Enterprise Architecture: The ArchiMate Language and Tools

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:

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.

ArchiMate Tools for Creating Enterprise Architecture Diagrams

If you are a Visio expert, you will probably be satisfied with using the stencils that began my journey. They are grouped by ArchiMate taxonomy as show in the screenshot below:

While I generally find Visio to be useful for creating diagrams of what is already clear in my mind’s eye, I prefer tools that are targeted to a specific context in areas where I am thinking through the context.

Also, while the distribution list post which led me to ArchiMate originally referenced the stencils in response to a request for templates, there actually are some templates there as well. The templates are for a Mac-based application, a scotoma for many EAs who tend to be issued WinTel hardware.

On the first link I had followed about ArchiMate at archimate.nl I found Tool Support under the Start Using ArchiMate section. All of the tools listed there, except the last, have a price tag. While I have nothing against software for profit, I have to stay within my tool evaluation budget, which is currently at its normal level of 0. So instead of buying one of the recommended tools I ran a search for free ones and came up with Archi.

Archi

The astute reader is currently thinking “hey, he didn’t need to search Google for Archi, it is the last listing on the Tool Support page.” I will admit that I have learned to avoid “open source” that is “being developed,” as it is described on that page. It isn’t until you actually get to the Archi download that you discover that the current version is 1.7.0. Then again, I did mention earlier that I felt like I was being sold something when arriving at archimate.nl. In this case, it seems obvious that the tools that generate immediate profit are given first exposure to the ArchiMate neophyte, and I still can’t disagree with the desire to profit from software or that software is a valuable asset worth its price. That said, the extra effort to provide a time-limited trial should be worth it for applications that are clearly superior to their free alternatives.

Archi is a showcase for the power of Eclipse-based applications. The Archi application is 90% Eclipse projects. The remaining 10% is a beautifully elegant layer of UI design. All of the pieces that are not necessary to the specific needs of the implementation (and can make an Eclipse application very confusing to the non-Eclipse user) are hidden. Views and menus specific to the value that Archi provides are well thought out and intuitively organized.

Sparx Systems Enterprise Architect

As mentioned earlier, products that are superior are worth the effort to create a time-limited trial version. Sparx Systems understands this, and they have an excellent product that demonstrates the added value available they provide.

I prefer to stay out of the debate of whether free or fee is better… because both are wrong and for the same reason. Software written by motivated developers is the best, and different developers are motivated differently. In the case of Enterprise Architect, ArchiMate support is just one of its many features, and it is the breadth of features that gives it an immediate lead in desirability for me. Sure, it has its weaknesses, but I’m a feature junkie with a mild attention span issue that causes me to be more productive if I can do five things in a single application rather than having to switch between five applications to work on a single project (discounting IM and email, which would make a good plug-in for Eclipse).

Conclusion

Whether your main link of reference for ArchiMate is archimate.nl or archimate.org, ArchiMate is not a complete framework but a valuable model for capturing and communicating an organization’s enterprise architecture based on one of the mature frameworks, such as TOGAF, Zachman, or one of the many government-defined disciplines.

While ArchiMate is not very new in terms of Internet Years, it receives less mention in the hallways that enterprise architects hang out in than one would expect after getting to know more about it. It probably has something to do with the name, which more often invokes of a mental picture featuring comic book characters from the ’70s than a way to cross domain-based language barriers with a single set of icons. Then again, clearly defined technologies such as SOAP become more popular the more they are hidden behind vague terms like Web Services and cloud.

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