EA Tools vs Modelling Tools

We’ve had a few questions recently about why Essential doesn’t provide a greater ability to draw pictures, which is part of the broader question regarding the difference between EA tools and Modelling tools.  Essential is primarily an EA tool and so is focused on supporting the objectives of CxOs and EAs/Chief Architects, with some support for Solution Architects; Diagram-driven, solution modelling tools, however, are focused on supporting Solution Architects in their design work, but do not provide visualisations that can support the key requirements of the EAs/Chief Architects or the CxO’s objectives.  Beyond an overall all systems wiring diagram to show complexity (and used for effect), it’s difficult to think of many more Visio-type diagrams you’d put in front of an CxO.

We’ve drawn up a slide that explains the objectives of the different roles and how Essential can support each, and we’ve also taken the opportunity to update the demo viewer to show the support for the different roles, so there is now a CxO portal, an EA portal and a Solution Architects portal*.

EA Tools vs Modelling Tools

We are aware that many organisations want a tool that supports all three roles and so we are working on the ability to import and export from Visio, which will extend Essential’s reach.  Added to this is Essential’s ability to support an organisation beyond the scope of just IT, for example with our GDPR or Strategic Resource Optimisation pack, and Essential provides an organisational support tool that is unique in its field.

Just one final point, we noted Mega’s press release on 3/10/2017, ‘MEGA is First EA Vendor with Unique GDPR Solution’.  That’s not strictly true, as the Essential GDPR Solution was launched on 28/7/2017!  And to be honest we’ve had clients using our PII solution, the foundation for GDPR, since 2013, something none of the other EA tools did.  If you want to see a proven GDPR tool, give us a call or drop us an e-mail.

*The Essential Viewer can be configured directly in Essential, so organisations can easily create and configure multiple portals to suit their needs.  Essential Cloud also gives the ability to control access to views, and even redact specific data in views, by role or individual.

 

Essential Cloud in General Availability

We are delighted to announce that Essential Cloud is now in General Availability

We’d like to thank all the clients that gave their feedback, allowing us to enhance Essential Cloud over the last six months.  We’ve updated the user interface, adding a journey history and improving collaboration capabilities through updated notifications, and we’ve extended the integration capabilities.  Importantly, we’ve had lots of positive feedback and no major issues, so we’re confident that Essential Cloud will prove to be as stable as Essential Open Source has been for the last eight years.

Find out more here

GDPR – The One Year Countdown Starts Now – How to use Essential to support GDPR

I’m sure that most organisations will be very aware that the new GDPR regulations will apply from 25/5/2018 –one year to go.  I’m not sure, however, that most organisations are confident that they will have the processes and tools in place to ensure that they will be compliant from this date.

A recent survey by IASME Consortium found that, of the business that responded:

  • 6% felt that implementation of GDPR would take a year or more
  • 2% said they hadn’t considered allocating resource yet
  • 21% of businesses acknowledged that they understood what GDPR is

So, what solutions are out there to help you solve your GDPR problems?  From what we see, there are a number of tools in the marketplace that take a very IT security driven approach to GDPR, e.g. which applications/databases hold GDPR data, lock them down, control user access, etc., which is obviously important and a good place to start to avoid any initial ‘fires’.  But, this is a very bottom up approach to the problem.  The new regulations put an emphasis on the business understanding – why is the data being collected in the first place, are you getting consent, and so on – check out the excellent 12 steps document from the ICO at https://ico.org.uk/media/1624219/preparing-for-the-gdpr-12-steps.pdf for more information.    As a starting point then, organisations need to define the data they use that falls under GDPR, understand which processes collect and use this data, capture what the legal basis for use is, how consent was gained from the client and where this consent is stored.  So, whilst the tools focusing on the IT side of GDPR are absolutely crucial, they do not address these business requirements.

So how do I use Essential to support GDPR? 

Essential has the means to support these business requirements using the existing process definitions within the meta model, which are already linked to information, applications and legal obligations – which we use to capture the legal basis for use and consent.

The out of the box views cover a number of the questions you need to answer, and we are finalising a complete pack with a GDPR partner that will support organisations in understanding the situation from top to bottom in one tool:

From the business questions:

  • What personal data do you hold? ​
  • Where did it come from? ​
  • What is the legal basis for the data being held?​
  • How was consent received?​
  • Who do we share it with? ​
  • How long do we retain the data for?​

To the technical questions:

  • Where do you hold it?  ​
  • Where is my technology risk greatest?
  • How do we dispose of the data?​

For those not already embarked on the GDPR journey we would recommend starting to capture your processes now – whilst not rocket science this will take some time and produce a level of detail that will not be easily managed in a spreadsheet.  This initial step is crucial in meeting the 25/5/2018 deadline.

The Essential Project: An explanation for those new to Essential

Know Your Organisation, Make Informed Decisions

The strategic decisions any executive makes for their organisation defines how successful they are.  Get the decisions right and you are a hero, get them wrong and your credibility takes a hit, and in the worst case it costs you your job.  In the ideal world, we’d have perfect information and be able to make perfect decisions, however, in reality we don’t have that situation.  The challenge is how we can reduce the chances of making bad decisions by having access to better information, and this is where the Essential Project comes into play.

Essential is an ontology based tool with a structured meta-model that collates information about your organisation through facts and relationships between those facts, and then renders the output in visualisations.  For example, you can collate disparate information about your business capabilities, business processes, applications, and let Essential make sense of it and show you where you have inefficiencies.  As you begin to overlay more information you can get increased oversight of of your business, for example if we overlay databases, location and data classifications on top of the information in the first example, we can now understand our data privacy position.  Importantly, it’s all data driven, so you can push the data capture out to the people who know their portion of the organisation and let Essential join it all up – the support people know the servers, their locations and what applications run on them, the application teams know what databases their applications use, the business teams know their processes and which application they use, and so on.  We don’t rely on one person knowing the end to end, or having to join it all up.

For the architects, they can move away from data collation and now focus the majority of their time on the much more interesting job of identifying opportunities, inefficiencies, etc. and knowing that the basis for their recommendations is valid.  

For the executive, they now have access to the information that allows them to make those informed decisions, removing the element of guesswork that executives typically have to use when determining strategy.  Questions such as ‘What is the impact if I outsource this part of the business?’, ‘Where can I make savings if I acquire Company X?’, ‘Where do operational inefficiencies exist?’, ‘Am I compliant with regulatory needs?’, become answerable based on fact rather than assumption.  For the teams working on behalf of the executives, they have the tool and structures to allow them to deliver real value and gain the insight that their senior management are looking for from them. 

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 Wins Innovation & Excellence Award 2017

We are delighted to announce that Essential has won the Corporate Live Wire award for Innovation in Enterprise Architecture. The Innovation & Excellence Awards are judged by a panel of industry experts following nominations from the wider community.

The Essential Project, already the world’s most popular open-source EA Tool, is now recognised as being innovative in its approach to managing an organisation and its assets. Essential’s ontology based approach gives Essential the flexibility to manage complex relationships and enable problem solving and analysis far quicker, and with a far wider scope, than traditional EA tools allow.

We are continuing to innovate; we are currently piloting our cloud platform, which will be launched Q1 2017, as well as working on ground breaking solutions to ease the burden of capturing and maintaining data, and we are launching packs to help with common business problems – Application Portfolio Management and Strategic Resource Management are available now, look out for Information and Data Management and our security pack shortly.

Last but not least, we would like to thank all or community members who contribute so much to the design and development of The Essential Project.

innovation-winner-2017

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.