Vendors rally to provide EA tools
As enterprise architecture evolves from its information technology roots to encompass business and operational processes, the companies that develop the tools that IT managers use to help them define their architectures are under pressure to expand the capabilities of their products.
That, however, is not a simple task. Computers and software are relatively easy to define in IT terms, for example, but what they are used for and how they affect the workflow can differ greatly within sections of the same agency.
Those responsible for designing and implementing enterprise architectures say they need tools to help them convince data owners and agency executives who hold the purse strings of the advantages of the architecture.
Capturing business processes and educating data owners about what an enterprise architecture can do for them have certainly been the more difficult tasks for Lee Holcomb, chief technology officer at the Homeland Security Department.
DHS officials recently came under fire in a Government Accountability Office report for what GAO auditors described as an initial enterprise architecture, released a year ago, that lacks sufficient "breadth and depth."
Holcomb said that first version of DHS' enterprise architecture was put together with minimal involvement by the various entities that make up the sprawling new department, which was created in March 2003 as an amalgam of parts of 22 agencies.
But he feels he has been more successful bringing business and mission stakeholders into the discussions about the next version of the enterprise architecture, which has been going through validation and testing this summer, though not without considerable
"Building awareness and a sense of ownership [of the enterprise architecture] among the various data stewards have been some of the most difficult areas in developing relationships," Holcomb said.
What he really needs from commercial enterprise architecture tools, he said, is some way to present the importance of an architecture to stakeholders in a more visual and anecdotal way -- one that doesn't require any great technical expertise to decipher.
"So far I've been disappointed about what's available in tools to help me show [DHS managers] about what an [enterprise architecture] can deliver," Holcomb said. "They tend to be OK after the decisions have been made to go ahead and they help determine what to do, but tools that could help visualize the impact of an [enterprise architecture] are what would really be helpful."
The community that needs to use these tools has expanded from what it was just a few years ago, said Hamilton Hayes, product manager of Computer Associates International Inc.'s AllFusion modeling suite. Back then, customers used them purely for logical modeling purposes, he said, and now top-level managers and policy-makers need them. "There's a much more holistic business view being taken" of enterprise architecture, Hayes said.
Now that users of modeling software have spent some time populating and building databases, they have a strong desire for visualization features to help them drill down from the big picture to the detailed one and to show how such things as business processes are linked to applications, said Gene Leganza, vice president of public-sector research at Forrester Research Inc.
"Organizations have finally gotten to the point where they want the information in the [data] repository to support such things as capital investment control," he said. "They want to get something out of [their enterprise architectures], to do some analysis and reporting, to see which part of the enterprise responds to [various parts of the enterprise architecture] and how well-utilized resources are."
How well tool vendors will meet this demand remains to be seen, Leganza said, but at some point, they'll have no choice because the user community is changing.
Enterprise architecture "is still the responsibility of IT departments, but in the future it will be the [chief information officer] or someone over on the business side who will want to know how [enterprise architectures] fit with their concerns," he said.
Some vendors understand this and have been scrambling to meet the need, Leganza added. For example, Computas NA Inc.'s Metis modeling toolset, one of the most popular in the federal government, already offers a fair degree of visualization that allows processes and tasks to be modeled in detail and the results shared across an organization in report formats tailored to the needs of particular stakeholders.
Popkin Software Inc.'s System Architect, another popular modeling toolset, also has an extensive set of analysis and reporting features. But Jan Popkin, the company's founder and chief executive officer, says the emphasis in the future will be on providing more detailed decision support for users.
"For the tool vendor, that means we'll need to provide explanatory diagrams that not only show the relationship between different artifacts in the model but, for briefing purposes, we'll also need to show the complexities of those relationships and what users can do with that," he said.
How well these and other enterprise architecture tools provide support for decision-making, and how well they provide the means for the business side of organizations to derive value from enterprise architectures, could help determine whether the area progresses.
Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.