Essential v6 Release

Essential Version 6 is a major upgrade of Essential, with improvements to the Viewer, Meta Model and Import Utility.  The most exciting changes are shown below:

New Views
We’ve added 14 new views encompassing all layers from Business Objectives all the way down the stack to Technology Domains.  Of particular interest are the Application Status Radar, which shows the application lifecycles for a business capability on a radar map, the Strategic Roadmap, describing the Roadmap for strategic change including elements that are affected in your organisation along with implementing projects and the Technology Components Catalogue (as a Table) which shows the technology products providing a particular capability and the lifecycle of each product.

We’ve also added a couple of really useful utility views – All Instances by Class, which allows you to export a list of all instances of a certain type, and an Instance Relations Tree, which allows you to view all the relationships a specific instance has.

Import Utility
We’ve added the ability to schedule automatic imports from 3rd party systems using a REST service interface.

Meta Model
There are various extensions and additions to the meta model to support the addition of views, packs and client requests.

Full details can be found in the release notes.
Essential v6 Release Notes

Data Lens

You may have noticed from our site that the Data Lens is in beta.  It’s a lens that we’ve developed because we’ve been continually told that people don’t have control of their data.

In our EA consulting, we have seen:

  • Organisations that were unwittingly reporting incorrect MI figures because data was inaccurate or incomplete
  • Projects that intended to master and duplicate data that already existed in the organisation
  • Inconsistency in what people thought certain data was
  • Differing views on where data was sourced from
  • Projects repeating the same data collection work, asking the same questions again

The Data Lens looks to address this by bringing transparency and coherence to your data estate.  It is aimed at supporting the demands of people wanting to use data, such as:

  • Data Lake or Analytics efforts, which need to know information such as where data is sourced from, what terms are used for the same data, e.g. client and customer, how good the data is in terms of quality and completeness, etc.
  • Platform projects need to know where data masters exist, where data flows, how data is transformed, etc.
  • Any data rationalisation project needs to know where master sources of data exist, where duplication exists and how data is used.
  • Plus, Data Scientists need to understand the sources of data available for their analysis

The lens addresses these needs by providing a number of views and tools.

The Data Definition views provide data definitions, summaries and dynamically produced data models.

The Data Architecture Analysis views are geared towards you understanding sources of data, data flows, where duplication exists, etc.

Data Management is where the lens excels.  You are able to understand data quality across a number of criteria and see sources of data.  The Quality Dashboard shows the quality of the key data required to support your strategic objectives and business capabilities, and also the initiatives impacting that data.  This allows you to identify where your data initiatives may need to be focused to improve your business data output and enable your strategy.  The Data Quality Analysis page lets you pick the data you need and it then shows you where to source it from, plus the quality, completeness and accuracy of that data. This is really useful if you are using the data for other purposes, e.g. MI reporting or analytics. The data dashboard provides and summary view of your data which you can drill down into.

We see the Data Lens acting as the bridge between the tools that are more focused on the physical data layer, and which typically meet the needs of the technical teams but not the business users or the data scientists.  Equally, where you have conceptual data in a tool, the lens can act as the bridge to the physical data, removing the gap between the conceptual and physical layers, bringing context and meaning to the data.

The lens is currently in beta but we are allowing organisations to register an interest and we would love to get any feedback on the lens.

Essential Cloud – Available Now

Today marks a step change in the life of The Essential Project as we move to Public Preview of Essential Cloud, the final step before General Release. A cloud offering has been at the top of the Essential Community request list for some time and we have combined the best of the Essential Project with a cloud based service to provide additional enterprise capabilities. As well as all the benefits of Essential Open Source, Essential Cloud offers a comprehensive security interface covering both the instances in the repository and the viewer, a user-friendly, browser-based data capture interface extended to include tablet and mobile access, an enhanced viewer environment and single sign-on support via SAML. As this is a cloud service, technical support is automatically included as are platform updates, to ensure that you can keep up with the latest Essential developments with none of the hassle.

In line with our focus on value, Essential Cloud will be a low-cost option, with an annual subscription covering access to both the modeller and the viewer for unlimited users. We are not utilising a seat-based license model as the feedback from the Essential Community and our clients is that the key to an effective architecture initiative, one that provides value to the business, is to enable the users to own and update key aspects of the architecture, i.e. those areas that do not require modelling expertise, such as dates, ownership, governance models and so on. This spreads the load of keeping organisational information up to date and enables architects to focus on business value rather than being distracted with managing routine updates. A seat-based license model does not fit with this approach as the costs quickly become prohibitive; we would rather an organisation’s investment in EA is used to build out their architecture than pay for licenses.

To support this new model further, we are working with our user groups to design new data capture mechanisms that will provide business users with easy access and enable them to update information without having to understand the detail of the meta model or architecture modelling techniques. We already have some early prototypes, and we see this as an important way of enabling EA to continue to provide value to the business.

This is an exciting step in the broadening of the Essential platform, but we do want to assure you that we remain fully committed to Essential Open Source. This will continue to evolve in parallel with Essential Cloud and, crucially, the meta model will remain shared so both platforms will benefit from all advancements as well as the ability to move easily between Cloud and Open Source. Going forward we see the Essential Community consisting of both Open Source and Cloud users. We greatly value the contribution made by the community and we will continue to look to them to help us evolve the Essential proposition to ensure it remains at the forefront of knowledge driven decision support.

We have created an overview video showing Essential Cloud’s capabilities and we will also be holding a series of Webex’s where we will provide a demonstration of Essential Cloud and hold a Q&A session.

If you are interested in the Webex or Public Preview sign up here.

The Public Preview benefits are, of course, in addition to the existing benefits that are provided across both Essential Cloud and Open source:

  • Over 100 out of the box views focused on analysis, road mapping and decision making
  • Ontology based meta model for an entire organisation, with the ability to support other EA Frameworks
  • Import and export of data via unique excel import utility, with fast start view loaders, and APIs to integrate with existing data sources
  • Access to business focused lenses providing dedicated support for key areas such as Application Portfolio Management, Data Management, Strategic Resource Optimisation

If you are new to Essential then, Essential Cloud aside, one of our most exciting recent developments is the addition of add-on business focused lenses.

The lenses have been in our mind since 2010 when Jon Carter wrote a blog titled ‘Welcome to the View Store’, suggesting the concept of an app store for Essential. We were staggered by the interest and up take of Essential and so our early focus was on developing the tool functionality, but now we have made our earlier vision a reality.  Our business outcome focused lenses consist of a series of dashboards and views that respond to specific business problems, supported by everything you need to light up the views – data capture spreadsheets, import specifications, process documentation and videos.

The lenses have provided an ideal means for us to partner with organisations outside of the usual EA arena, allowing us to extend the use of Essential to cover different aspects of an organisation. For example, we have partnered with a strategic resource specialist to create a strategic resource optimisation lens which enables organisations to ensure they have the right staffing resources in place to meet the future demands of the business, such as the skills to enable digital business expansion. We have a couple of packs on offer now: Application Portfolio Management and Strategic Resource Management, and we will be expanding the offering shortly to include Data Management, and then, over time, we plan to move into many additional areas such as M&A, Outsourcing Support, Financial Regulations, etc.

We also have a set of low-cost View Loaders that provide the templates to do bulk data capture into Essential Cloud or Open Source. So, if you want to get bulk data into Essential quickly, the loaders can speed this up.

If you would like to develop your own pack to put on the view store, or talk to us about an idea for joint development of a pack, please contact us.

Essential’s Application Portfolio Management Lens Released

Those of you that follow Essential will know that we have mentioned a number of times our intention to build ‘lenses’ to support specific business problems, and we are delighted to have launched our first lens, the Application Portfolio Management (APM) lens. APM provides everything you need to transform and manage your Application Portfolio – a methodology, simplified data capture and import, and a pack of views to allow you to quickly understand where you have opportunities to decrease cost and increase agility.

APM utilises Essential’s extensive meta model to build a set of views, based on our consulting work with clients globally, to support their application initiatives. Data gathering is something any company must do for an application transformation project; we have tailored and simplified a set of capture spreadsheets and pre-configured import specifications so it is as quick and easy to complete as possible. The lens provides a dedicated set of views and uses algorithms, acting on the data captured, to allow informed decision making.

Application Portfolio Management is not simply about reducing the number of applications; rather it aims to ensure that the application landscape enables the business to achieve its strategic objectives in the most efficient and effective manner. See the website and demo for further detail.

We are in the process of developing further lenses, including Data Management and Strategic Resource Optimisation, so watch this space for further updates. We’d love to hear your views on APM and your ideas for future lenses that would make your life easier, feel free to drop us a line.

Essential View Loaders

We’ve come across a number of Essential users who have said they’d rather not spend time writing the import specifications to import data and anything to speed the import of lots of data to get the out-of-the box views working quicker would be helpful. In response, we’ve created some view loaders that will populate key elements of the views. This means that you can focus on gathering the data required and then just run the importer to load the data into your repository.

We’ve priced the loaders at a point that is low, so you won’t need to blow the budget on them, and we will be using the revenue to fund the Essential Project work. We’re intending to build more view loaders in the coming weeks and months, and would welcome feedback on which views you’d like us to prioritise. We’re also due a new dot release of Essential soon, which has some meta model changes and some updated views that we’ll be offering view loaders alongside.

We’re working some other things at the moment, although if you keep an eye on the site you can probably work out what, but more about that in the next few months.

IRM UK EA Conference – Outsourcing and EA

I presented a session on Outsourcing and EA at the IRM EA conference last week; specifically how, as Enterprise Architects, we are in a prime position to ensure that outsourcing deals are both created and run effectively as we are in the unique position of having the knowledge and understanding of both the business and IT across the entire enterprise.  We likened EA’s to the Spartans in the battle of Thermopylae who held off an army of (allegedly) a million men for seven days with only 300 warriors – primarily because they understood and had a map of the landscape.  (Unfortunately they were betrayed and slaughtered after a week – hopefully the analogy doesn’t stretch that far!).

Research by both Gartner and AT Kearney suggests that around 1/3rd of outsource initiatives fail.  We discussed how use of our architecture knowledge and artefacts can mitigate the risks of failure and how EA can be used to bring greater success.  We touched on our work to help organisations use EA and Essential together to reduce the outsource transition time (from idea to completed transition to a new provider) from a typical 18-24 months to 6-9 months, which addresses a key concern raised by the FCA.  We showed some examples of how Essential has been used to support such initiatives across a number of organisations.

The conference itself was very interesting and it seems to me that EA is really coming of age – there were many talks showing how EA is used in organisations to provide real and concrete benefit to senior managers.

If you would like a copy of the presentation then drop me an e-mail at the info at e-asolutions.com address.

The Data Visualisation Tools Arena

At a demo recently we were asked how Essential fits alongside data visualisation tools such as QlikView and Tableau.  Visualisation and BI environments are hot topics at the moment, with a lot of commentary appearing about them, so we thought we should share our view of how we see Essential playing in this field.

In simple terms, we see the split being between the quantative and qualitative view.  The quantative view gives you the numbers that tells you where your issues are and the qualitative view then gives you the information behind the numbers that allow you make informed decisions to resolve the issues.

The data visualisation tools’ key strength are in addressing the quantitative data requirements, so they are great at taking data and transforming it into meaningful statistics that can be used to formulate facts and uncover patterns in data.  If I have questions about how many interfaces there are between my applications, how many meet the SLAs, how many move client data etc., the BI visualisation tools are perfect.  Tableau will even provide some rudimentary views of connections.

On the other hand, whilst we do provide some quantitative views with Essential, its real strength is at the other end of the spectrum in providing the qualitative information.  So, if you want to understand the underlying reasons behind the data relationships then Essential can provide the insight and detail to explain why and how things are as they are.  For example, whilst the quantitative information tells you how many interfaces you have, it doesn’t tell you how those interfaces relate, what they are responsible for, what they eventually impact, etc. Essential will give you the view to show, for example, which are your critical interfaces – which applications and processes fail if a specific feed fails etc.  This information is less about statistics and more about knowledge.

Between the two types of tool you can get a powerful view of your IT environment, but you need to know where to get best value from each and, of course, understand your requirements as Essential can be a source for the quantitative as well as the qualitative in some cases.

Enterprise Social Networking and Knowledge Integration

The increasing use of social business collaboration technologies such as Yammer and Jive is opening up opportunities within organisations to leverage the internal people network for knowledge.  If I have a problem then I can ask the organisation if anyone has the answer, and quite often a conversation starts on the topic in question.  If you listen to the words of CIOs at conferences, these technologies are starting to add value and are opening up the communication channels within organisations to allow and enhance knowledge sharing.  However, whilst these technologies are working well in lots of companies, it is important to understand that they are only part of the solution.

The social tools are great for exploiting the people network, it’s surprising what people in the organisation do know if you ask them; we saw a recent example where a document was received in Mandarin and the office didn’t know who could speak Mandarin.  Within 10 minutes of posting ‘Does anyone understand Mandarin’ on the collaboration tool they had five Mandarin speakers identify themselves.  A request for information on Yammer in one organisation, following the Heartbleed security issue, identified previously unknown areas of exposure in the global business.  So there is clear value to be gained from these collaboration tools, however, the challenge is what to do with this data once it is made visible.  How do we leverage it in the future without asking the same questions again or having to search archives?  How do we make sure that when people leave the organisation, the knowledge stays?  How do we make the information succinct and accessible? This is where tools such as Essential come into play by providing a mechanism for capturing and integrating that knowledge in a structured way for future use.  Tools such as  Essential become the library for the information that the collaboration tools expose.  By being clear on exactly what you want to store in the tools (don’t try and boil the ocean) and putting in processes for capturing the knowledge, you can marry the social business with more structured knowledge integration tools.

So, don’t just assume that social business collaboration tools are the answer to your knowledge problems; they are only part of the solution. It’s when you tie in tools such as Essential that you are on to something very powerful, as depicted below:-

Enterprise Social Networking and Knowledge Integration

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Outsourcing Risk, the Regulators and Essential

The Financial Conduct Authority, the UK financial services authority, last month published a review of outsourcing and its concerns in the asset management industry – http://www.fca.org.uk/static/documents/thematic-reviews/tr13-10.pdf.

The sentiment expressed in the paper probably applies to any company that is considering outsourcing or already has outsourced aspects of their business, primarily that there has to be a plan B in place in case things go wrong and the outsourcer fails. Essential can play a crucial role here, by underpinning the relationship between the client and the outsourcer effectively and by mitigating some of the risks around loss of knowledge internally. This is something EAS, the sponsors and developers of Essential, are currently working on with some clients and where Essential has become a key component.

The drivers behind using Essential have been to ensure that clients are not tied tightly into an outsource relationship which cannot quickly be reversed out of. The key objectives are to:

  • Ensure there is an exit strategy should it be required (in line with the recent FCA demands)
  • Mitigate against the loss of knowledge in the event of a failure in the relationship
  • Reduce the dependency on the outsourcer for knowledge retention – they may have their own knowledge tools but they may not be willing to share them
  • Retain the organisation’s intellectual capital (IC) – the outsourcer will create IC as part of the relationship, but it is important for the customer to retain that IC – ultimately it is still the customer’s architecture

If you are considering outsourcing, then Essential may be an answer for you. In line with the FCA requirement, Essential acts as a knowledge base, ensuring that you retain control of your own information, in an accessible, controlled structure, and so reducing reliance on a third party.

If you have any questions on this then discuss it on the forum or get in touch.

http://www.enterprise-architecture.org/forums/
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