Popkin Software adds architectural tools

As many federal agencies come under increasing pressure to show that their information technology investments lead to better business performance, they are turning to a technique called business modeling.

A big part of business modeling involves creating graphical models, also called enterprise architectures, that illustrate an agency's current and future business operations and how they relate to the IT systems that support them.

For this task, several agencies rely on Popkin Software, a company whose own fortunes have followed the evolution of business modeling from esoteric programmer practice to top-level management concern.

Now, Popkin is introducing several enhancements to its flagship System Architect software tool that company officials believe will make it easier for federal customers to model and build the types of IT systems required by the Office of Management and Budget and legislation such as the Clinger-Cohen Act.

Last week, the company began shipping a graphical user interface for System Architect called Framework Manager. It lets users organize and see a "global view" of diagrams and flow charts associated with their business modeling projects, said Jan Popkin, chief executive officer of Popkin Software.

These diagrams can illustrate business processes, such as the path a grant request takes through an organization, as well as information flows, data formats and computer system architectures. Developers can then use information in the diagrams to build systems.

Before the new interface was available, users had to keep track of which of the 100 or so different diagram types supported by System Architect were pertinent to their particular project. The architecture framework used — whether custom-developed or one of several official frameworks — often dictated the type of diagrams needed.

In the federal arena, two of the more popular choices are the CIO Council's Federal Enterprise Architecture Framework (FEAF) and the Defense Department's Command, Control, Communications, Computer, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Architecture (C4ISR) framework.

Framework Manager itself only provides the capability to track the framework elements, which the user must first define. An exception to this is a new optional software module for System Architect that Popkin also began shipping recently. It provides canned support for C4ISR, indicating, for example, which diagrams are required and how they should be configured.

"The primary benefit of this [new option] is the time savings in terms of coming up to speed with the framework and to get started actually using it," said Tom Dalpini, a senior systems engineer with Conquest Inc. The company has helped several federal agencies use System Architect to model their operations and IT systems, and has a proposal pending at the Office of Homeland Security to use modeling to define coordinated emergency response scenarios.

In the future, Popkin also plans to offer optional modules that have canned support for the FEAF, as well as the Treasury Department's Treasury Enterprise Architecture Framework.

Prepackaged FEAF support, if it had been available last year, would have been a bonus for Carl Creager, associate chief information officer for enterprise architectures at the Transportation Department. That's when DOT began modeling pieces of its existing IT in.fra.structure as part of a departmentwide enterprise architecture project and bought a five-user license for Popkin's System Architect for about $8,000 to store and manage the models, he said.

DOT, which is using the FEAF as its guide, spent time customizing System Architect's diagrams to follow the federal framework. Now DOT is developing a custom feature that allows managers to ask "what if" questions about the IT infrastructure, a capability not currently part of the Popkin product, Creager said.

On the General Services Administration's schedule, pricing for System Architect V8.5 begins at $2,496 per seat. Pricing for the C4ISR optional module begins at $376 per seat. Aside from price, another selling point for the Popkin software is the range of modeling techniques and standards it supports, such as Extensible Markup Language schema, object-oriented and component modeling with Unified Modeling Language and relational data modeling.

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Framework defined

An enterprise architecture framework is like a road map to an enterprise-modeling project. It defines and provides an organized way to catalog the various work products, such as business process diagrams, data dictionaries and technical system standards. A framework is especially useful for ensuring uniformity and consistency when integrating existing systems and developing new ones.

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