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Of course, you might not have the luxury of having a group of people that can develop a high-level architecture and determine the resulting cost. Sometimes you need to bring in professional help in the form of a vendor, independent consultant, or a new employee.
However, you don't get all the information you need — the high-level architecture and resulting ROM cost — by just giving vendors and integrators a set of requirements and asking for bids. That method just gives you the potential for sticker shock. After the sticker shock wears off, you generally wind up back at the drawing board determining the cost of the requirements anyway, so you might as well do it up front in the first place.
I have been working on high-performance computing problems for more than 23 years, and I have never seen a situation where a customer has been successful in deploying a new architecture without understanding their business requirements and getting agreement on those requirements from end-to-end in the organization. I have seen a huge number of failures where that process hasn't been followed.
I am a firm believer that in most cases, requirements are best obtained from within the organization, followed by outside peer review. If the organization uses an outside consultant to gather requirements, it should be done working hand-in-hand with the organization's own staff to ensure that all of the management and workflow requirements are addressed. The review could happen from a consultant, vendor, integrator, or another part of the organization, but in most cases, internal review within another part of the organization seems to be the best approach.
This article started with a comment from a reader in Australia. I think this shows that requirements gathering and system architecture are all universal needs. We might have differences around the world on how requirements are gathered, but whatever the process is in your country, region or business area, you must know your business requirements before you can start the architectural process. Many thanks to Iain for reminding all of us of this.