Software architect is a general term with many accepted definitions, which refers to a broad range of roles. Generally-accepted terminology and certifications began appearing in connection with this role. The architect makes high-level design choices much more often than low-level choices.
In addition, the architect may sometimes dictate technical standards, including coding standards, tools, or platforms, so as to advance business goals rather than to place arbitrary restrictions on the choices of developers. They can do so verbally and through various software architectural models that specialize in communicating architecture.
Note that software architects rarely deal with the physical architecture of the hardware environment, confining themselves to the design methodology of the code. Architects also have to communicate effectively, not only to understand the business needs, but also to advance their own architectural vision.
The sudden popularity of the term in the world of information technology most likely stems from Bill Gates relinquishing of the title President and CEO of Microsoft to assume the role of Chief Software Architect. The phrase reflected his new role as an overseer of many software development projects at Microsoft.