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Enterprise Architecture: The ArchiMate Language and Tools

ArchiMate can help simplify the various enterprise domain models, illustrate where they overlap and facilitate understanding between stakeholders and domain experts.


In an Enterprise Architecture distribution list I belong to someone posted an urgent request (to be honest, I've never seen a request for information on a technology DL that wasn't urgent) for EA Visio templates. In response, one member responded with a link to an ArchiMate intro, commenting that there were some Visio stencils available there. I am always on the lookout for anything that will make my own cave drawings look more modern, so I followed the link. Once there, I began to read a bit about the ArchiMate project.

That email query and sideways-related response started a fascinating journey down an intellectual rabbit hole, which opened on the other side to a simplified Enterprise Architecture modeling language.

What Is ArchiMate and How's It Related to Enterprise Architecture?

Whenever a major section of a website has a question mark in the heading, I get the sense someone is trying to sell something. While selling is not necessarily a bad thing, knowing that someone is making a pitch before I know what it is they have to offer puts me on the defensive. How many of you trust products that use advertisements where the product itself is never shown?

In the case of ArchiMate, the pitch is very compelling, though the presentation can be a bit confusing. The confusing presentation is pretty ironic given that the key value of ArchiMate is reducing or eliminating the confusion that often exists when experts from different enterprise domains contribute to the enterprise architecture.

For example, the archimate.nl site has a page devoted to the ArchiMate standard, which could lead one to assume that ArchiMate is the gold standard when it actually is yet another language brought to us by The Open Group site. Despite the confusion around the pedigree of ArchiMate, the goal of the ArchiMate language is to simplify domain models within an enterprise along with both the connections and overlaps of those models so that stakeholders and domain experts throughout the enterprise can understand each other. Everything you need to learn about ArchiMate can be found on their Publications link, including those Visio stencils that started my journey through this interesting project.

For some reason, you must be registered to access the free HTML version, though there is a PDF version listed for members. In either case, the essence of Archi is a basic modeling language that is minimally distinguishable from UML at first glance. A deeper look shows that the language is less technical and easier to understand for those unfamiliar with modeling languages than UML. Since Enterprise Architecture is about making technology better support business and the key to success is active participation and support from business, the power and value of a language that non-technical users can understand should be immediately clear.

How Does ArchiMate Differ from Other Enterprise Architecture Modeling Languages?

In essence, ArchiMate places the architectures of an enterprise into three layers: Business, Application, and Technology. This is very similar to the BAIT model, which has the Information layer in addition to the common three layers. Because Enterprise Architecture is generally driven by IT, it tends to be IT centric, as is the BAIT model. BAIT basically shows three levels of IT supporting business, while the diagrams generally display layers.

Figure 1. BAIT Layer Model

The tone of the presentations delivered with such diagrams often draws the following picture:

Figure 2. BAIT Pillar Perception

In the early stages of establishing an Enterprise Architecture, perception can block intent, with the business feeling isolated from the process.

With the BAT layering of the ArchiMate language, technology is closer to business right from the start. The shapes used in representing ArchiMate models also facilitate communication between domains by showing the process is each layer supporting and depending on the other:

Click here for larger image

Figure 3. Example BAT View from Archi Sample Project

This is a much more team-like visual that fosters a perception that matches the intention of technology as an enabler of business success. The example in Figure 3 even labels the technology layer as the Infrastructure layer, which is probably more accurate in many enterprises.

The BAT layer model can also be more effective in communicating with technology implementation teams, whereas Information Architecture is more often used to refer to the aspects of UI regarding accessing information. At the same time, some Enterprise Architecture teams mean how the information is stored. How information is stored can also be referred to as Data Architecture, which may be clearer to all domains but does not seem to enjoy as much usage in Enterprise Architecture literature and training.

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