Essential Labs

The team behind Essential are all practising architects and during our client engagements we are always having ideas on new views or improvements to existing views that can provide additional benefit.  We thought we’d make our labs available to our users so you can see what’s in development and make use of the updates immediately.

Often all (or if not all then most) of the data is already present in a repository, so these updates are really quick and easy to deploy and start using.  Feel free to download and use them with your own data if they look like they will help you.

Currently we have a new NIST compliance view, with a view loader, that enables you to monitor your NIST controls and assessments and some small updates to the Principles and Business Capability views.

The only thing we ask is that you tell us if you have suggestions for improvements or find any bugs.

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 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.

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.

Business Architecture Trends

First of all I would like to wish all our Essential users a happy and prosperous 2013!

Everyone on the Essential Project Team is very excited about the forthcoming year and the plans that we have for adding to and improving Essential and the services we offer around it – but that is for another blog or maybe another section of the website – for now I wanted to talk about Business Architecture.

We’ve noticed a lot of discussion regarding business architecture at the moment, both in blogs and discussions and also in the traffic we see to the Essential Project; over the last two months five of our top ten page visits were to tutorials related to business architecture and the business architecture tutorial home page had three times as many visits as the application and technology tutorial home page and six times as many visits as the Info and data tutorials home page.  Another interesting point is that this almost exactly mirrors the introduction to a blog I wrote 3 years ago, substituting business architecture for business capability modelling.

So there is evidently a huge desire within the EA community to focus on business architecture, which I think is great as EA isn’t really EA without the BA.  It is imperative to understand the objectives, drivers and principles of your business if you are to be effective in your EA efforts.  Without these, and the ability to demonstrate to your stakeholders how all your initiatives – IT or not – are supporting the business objectives and drivers, you are missing the potential to make a real difference to your organisation.

I think there are two important strands here.  The first is in actually supporting key business stakeholders by providing them with specific targeted information which allows them to make informed decisions in a timely and effective manner.  The nature of the information required will vary from stakeholder to stakeholder and organisation to organisation.  The key, as an architect, is in understanding these needs and understanding the analysis that needs to be undertaken to inform the decision, thus understanding what information to give to your stakeholder.  The second is in communicating how effective the business architecture, and ultimately the enterprise architecture, is in supporting the business using key performance metrics.

We are seeing many more of our clients bring activities that may have once been viewed as pertinent only to the application and technology layers into the business layer.  Recent projects have involved us working with clients who are looking to understand, measure and report on the maturity of their business capabilities, benchmarking them against industry standards and internally desired maturity measures.  We are also working with clients that want to identify standard processes that support business capabilities and to measure and report on their implementation and exceptions.

Another trend we have noticed is that EA Teams are becoming more aware of the need to communicate their success in supporting the business to key stakeholders, with an increase in the number of EA Teams that want to measure and report on the effectiveness of their operation providing, for example, quarterly dashboards tracking progress against strategic objectives.

Essential Architecture Manager has a large number of views that support the business architecture out of the box, from Business Reference Models that allow you to navigate through the layers of your reference model to understand the underlying architectures, to the Business Objective/Project Footprint that shows the footprint of current change against the business objectives defined, overlaid onto the capability model, to Business Roadmaps which show the progression of the architecture from the current to the future state.  In addition, as the meta model is extensive, we have been able to quickly and easily create client specific dashboards enabling EA Teams to effectively report their progress.

We would be really interested in feedback from any members of the community outlining their current initiatives in the Business Architecture layer so we can further develop Essential and ensure that it continues to support the requirements of the community.

 

Never let a serious crisis go to waste!

At a recent conference run by the Enterprise Architecture Specialist Group of the British Computer Society (BCS), a panel of the speakers was asked how a newly constituted EA unit could best establish its credibility. The question came from a member of the audience who had recently taken charge of such a unit, and who was keenly aware of the dangers of being regarded by the rest of the IT function as a superfluous, “ivory tower” operation.

This concern resonated with the Essential Project Team’s experience. All too often we hear of cases where newly-formed enterprise architecture teams, with the best of intentions, have spent months documenting business processes, information, applications and technologies at an unnecessarily fine level of detail. Given this, it is hardly surprising when they find themselves disbanded as a result of ill-considered cost cutting initiatives.The BCS conference panel’s responses all boiled down to three simple imperatives that we think are appropriate not only for newly formed EA units, but also for well-established ones:

Keep it simple!

Make it relevant!

Deliver timely value!

Every organization has issues that keep senior people awake at night, and enterprise architecture can often provide the means to address these. Sometimes the opportunities lie purely in the IT domain. An example of this was a media company with a complex IT landscape that was faced with an urgent need to reduce costs. Capturing the basic information on the firm’s applications and technology platforms and producing the relevant EA reports enabled a small task force within ten weeks to identify $30m of savings through elimination of duplicate applications and redundant technologies. More often the opportunities are business-related, and these are the ones that generally win the most brownie points for the EA unit. Several years ago the merger of two chemical companies looked to be a marriage made in heaven from a traditional due diligence perspective. However, a rapidly conducted, high level view of the business architecture of the two firms revealed fundamental incompatibilities between their respective operating models. This caused a re-think of the viability of the deal. A more recent example is that of a pharmaceutical company whose legal department had an urgent need to track the movement of certain critical information across national boundaries. In all these cases, the EA function responded quickly by capturing sufficient information to meet the requirement.

The Essential Metamodel and the Essential Architecture Manager have been designed in such a way that cases like this can be handled with minimal administrative effort. And the captured information can of course be retained for other uses after the crises have passed.

The Essential Roadmap

We’ve been kinda quiet on this blog since the summer, not because we all took the autumn off, but because we’ve been working feverishly behind the scenes reviewing the Essential roadmap and preparing a major new release which we are planning to make available early in 2012.

We will be releasing Essential Architecture Manager v3, which includes new versions of the meta model, the software platform and the viewer as well as updated training modules – I did say we’d been busy!

The roadmap below gives you a taster of what is in v3 and what we are planning beyond this (click on the roadmap to view a larger image):-

There’s a lot of new and, we think, exciting stuff in here.  We will include full details when we release it, but to whet your appetite ………….

The Strategy Management area has been completely overhauled to provide support for defining and managing Architecture States (current and future – by layer or strategic project as required) and for defining and managing architectural roadmaps, with milestones and timelines, to demonstrate how the organisation will move from one architectural state to another with supporting Strategic Plans.  In addition the Change Management area has been updated to allow change programmes, projects and activities to be defined which detail the strategic plans that will deliver the roadmap transitions.

An example Roadmap view:-

Information quality and security are key to any organisation and, due to much demand, we have enhanced both areas.  Data Standards Management now provides the ability to manage Data Quality across the organisation, whilst Security Management allows an organisation to define its Security Architecture and its relationship to the resources in the organisation.  In addition to the usual application of these areas, we have been able to resolve other issues for organisations, such as providing the required regulatory views for movement of data across country borders, with a long term solution that is quick and easy to implement by simply adding to the information artefacts already captured.

Some example Data Management and Security views:-

There are also a number of other smaller additions to the meta model which provide benefit across the repository as a whole, for example, Data Governance (a peer of Data Standards Management in Data Management); Taxonomy (enabling user-defined classifications to be applied to any element); Geography (for including geographical location information with elements such as Site) and Synonym (for any element in the model).

We are always looking at how we can provide more benefit and we have developed a new and innovative solution to help organisations get information into the repository as quickly and efficiently as possible, in support of our view that capturing the data is the means to the end (views/reports/analysis of the information) rather than the end itself.  We have developed a Spreadsheet Export and Import facility which allows the user to define a spreadsheet from within Essential, incorporating a series of worksheets and including data from the existing repository if required.  This is then exported to excel and allows almost anyone within the organisation to capture the required information by simply filling in the spreadsheet; no modelling knowledge is required for this task.  The information in the spreadsheet is then imported directly into Essential, populating the repository and creating the required links and relationships between the captured artefacts.  This is not only quick,  it also allows the data capture to be completed by more and cheaper resources; the person with the EA knowledge is then freed up to concentrate on the important tasks.

We’ve be using this in beta for a few months,and it is proving hugely effective at capturing large amounts of quality data quickly.

 

All the existing training modules have been updated to take account of v3 and new modules have been created for the new areas, all of which are now readily available.

Finally, you have probably noticed from the screenshots that we also have a brand new Essential Viewer. We’ve taken the time to think about what users, especially business users, really want from the reports  and have created a look and feel that’s clean, friendly and focused. It also features active filters to show or hide elements on a page which we think are a great way to simplify the content on a page without building a whole new view. There are also some less obvious but powerful features such as dynamic linking. We’ve always been proud of the ability to navigate the architecture – moving up, down and across to discover more about your organisation – but previously each link only ever went to one place. In future, any link on a page can be configured to access any number of relevant views. For example, clicking on a Data Subject can take you to a Data Subject Summary, a Data Subject to Role matrix, a Data Subject to Application Matrix, etc. There’s nothing to learn, no training required, you click on a link and click where you want to go. It’s powerful and effortless.  For those who develop their own views, you can easily take advantage of this with just a few extra lines in your code. We’ve also developed a whole new CSS framework for Essential Viewer that helps you build great looking views for you organisation quickly. Finally, we know how important it is for these tools to feel like part of your own organisation and we have provided the ability to re-brand the viewer. You can add your own logos, colour schemes, fonts and portal name. This kind of branding used to take a lot of effort but now can be achieved extremely quickly. And of course, you can use the new viewer on your iPad or iPhone…

As always, these changes are driven by our clients and community, as are the next Essential developments.  We are always keen to hear your views and suggestions, please feel free to comment.

 

Review of 2010

It’s the end of the first full year of operation for Essential and ‘every day and in every way, it’s getting better and better’ – sorry, couldn’t resist a bit of plagiarism from the Pink Panther film I watched last night!

Back to the review of 2010…..

For Essential, 2010 built on the success of 2009 with almost 3,500 downloads of the toolkit, some 17,500 unique visitors from across a wide range of geographic locations from the UK and Europe across the US and Canada to Australia and India, really a worldwide reach.  The total number of times the toolkit has been downloaded since launch is now around the 6,000 mark.  We are delighted that the community is now really starting to take off; with around 1200 members we are beginning to see an active forum with ideas and suggestions as well as queries, and members starting to post answers to queries from other members, which is great.  Essential has also been noticed by all the major analyst firms with positive written reviews and mentions at various conferences, again, all good news.

Away from Essential, and looking at EA in general, the year has been a mixed one.  Obviously the recession had taken its toll on budgets and whilst some forward thinking organisations were looking to their EA teams to lead the way into the future, others had followed the more traditional route of cuts. However, although it looked like 2010 might just be the year of the recovery – the squeezing of government spend, particularly across Europe, will surely have a significant effect on the public sector and their EA initiatives.  This is possibly one of the reasons that Essential has been so successful, organisations around the world are really needing to make the most of the budget they have available and a decent, free tool is too good an opportunity to ignore.

In the more general world of Enterprise Architecture we have noticed a number of areas being discussed, perhaps more than others.  In terms of activities, there have been two that have been mentioned many times, one looking at application portfolio rationalisation and cost savings and one looking at the role of business architecture in EA.

The first is always a popular route in for an organisation new to EA – display some decent cost savings in a short time period and you will get people’s attention and, hopefully, the buy-in and visibility to move onwards and upwards with your EA; especially applicable in these times.

The second, music to my ears!  As a business architect I have long been frustrated by the IT tag that EA has had and the prominence of the application and technology layers.  It has always been my belief that the business has to be an integral part of the EA and so I was delighted to see so much discussion at conferences and in blogs and discussion threads about the importance of business capabilities, understanding the business strategy and ensuring this is linked into the EA.  This has to be a good thing and I will be happy when all EA teams are sitting under the CIO and not the CTO – although I accept this may not be in 2011?

Looking at EA trends, it has been suggested that specific frameworks will become less important as organisations become more fluid.  That is not to say that EA does not need structure, just that there will be less reliance on being aligned to one particular framework.  We also noticed that TOGAF seems to be rising in prominence since the launch of TOGAF9, partly, I suspect, as it focuses more on the business than the previous versions – although it is still not business focused enough in my opinion…

In terms of tools, there was much discussion about a ‘new generation of tools’ that would support more mature EA objectives such as strategic planning, IT road mapping and risk management.  This would be a move away from the objective of some of the current tools, which is simply to provide documentation support.  There was also some discussion about the use of ontology’s in EA Tools.  Both of these are areas of particular interest to us.  We think we have the most advanced use of an EA ontology in an available tool at present – and thanks to all those who have championed us in various blogs! From our perspective, the main value of an EA tool is not purely in modelling but of being able to interrogate the information that has been captured in the model to aid decision-making.

All in all an interesting year, and one that leaves us looking forward to 2011 when we have a number of exiting events planned.  Our first training course will take place in January, to enlarge the EAS network of Essential trained affiliates, and we have two major releases planned.  Firstly the Strategy Management piece has just been released in late December and secondly a complete update to the information and data layer is nearing completion and will be released early in the New Year.  Keep your eye on the site for these as they move the capabilities of Essential Architecture Manager on a good deal.  And finally an apology for all those that signed up for the webinar last year, we had to move this down our list of priorities as we simply ran out of available bandwidth to complete it in time.  We hope to be able to pick this up in 2011 once the training and the release of the update packs are completed.

All that’s left to say is thank you all for your support, have a very Happy Christmas and we look forward to collaborating with you in 2011!