Do we need Archimate?

A recent, provocative, post on linkedin, posed some issues about the Archimate standard.

One of my first doubts, using introducing Archimate in our Architecture Capability, was: “why was it created as a separate graphical language and not as an UML profile?”. This doubt is still in my mind, in my previous post about this topic, I have inserted some links about this argument. The “UML profile” solution appears as natural, because a lot of classifiers from UML are available – with the same semantic and graphical notation – also in Archimate.

What are the consequences of a “separate” graphical model?

(+) dedicated modeling tools

(-) multiple skills/tools/repositories

(-) requirements for model integration

On the other side, I think that we should remember that Archimate and UML have different “meanings”:

  • Archimate is for architecture,
  • UML is for engineering.

Also if you look at building design, you will find an “Architectural” project, showing you the shape, internal space allocation, external appearance, of the building, and several specialized views (structural project, electrical plant, elevators, etc.); perhaps the potential buyer of the house is not interested in how many cables or switches are necessary to operate the elevator – and could not understand this view – but is interested in the size and number of windows of the living room.

Despite this, I believe that “Archimate as UML profile” could bear the same expressiveness, the same semantic content, and a seamless integration of architectural and technical layers.

a building under construction

Personally, I am evaluating the introduction of Archimate, and starting to represent (maybe with better results) our architecture with this language. But, in the mean time, and waiting for the similar OMG work, I am starting do develop an UML profile with the same content of Archimate. At this point, we are working on the Business Layer. The modeling tool that we use, by Sparx Systems, allows for an easy integration on different models using UML, BPMN or Archimate, so it does not force the user to a specific adoption profile. But, in the meantime, the UML-profile approach is allowing us to obtain stakeholder-oriented documentation with a better quality, and an easier transition from the previous graphical representation standards.

At the same time, the introduction of Archimate shows its usefulness in a more formalized and rigorous architectural design practice, relaying on a number of elements that fits well with the various organizational patterns that exists in our Company.

The results – at this point – are promising, I will share them later, and introduce some of them in the second edition on my book about BPMN.

Bottom line: I believe that we need archimate, as a component of our architecture capability. Maybe, representing it as an UML profile could help its adoption.

The Actor, from Archimate, to UML, to BPMN – one

Representing organizational structures, roles, responsibilities, and linking this model with the process model, could be a mess, especially if your Architecture model should integrate perspectives modeled according to different standards.

I expose here some ideas that we are putting in practice across our Enterprise Architecture projects, in my current Company.

The topic of model mapping is hot: you can find a lot of interesting toughts in the blogs of Gerben Weirda. At the same time, the OMG is working on a UML profile for Archimate.

I will start with Archimate, and the basic elements from the Business Layer: Actor and Role.

The following picture, shows a suggested extension:

Archimate extension roleactor

The Role is specialized, leading to four different stereotypes:

  1. Organizational role: a role that is specific of an organizational unit, eg. Director (role) of IT (unit).
  2. Functional role: a role that is specific of a function or authority assigned to a person, eg. Sales Representative.
  3. Process role: a role that has a meaning in the context of one or more processes, eg. “Purchasing requester”, “credit approver”
  4. Partner role: a role of an external partner in a collaboration, eg. Customer, Bank, Tax agency.

At the same time, the Actor element is specialized:

  1. Organization unit: an element of the organization which may be aggregated at an higher level, or may aggregate lower level units. The dependency may follow several patterns: hierarchical, matrix.
  2. Human Business Actor: a single, identified person.
  3. External partner: a person or organization external from our business.

The diagram shows the main relationships among elements. The “Process role” may be assigned to a human actor, another functional or organizational role. Anyhow, it is meaningful only n he context of execution of a single instance of one or more processes,

Why do we need those extensions? Well, mainly for ease of communication with some stakeholders. It is common wisdom that complexity in the metamodel leads to obscure resulting models (for the eyes of non-professional stakeholders). But in this case, I think that a little bit of specialization is useful:

  • specialization of user roles helps the overall classification of them, and provide some guidance also for junior analysts and people outside the Architecture practice.
  • Specialization of business actors helps avoiding the potential ambiguity deriving from the fact that a branch, an office, a bank, or a receptionist are all modeled with the same element.

In the following posts, I will describe how we have translated this profile in UML, and how we have linked the Business Layer with the relevant elements of BPMN models.

More on information modeling: from business to disk

Every business deals with a finite number of entities, concepts, things, as you may prefer to name them.

Every modeling standard and project framework deals with this, approaching this description from several different viewpoints.

The existence of different descriptions, at different abstraction levels, for the same thing, and the logical links between these different modeling contexts, is one key output of an Enterprise Architecture capability.

Let’s look at the following picture, showing a common concept, “Vendor”, at different architecture layers.

Data objects in Archimate and BPMN

The picture shows modeling elements from two widely adopted standards: BPMN and Archimate.

Context / Behaviour

A Vendor is usually a stakeholder, and an external party, for our business, As such, it may be represented with a Partner Role element, according to BPMN. This is mainly a reference role, a bookmark, also if we may wish to attach some documentation or classification elements. This element will have a place in BPMN process modeling, as a Participant in a collaboration.

Archimate modeling language includes two elements that can be used as a collaboration participant: Business Role and Business Actor. The Actor is an element modeling something which may or may not have a defined identity (in BPMN Partner Role doesn’t have an identity, while Partner Entity does), but have an independent capability to perform actively some tasks. A Role, on the contrary, is more a formal description of the duties, responsibilities, capabilities, interfaces used and provided, related to a business organizational unit or single person.

So, if we want to emphasize “what the partner does”, we can model it with a Role, but if we have more interest on “what kind of partner is”, we will prefer an Actor. Usually, and Enterprise Architect is interested in the “internal” architecture of his business and, in my opinion, will find the Actor element better suited for this task.

Business Object

This is a typical element of Archimate, representing a wide range of possible items. I usually see the Business Object (a passive element in the Business Architecture Layer) as an element of the business dictionary. In every Company, when you start an interview with people with different roles, you will recognize a number of common “words”. They represent the products, the market, the external parties, the production facilities. They are the better candidates to be represented with a Business Object (behind this analysis, we may like to perform a more detailed ontological analysis on the concepts and relationships, but this is another chapter). At the Business Layer, a Business Object is not an “information item”, but is a collection of information, rules, connection with processes and internal organizational units, that will remain unchanged if we replace the information system with another one, without changing the business architectural layer.

In BPMN there isn’t a corresponding element, but we often use the Data Object to show which activities interacts with some parts of a Business Object. In general, I prefer to limit the “technical data structure pollution” in BPMN diagrams, this means trying to be as abstract as possible with respect to the actual data structure. The BPMN standard encourages this, providing a number of Item Aware Elements, that may reference any kind of physical, logical or informational element.

So, for instance, a process where one of the deliverable is the Vendor Master data, or a new Vendor Dossier, will see the “Vendor” Data Object.

Application and Database

Coherently with the approach followed for Data Objects, I usually use Data Stores to model “logical” database representations, detached from the actual database storing their data. Following the example in this article, we will have a “Purchasing” Data Store, including everything that is connected to the purchasing cycle: items, prices, vendors, orders, deliveries, etc. Someone may observe that a “Vendor” is also relevant in the “Accounting” Data Store, as part of the Accounts Payable, but I don’t agree. We deal with a Vendor because it is a provider of services and goods, not because we have an account opened with his name in our books.

Archimate, on the opposite, makes a clear distinction between the Application/Data layer – where the Data Object will have a strong “structure/database table” meaning, and the Device elements, which is used to represent the actual “hardware” hosting the Database.

Bottom Line

By using a limited number of partially-overlapping modeling standards (in our choice: TOGAF, Archimate, BPMN and UML), we can obtain a powerful and detailed representation of our Business Architecture according to different perspectives and viewpoints. Business Concepts modeling is a key part of the Enterprise Architecture capability, allowing us to catch what is maybe the core knowledge base of our business. Extending upwards (Business interactions and processes) and downwards this modeling layers will give us the ability to track the impact of any change in our business scenario on all the levels of the Architecture.

Business information modeling with Archimate

Archimate uses the “Business Object” element to model a passive entity representing a concept or a business entity manipulated by behavioral business elements.

Creating a catalog of “Business Objects” is useful when you need to analyze links among application, data, process areas.
Consider concepts like “Purchase Order” or “Supplier”: they may appear as data input or output, part of the data architecture, stakeholders, roles in process diagrams.
It’s also important to model the information associated with each Business Objects. For instance, a “Purchase Order” may carry information about the kind and quantity/quality of goods or services, contractual information, cost accounting details, internal organization references (requester, buyer, authorizer). These information can be modeled in two ways:
  • using the “Meaning” element in Archimate;
  • using an aggregation.
I don’t like the second, because, while a Purchase Order has a defined identity and unity, the details of goods, outside the Purchase Order context, is ambiguous, because the same information can be related to a Purchase Request, a Delivery, a stock adjustments, etc.
In my Company, Caltagirone Group, I adopted the first notation, obtaining this kind of diagrams:
Archimate PO Business Object

Continue reading →

Starting your Architecture Capability

When you decide, or are involved, in an evolution project regarding your Organization division, perhaps your Company is willing to transform it in an Enterprise Architecture Capability, in other words a set of resources dedicated to design and support change management using comprehensive frameworks, like TOGAF.

It’s a good moment to think carefully about your objectives, and you can use TOGAF itself as a supporting framework for this project (TOGAF manual describes this task in the “preliminary” phase).

The core of this activity will be synthesized by:

  • you “as-is” practice, that is your baseline Architecture Capability;
  • the desired target Architecture Capability.

The differences between those two situations will be described using a list of gaps, that will be the starting point for your project definition.

Using Archimate – the modeling language that integrates very well TOGAF in many parts – we can describe these elements.

Archimate diagram illustrating baseline and target architecture capabilities

Archimate diagram illustrating baseline and target architecture capabilities

The figure is only an overview, but the gaps highlighted will guide you through a series of questions that will define your evolution:

  • people and skills involved,
  • organizational position of the Architecture team,
  • usage of internal/external resources,
  • scope (horizontal and vertical) of the analysis,
  • interaction with IT, HR, Board, etc.,
  • tools, standards,
  • project management practice,
  • methodologies,

and so on.

This will be also a good opportunity to start practicing, in your “real” business, your new organizational structure. At the same time, during this project, you will produce – as a deliverable – an initial Enterprise Architecture, covering the basics layer of Business, Data, Application and Technology. This initial Architecture, stored in your Architecture Repository, will be used and refined in your following architectural projects.

Hacking the value of integration

During the last two years, in my company, we have started a series of projects to enhance our SAP ECC platform, in the direction of business integration across the software modules.

This happened because we have spotted some limits in the architecture of this ERP system. SAP is a well-integrated software suite, in his main areas (Financial, Logistics, Sales, Real Estate, HR, etc.) it offers a bulk set of functions, that cover the typical business processes in a very wide set of industries. So, where are these limits?

I will try to suggest some ideas and discussion topics across the posts of this blog.

My company operates in the Construction and Real Estate industry. Our business processes start from the acquisition and development of lands, until the sale of residential properties or the management of commercial properties that are leased out. SAP ECC was installed in late 2005, replacing a previous Italian ERP solution. Initially, SAP was not a successful project. Since 2008, we have started a complete re-engineering of SAP implementation, changing the design from a module/office centric design to a business-centric design.

Let’s start now from a small development that we are carrying on now: cash management by an economic business perspective.

We have a very basic configuration of the CM module: bank and cash accounts, customers and suppliers accounts, are classified according to categories that are relevant for our business. With these settings, we are able to perform a basic analysis of financial flows; this is important, because our business relies heavily on the financial supplies from banks, and our finance dept. needs to monitor the cash levels versus the financial planning.

Unfortunately, the simple analysis of bank accounts doesn’t allow us to understand how the sources and destinations of liquidity have influenced their balances. So we need to drill down this analysis across our business units, and across the development projects that are active.

A good perspective of our business is given by the Profit Center hierarchy: it is roughly divided in the following areas:

  • commercial real estate
  • residential real estate
  • property development
  • operating expenses
  • corporate finance

Each area is divided according to the management perspective of the underlying business: residential real estate, as an example, is detailed at building level; several buildings are grouped together according to the land on which they are built.

We are simply building a set of reports that allows our financial analysts to separate incoming and outgoing cash flows according to the building, building part, or single controlling-relevant business element that originates the costs or incomes from which the income or payment comes.

The key of those reports is a function that, given a cash management relevant posting, goes back to the invoice or other FI document, with a controlling destination, that is paid or collected.

I will discuss in some following posts why this solution fits our needs. The point now is the importance to link one area of the ECC system – Controlling – with another area – cash flows analysis, giving the financial analyst a perspective that is the same shared by the financial planners, the production manager, etc.

Modeling and System Management

Modeling standards can be a great resource for System Management. Field Engineers often are more oriented towards “practical” tecniques, underweighting the help that a good model can contribute to a successful management practice.

While I was managing Information System, I have worked with the Tivoli suite – from IBM – and developed some modeling tecniques to represent system events and to analyse the requirements for monitorning consoles. There is a paper, describing this, not updated, but perhaps interesting. I published it online after receiving a lot of requests from the Tivoli mailing list.

Another approach is described in my recent KISS project – described in another post – where I tried to build a knowledge model of the Information System and the related security and compliance issues.