not the case. There is often one overlooked role that can be a game-changer in ensuring your technology aligns with your business objectives— the Functional Architect and with the massive change in the technology landscape, this role is pivotal, now more than ever. This is a key focus at ODNOS and our teams are structured in a way that surfaces the benefits of this key role and the creativity it spawns.
Why the Need for a Functional Architect?
Before we dig deep into the caveats and best practices of building a technology team, let's define what a Functional Architect is. Often viewed as the bridge between the business and technical teams, a Functional Architect ensures that the entire architectural design of a business solution aligns well with the organizational needs. They often work closely with business analysts, technical architects, UI/UX and visual designers, as well as business stakeholders to translate business objectives into technical requirements. When combined with an accelerated configurable platform, they have the ability, at some level, to span across the role of project manager, business analyst, administrator, technical architect, and developer and because of it, they are a hub of coordination in a high functioning team.
The Importance of Alignment:
Alignment between technology and business objectives is obvious and crucial, but as we consider alignment between customer and employee expectations, delivery methods and platform/tech stack availability, or even bottom line and corporate responsibility; here is where a Functional Architect can shine. This role brings a holistic understanding of workflow management, strategic objectives, and technical limitations that allow you have a realistic and pragmatic solution to problems whether they are current or future. The dangers of a misaligned team could range from wasted resources to the release of products that don't meet customer or employee needs. Equipped with a deep understanding of both business and technology, a Functional Architect ensures that your team stays focused on strategic priorities without getting lost in the technical weeds. It's fascinating to watch the realization of business objectives be achieved much faster and the avoidance of technical debt by having a deep connection between the Functional and Technical architects.
The Dangers of "Overdesign":
Without the alignment that I'm speaking of, we end up in a potential scope creep situation. Technological prowess, while necessary, can lead to 'overdesign'—solutions so complex they deter the average user, which has happened over and over in the tech industry when new approaches and technology come out in the market.
Consider the example of Google Wave which was an ambitious collaborative platform introduced in 2009, aimed to blend email, instant messaging, and document sharing in one interface. It offered dynamic conversations called "waves," encouraging real-time editing and discussions with multimedia integration. Despite its innovation, Google Wave's downfall stemmed from its complexity, unclear use cases, steep learning curve, and performance issues. Its limited integration with existing tools, privacy concerns, and communication gap further hindered adoption. As a result, Google discontinued development in 2010 and shut down the service in 2012. Despite its failure, Google Wave's concepts have left an imprint on subsequent communication tools
Users were not ready for such a complex product and the relationship that they had with computing in general was an uneasy one. This neurosis is something that all technologists face with the adoption of any change. It's prevalent throughout companies and is addressed though the ever elusive "Change Management" methods the are inevitably instituted across enterprises. The Functional Architect plays a crucial role here in ensuring that technological enhancements align with user needs and business objectives but also that strategic objectives, programs, and changes in experience are coordinated properly to reduce the impact on the people that will actually be using these technologies. It is a role that is rooted in empathy with the users of a system, as well as the system itself.
Navigating Emerging Technologies:
The current rush to implement Generative AI in business processes poses a similar risk. While AI technologies like GPT-3 and 4 are designed to be intuitive, they carry substantial security and governance implications. Businesses eager to integrate AI into their systems often overlook these concerns. A lack of proper security measures could expose sensitive data, or worse, the AI could generate outputs that are harmful or incorrect. In a world increasingly reliant on data-driven decisions, the potential for misinformation is a significant risk (Kaplan, 2021). A Functional Architect can guide the business in making judicious decisions about embracing such emerging technologies helping to balance the benefits and risks.
Future-Proofing Your Team and Technology:
A technology landscape is ever-evolving, and this is another area where a Functional Architect can bring immense value. They provide a techno-functional roadmap that aligns with business objectives with current technologies and future technological trends, such as Generative AI, the security and governance protocols needed to implement them safely, thereby future-proofing your organization. Having a techno-functional lens surfaces the need for design drivers that are platform (or at least technical landscape) informed. As technology evolves to hide technical complexity behind natural language interfaces or configuration, there are less opportunities to customize a solution but far less risk because the platform guides the level of customization possible. For that reason, an even more important emphasis on proper platform-informed design becomes necessary in business strategy decisions.
Lean in: The Functional Architect is the Future:
The future makeup of technology teams is certain to change. While the current state of tech puts similar emphasis on individual skilled developers, UX designers, technical architects and data scientists, the future of business solutions will be driven by the Functional Architect who can align these talents toward achieving broader business objectives.
Every technology team needs or very soon will need to shape their leads into this this role, as it will be instrumental in avoiding pitfalls and aligning technology with business objectives. Our team at ODNOS leans into this concept in every engagement and our Functional Architects are available for consultation when you're in need.