Getting The Most Out Of An EA Tool

At work we use Bizzdesign’s Enterprise Studio (BES). I wanted to talk a little about getting the most out of an EA tool like this, if you want to get to a more advanced level of architecture model maturity.

Yes its true, I like Enterprise Studio, but not because of any affiliation with the company; more because its a powerful tool, and after several years of working with it, I am always finding more. Other tools have some similar capabilities, and strengths and weaknesses. I am talking about a tool I currently use, and a little about some of the things we need in order to reach a more advanced level of architecture maturity.

Basic Admin

Its worth mentioning that with different tools there are different access methods. With BES, at a basic level you can maintain your access to the repository by managing users and groups in HoriZZon (their web access portal). Its also worth mentioning, if you have your own servers you can also build an environment that integrates into your organizations active directory and control things via groups, eliminating the need for much of the manual grunt work around administration, and their licensing mechanisms are fairly integrated. This becomes important as tool usage grows.

Basic Modelling

It was lunchtime. I was getting hungry.

As a tool, one of the reasons we decided to use BES in our organization was that it was easy to jump into, whilst also having a fair level of complexity underneath. Whilst i tend to use it most for modelling in ArchiMate, it also covers some other standards I use, like BPMN. At a real basic level, we have a managed repository, with the ability to check out and check in changes, and maintain a level of version control. This I would expect of any tool that has a number of EAs that need to collaborate. Basic functionality needs to be able to manage elements and the relationships between them, offering functionality to navigate the object model and create new views from that – take a look at Archimate – Looking Beyond Diagrams. The better tools out there enable you to use smart connection mechanisms where you can draw relationships, and then pick the correct relation from a list of possible relations between the two elements you selected. This is especially important when you have junior architects – it saves time if they don’t have to chose from every relationship in the language.

Considering Stakeholders

A BES architecture repository can be exposed out to stakeholders of architecture via a web browser using Horizzon. It’s really important to try and get stakeholders engaged, and to do that sometimes we hide ArchiMate, by changing graphics and simplifying things.

How simple model or represent architecture depends on who our stakeholders are for a particular view. Getting stakeholders connected to what we model is an important first step in getting them to start to see the value of the work we do. Being able to traverse the model gives a level of power by itself. Horizzon gives a lot of power and directly connects to the repository for up to date information, Some tools allow HTML outputs, which is also handy.

Appending Basic Information to a Model

We can easily import information into a model a whole bunch of different ways – starting with the basic updating and creation of elements and relations. You can within BES you can use new multiple and easily just copy and paste things from excel for quick addition or updating of elements and their metadata

Its possible to apply a level of automation to that. We can create connections to Excel workbooks, SQL, ServiceNow, and automatically refresh parts of the model package or update them, and we can do mapping from different data sources into the model These are things that take a bit of knowledge and getting used to – but on the most part, you don’t need to be a developer. Basic information can be pulled into the model quite easily if you think a little about how you are formatting it as part of the project that you are working on.

Working With Metrics & Avoiding The Metamodel

I have a love/hate relationship with the meta-model editor, and as a policy where I work we don’t edit it. Some tools work with meta-models easier than others, and working with the meta-model editor that BES has provided lead to some fairly painful mistakes. Its a very flexible and powerful thing, which with a bit of experience can be used, but I don’t often find I need to customize it. In older versions of the tool every time the tool needed upgrading, the meta-model would need redoing – but a lot of new features have come along that make it significantly easier now. As a rule though I tell people not to touch it because when you don’t know what you are doing you can break things in spectacular ways.

When I want to append information to an element these days, mostly I add metrics to the element that needs to contain information. From there its easy to create colour displays or play with labeling to your hearts desire. There are some restrictions in this technique.

Scripting

BES has a really powerful scripting language that sits behind it; you can use it to do all manner of things including creating views, tables of information, modifying the model or colouring the existing model. You can create custom scripts to keep metrics up to date.

The more information you get into the repository the more value it brings. Its good to be able to traverse the portfolio in a number of different ways and represent different things on the same model..

Workflows

Something really cool is workflows – I haven’t used these as much as I would like. Being able to create a workflow in BPMN and then apply it to a model package so we can have approval workflows for example is very cool. We can also use this for getting stakeholders to update specific properties, so we can update our information from the browser without even having to open a modelling tool

API Integration

Here the possibilities start to get a bit insane. I was thinking the other day about building a C# app to pull architecture concerns out of Jira and automatically create/update views in BES. But you could do so many things. What about building your org charts from scanning your active directory? Or pulling a project roadmap directly from a tool like SharePoint? What if we can model our financials? Currently the BES API supports data enrichment; between the API, scripting and other methods I mention today, an imaginative developer can achieve can achieve a lot of cool things.

Creating these integrations have benefits in a number of directions – when you start to expose different information sources, you can not only build models that are correct and business relevant. Doing this sort of work also teaches us a lot about the data consistency and hygiene of our various information sources

Summing It Up

When you start to get to the point where all your different organization sources are being pulled into a repository we can start to connect and traverse them in exciting and interesting ways.

If you are working in an organization that does everything in Excel, PowerPoint and Word, and doesn’t leverage the benefits of technologies like Power BI, I would stop and look at your Enterprise Architecture. Chances are you are spending a lot of time in meetings, and are spending a lot of time looking for the right people and information, rather than focusing on business. Automation doesn’t make people redundant – it enables them to stop doing trivial work so they can focus on things that are important.

It takes time, money, and some developers to truly leverage the best value out of a Tool like BES. The problem I have always seen is a struggle to put together a business case for it. We can save a huge amount of man hours and communication overhead, but calculating how much is hard before you have taken the time to make the connections and make your organization more traceable through its EA.

Tools like BES are pretty expensive to own. We can also spend a significant amount of time and money customizing them. I would suggest that the value of such a tool is unlocked by how you use it – Its worth spending some time in training. The tool is nothing without a good EA behind it, with a bit of imagination, and a little bit of time and money from committed stakeholders. Do that, and you won’t be thinking about your tool spend, because you will be using your tool to unlock your existing information sources and reusing them in creating new views in exciting new ways, rather than just manually modelling things from unmanaged stale data sources like PowerPoint.