There are well known discrepancies in the software industry as to the definition of a Solutions Architect and a Senior Principal Consultant. Depending on what type of organization you speak to, you might get completely different answers to this question.
According to Wikipedia;
The role title has a wider meaning in relation to solving problems, but is more often used in the narrower domain of Technical architecture – the context for the remainder of this definition. In this context, the Solutions Architect is a very experienced architect with cross-domain, cross-functional and cross-industry expertise. He/she outlines solution architecture descriptions, then monitors and governs their implementation.
The role of “Solutions Architect” requires knowledge and skills that are both broad and deep. To be effective the Solutions Architect must have experience on multiple Hardware and Software Environments and be comfortable with complex heterogeneous systems environments. The Solutions Architect is often a highly seasoned senior technocrat who has led multiple projects through the Software development process or Systems Development Life Cycle (SDLC), and has usually performed in a variety of different roles in that life cycle. The person needs an ability to share and communicate ideas both verbally and in writing to executive staff, business sponsors, and technical resources in clear concise language that is the parlance of each group.”
Strangely Wikipedia does not have a definition for Senior Principal Consultant. So based on the fact that I have been one for a number of years I have developed my own definition.
A Senior Principal Consultant is a practitioner of Software Solutions Architectures. Providing consulting services to clients, with a broad range of industry experience and knowledge.
This role requires the individual to be the lead architect, designing implementation architectures as well as defining the development and roll out strategy. The Senior Principal Consultant must work with multiple layers of an organization, from executes, to business stakeholders, to technical teams and be successful working in all circles. They must be able to to communicate ideas to all levels and obtain buy in from both the business and technical organizations for their solution architectural designs.
This person must also poses a deep understanding of the business domain as well as the technologies used to solve the different business problems. A typical Senior Principal Consultant is involved in all phases of a project lifespan from initial requirements gathering, architectural design, task break down, development (where they often act as a software architect and developer), testing, and then eventually roll-out into production.
After reading these two definitions it’s easy to see the confusion in our industry. Both require depth of knowledge within the business and technical domains. Both roles require the ability to articulate an architecture to project stakeholders, as well as technical audiences. Where they differ however, and this is the key, is that the Senior Principal Consultant is more hands on, rather than removed from the implementation.
With that said however, most Solutions Architects I know also love working within the technology space so that they can gain a full understanding of it’s capabilities. The difference though is that a Solutions Architect is not actually expected to perform the work needed to construct the solution. They are simply responsible for directing the technical teams, who task it is to build the solution.
My bottom line however, is that the type of person needed for both positions is effectively the same with only minor differences relating to the types of tasks that are performed on a day to day basis.