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 GDPR Launched

Our GDPR pack is now ready for use.  Unique in the marketplace, it supports business questions such as ‘do I have a legal basis for using this data?’ and ‘have I captured the client’s consent?’ as well as technical access and security questions, such as ‘where is my data most at risk?’.  Most other tools are focused on one or other end of this spectrum.  High level dashboards show where the GDPR compliance issues exist, and drill down capabilities allow you to hone in on the exact process, application or technology that is the cause of the risk.

We have partnered with UST to, optionally, incorporate the use of their ground-breaking data discovery tool which can identify structured and unstructured GDPR data in databases and document stores across the organisation. This not only eases the burden of data capture but also provides an invaluable cross-check of information provided through more traditional means.

A sample of the dashboards are shown below, or you can read further information, access the GDPR demo viewer, or sign up  here.

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. 

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 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.

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.