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.

Configuring the Server Memory Settings for Essential

One of the most common issues with setting up Essential is getting the memory configuration of the various components configured correctly. As the complexity of the Essential meta-model and of Essential Viewer has increased then so have the memory resources required by the server to support them.

Right now, our current recommendation for a server is a multi-core processor such as an i5/i7 or Xeon equivalent and more importantly plenty of RAM. 4GB is a minimum but 8GB is more practical. You’ll struggle to use the Import Utility and Viewer together on a system with only 4GB of RAM. Assuming you’re running all the components on the same server (which is perfectly fine and can yield great performance) then here’s how we’d allocate the RAM across the main components…

  • Tomcat running Essential Viewer – 2GB RAM
  • Tomcat running Essential Import Utility – 2GB RAM
    • We’d install the Essential Import Utility on a separate instance running on different port e.g. 9080 as it improves stability and performance
    • If running both on a single instance then allocate 4GB RAM to Tomcat
  • Protege – 1.5GB RAM
  • If running a Database configuration we’ll ensure there’s about 1GB for that
  • We need some memory for the OS to run smoothly so about 1GB for that

This adds up to about 7.5GB. In reality, you’ll rarely use all that RAM simultaneously however this configuration is one we’ve used countless times with excellent performance.

So, now you’ve got plenty of RAM then how do you configure the components to use that.

First up, make sure you’re using the 64bit versions of all your components. If you’re running 32bit versions, you’ll max out a 1.5GB which will work whilst the repository is small but will cause you problems later on.

Protege

On Windows:

  1. Start Protege. Go to File->Preferences->Protege.lax
  2. Update the row for the property ‘lax.nl.java.option.java.heap.size.max
  3. This is set in bytes, so set this to 2048000000 for installs with the 64-bit Java environment.
  4. Click OK
  5. Restart Protege

On Mac:
If you run Protege on a Mac by double clicking an icon, you need to edit the Info.plist file that is hidden within that icon. Right click the icon (or ^-click for one button mouses) and click “show package contents”. A new finder window will come up. Double click “Contents” and then “Info.plist”. Traverse down the tree as follows: “Root” –> “Java” –> “VMOptions”. In VMOptions edit the -Xmx line to indicate the correct memory usage, e.g. 2048M. Note that this can be specified in megabytes by using the ‘M’ value.

For example, here are my settings:
<key>VMOptions</key>
 <array>
 <string>-Xms250M</string>
 <string>-Xmx2048M</string>
 <string>-XX:MaxPermSize=512m</string>
 </array>

Save the changes that you’ve made and restart Protege for these to take effect.

This principle also applies to the Protege server. If you have not already, update the ‘run_protege_server.bat’ / ‘run_protege_server.sh’ file to increase the maximum memory JVM option as follows by setting the -Xmx parameter:

For Unix / Mac / Linux:

MAX_MEMORY=-Xmx2048M -XX:MaxPermSize=512m

On 64-bit Windows platforms (with the 64-bit Java installation):

set MAX_MEMORY=-Xmx2048M

On 32-bit JVMs on 64/32-bit Windows, there’s a limit to how much memory can be allocated:

set MAX_MEMORY=-Xmx1536M

 

Tomcat / Essential Viewer / Essential Import Utility

The memory settings for the Tomcat that is running the Essential Viewer should also be set to around 2GB for 64-bit Java environments.

On Windows

If you are running Tomcat as a Windows service, you can set the upper memory limit using the tomcat8w.exe program. You’ll find this either in the start menu or in the install folder of Tomcat. This will pop-up a configuration panel.

  • Select the ‘Java’ tab and then set the parameter for the Maximum memory pool to 2048
  • Click Apply
  • restart Tomcat for these settings to take effect.

On Mac

If running the Viewer Tomcat on a Mac / Linux platform, you can set these using the ‘sentenv.sh’ file in <TOMCAT INSTALL>/bin and set the CATALINA_OPTS variable, e.g.:

export CATALINA_OPTS=”-Xms128m -Xmx2048m -XX:MaxPermSize=512m”
export JAVA_OPTS=”-Djava.awt.headless=true”

If this file doesn’t exist then simply create a new text file and save it as setenv.sh with these lines in it.

Again, you must restart Tomcat for these settings to take effect.
 

Troubleshooting

If things aren’t working as expected, then the Log files are your friends. The Protege log is in the Protege install folder under logs and is called protege_###.log. The Tomcat log is in the Tomcat install folder under logs and is called catalina.out. What you’re looking for is anything that mention “memory” or “heap”. If you’re seeing these errors then you haven’t properly configured the settings.

As always, you can post your questions on the Essential Forums at http://enterprise-architecture.org/forums and we’ll answer as quickly as we can. Don’t forget to use the search too as there are over five years of posts and there’s a good chance your question has been answered before.

Once you’ve got these settings right, you should have many years of stability and performance from your Essential Install. If you’re still having problems though and would like some professional support then contact EAS via the Services menu for more information on how we can help.

Version 3.0 – it’s here!

There have been a couple of blogs recently about the imminent release of Essential Architecture Manager Version 3.0, and I am pleased to announce that it has arrived!

We think that Essential Architecture Manager v3.0 represents a significant move forward for Essential, encompassing not only a number of significant enhancements and additions to the meta-model but also a new and improved Viewer, with 100 out-of-the-box views and an updated development framework to make it easier to add new views, plus some key enhancements to the platform itself.

New tutorials and videos will follow, plus an upgrade pack for existing users – these won’t be long but in the meantime please take a look around the site at the information on version 3, which includes an overview article, release notes and some example screenshots of views.

We have added a new forum topic for Version 3, not only to capture any bugs and issues but also for queries and questions and any feedback you have. Please make use of the forums, as your feedback is crucial to the on-going development of the Essential toolset.

Essential Upgrade

Following on from Sarah’s last blog that announced what’s coming, I wanted to let you know that we’re in the final stages of packaging Version 3 of Essential Architecture Manager.

The big focus in this version is a complete overhaul of Essential Viewer to make it more easily customised in terms of look and feel – e.g. to tailor it to your intranet styling, improve performance, error handling and to make it simpler to control.

However, version 3 introduces a much extended and improved meta model – based on our own practical experience of using Essential in the real world and of course the contributions of the Essential Project Community. Many of the ECPs that we have been running have now been enhanced and included in the version 3 baseline meta model.

How do we upgrade to version 3?

We’re really excited about the power that version 3 provides but how do we upgrade all those users who have already been enjoying earlier versions?

Upgrading Essential Viewer is quite straightforward as it is delivered as a WAR package. Obviously, any custom Views that have been created will need to be migrated but it is easy to deploy the Version 3 Viewer alongside existing version 2 instances as we transition any custom views.

Migrating the meta model is a little more complex but we have created a number of tools to help make this consistent and more straightforward.

Protege manages the meta model and the model via the Classes and Instances, respectively. These are managed separately (e.g. the PONT and PINS files) as are the form configurations which control the layout, widgets, labels and tool-tips.

This is generally a good thing but it means that the safest and most consistent way to make automated changes to the repository is via the Protege API and doing so means that all the checks and balances that the GUI applies can also be exploited. This also means that we (and you) can make changes and enhancements very easily via the Protege GUI and then encode those as a script of API calls that can be applied to any repository. In layman’s terms, this means we can build upgrade packs to help ease the migration.

We are currently in the process of completing the upgrade pack that will take existing repositories based on v1.2 of the meta model to version 3 and this will be released soon after the Essential Architecture Manager version 3 is launched.

Preparing to upgrade

The idea and intention of the upgrade packs is that they will gracefully upgrade any existing repository. Any extensions that you might have made to the baseline meta model, e.g. additional slots / attributes on a class, additional classes will be preserved as part of the upgrade.

We always recommend that you take an ‘extend’ approach to any customisations or additional features that you might want. Changes to the names or purpose of an out-of-the-box slot – or changing the name of a class may be lost or have unexpected results. If you’ve lost track of what you might have changed, it might be worth comparing your repository to the version 3 baseline repository using the ‘diff’ function of the “Prompt Tab” in Protege.

Many of the forms have had a re-layout to improve the user interface – and in particular to move slots that we have deprecated (served notice of retirement) to the bottom of the form.

Where possible, we have tried to migrate the forms sympathetically but given that one of the powers of Protege is that it is very easy to customise the form layout, we cannot really make any safe assumptions about what a form might look like. There will be cases where the upgrade ‘resets’ the layout to the version 3 baseline form. If you have made changes, you will need to review the layout of such forms – especially if you have additional slots on the class.

It is common to find that you are working in specific areas of the model (rather than the whole model) for particular modelling activities and this means that reviewing the form layouts can be done on an ‘as required’ basis.

How do apply the update packs?

I have described how the update packs take the form of scripts that drive the Protege API but how do we apply them? Protege does not have a plugin for managing this sort of programmatic update of the classes, instances and forms.

Currently, we provide packs as Python scripts that are executed in the “Script Console Tab” that is provided in the standard Protege install. We have tried to package this up as simply as possible, but this is still a bit technical and requires some care when running the scripts.

To improve and simplify this process, we are developing a new Protege Tab Plugin to make updating the repository more like updating your iPhone or iPad!

We’ve seen how the use of the installer has (generally) simplified the install process and we want to provide the same capability for adding new packs of classes – and importantly instances (e.g. standard enumerations) to the repository. So, this plugin will have applications beyond just upgrading the meta model.

Options for migrating to Version 3

Are there any options for how to migrate your existing Essential repository to the version 3 platform? It is possible to make use of the Essential Integration Tab and import an XML snapshot of your repository (the same snapshot that Essential Viewer uses) into an empty version 3 baseline repository. I have used this approach myself to migrate one of our demo repositories before applying further update packs.

However, if you have made any changes to the meta model, this may not be straight-forward and the instance migration packs would still need to be applied.

For this reason, I would recommend using the upgrade pack to apply all the changes required to your existing repository, classes and instances. As with any toolset like this, you should take a backup (using the Protege Project->Archive capability) of your repository before starting to apply the upgrade. And of course, the Essential Project Team will be happy to help with any tricky migrations, perhaps due to some customisations, and the option of commercial support is always available.

Version 3 has so much that is new and improved, that we’re sure that this will be an Essential Upgrade! 😉

 

 

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!

Welcome to the ‘View Store’

Our approach to Views in Essential Architecture Manager is the same as Apple’s approach to apps for the iPhone / iPad. Essential Viewer provides a platform for you to easily assemble the views that you need.

It occurred to me recently that our approach to Essential Viewer, and the Views in particular, is just like what Apple have done with the iPhone / iPad and the Apps.

Where Apple were particularly disruptive in the smart-phone market was their approach to the Apps. Yes, they provided a number of useful Apps with the iPhone, but by providing a platform for people to create their own Apps backed by the App Store where these Apps can be shared, they totally changed the game of what it was to be a smart-phone.

In contrast, the established manufacturers had been creating smart-phones and all the ‘apps’ that you might want for them and it was difficult (compared to iPhone) to get additional applications for your phone. Even with Symbian-based devices, which of course is an open-source mobile device platform, it appeared to be harder for people to create their own applications, when we compare those to the sheer volume of 3rd party Apps that are available for iPhone.

Clearly Apple had the benefit of many years of early-adopter hindsight as to what does and what does not work on smart phones. However, I think that when they combined the open (if somewhat governed) platform with the infrastructure to easily acquire Apps and an innovative approach to what it was to be an App, then it all came together. Most Apps are very focussed on specific tasks and can therefore be small, easy to develop and easy to maintain and so if the App doesn’t do what someone needs, rather than extend it and bloat, they create a new App that just does that new function.

This is very analogous to the approach that we have taken with the Essential Viewer and the Views. I’m not sure that describing the Viewer as a toolkit (as I did until recently!) does it justice. The Viewer is a platform that enables focussed, often small and lightweight, Views to be rapidly assembled to meet the specific requirements that you have for presenting analysis, decision support, insights etc. about your architecture in a way that is clear and makes sense to your stakeholders.

Typically, we find that ‘architects’ Views do not make the impact you would expect on business users. We need different Views for different stakeholders.

Like Apple’s approach with the Apps (compared to the established manufacturers), rather than try to build and deliver all the Views that our Community could possibly want, The Essential Project provides the platform for you to assemble your own Views using standard web-development tools of your choice, based on HTML and XML/XSL.

Of course, we will continue to produce Views that will be included in the growing suite that is bundled with the Essential Viewer. But, we don’t want to be holding any one back in terms of their View requirements! One of the founding principles of The Essential Project is that it’s about providing capability.

Continuing the iPhone App analogy, we want the Community area of the Essential Project website to be the ‘View Store’. We’ve had some great contributions on the software components side and the goal is that members of the Essential Community can share, contribute and download new Views via this website.

We’re always looking at how we can improve the Viewer platform to make it easier to assemble views. We are increasingly finding that we’re creating little template components that do specific tasks (e.g. render the name of an element when given its Instance ID) and I think that such View components would also be very valuable when shared in the ‘View Store’.

So, if the Views are Apps, the Essential Viewer is an iPhone or iPad, then the Essential Project Community website is the App Store.

Happy View building!

BCS Presentation

The BCS kindly invited us to present a session on Open Source Enterprise Architecture Toolkits, covering their effect on the market place, at their meeting on Tuesday.  Alex Mayall led the presentation, which focussed on the two major open source offerings, Essential and Iteraplan, as well as touching on a few others.  The feedback from the audience was extremely positive, and the slides can be downloaded from the BCS website if anyone is interested.

There were a couple of questions from the audience on the use of Essential and I thought I would cover them here in case they are issues that are encountered often.  Firstly, one member advised that they had successfully downloaded Essential and were able to add data using the forms, but that they had a lot of data in excel spreadsheets and they had trouble finding the relevant documentation on the site to enable them to successfully run the import, limiting their use of the tool.  We have had a number of queries regarding this issue on the forum also and so we have recently added a tutorial – How to Write Integration Transforms – which is found in the Getting Started Tutorials.  If you have experienced problems in this area it may be worth a look.

Another member reported making constructive use of Essential, but finding creating new reports quite taxing.  There is a tutorial on this also – Creating New Reports – in the Reporting and Analysing Tutorials, however, it is fairly complex and we are considering writing a training module in this subject.  It would be good to gauge interest in this, so if you think you would be interested in attending such a course please let us know by commenting on this blog.  If you are having trouble in this area, it might be worth checking the forums to see if anyone esle has posted about a similar problem, or posting a question yourself.

The vast majority of large enterprises do not use commercial EA planning tools. Why is that?

You may not be surprised to learn that I have been following this discussion with some interest!  I agree with the reasons given by various members of the thread for the lack of tool uptake; an organisation should have a process and methodology embedded before it can select a tool; the tool needs to support the objectives of the organisations EA, therefore these must be known before tool selection; many EA tools are either poorly constructed or were designed for something else, i.e. BPM, and have been adapted to EA; the organisation itself is not sufficiently mature; to name but a few, and I was very pleased to see that The Essential Project received a couple of mentions.

Firstly David Baker pointed out that using free, open source tools as a starting point would seem like a good idea and he wondered why more organisations didn’t do this, speculating that data migration at a later date might be the issue.  To deal with this particular point, Essential does have a data export option, so if an organisation starts with Essential and decides that it doesn’t suit its needs once it has defined its exact requirements, the data can easily be migrated to the tool of choice.

Later in the discussion Ric Phillips noted that ‘A good enterprise architecture will allow flexible modelling (primary ontology) that can allow architects to build rich (hyper-connected) models of the actual organisations in which they work – which do not always conform to the grammar and lexicon of the big frameworks’, and that uncoupling the presentation and analysis layers from the data layer is possible and desirable.  He points out (thanks very much!) that The Essential Project is the only EA Tool currently to take this approach.  He also notes that the ontology is relatively easy to modify, again something we felt was important, however, personally I would be cautious about his idea to throw away the ontology and build your own from scratch.  Obviously this is doable (we have done it!) but it is by no means a trivial exercise and in the best traditions of EA and reusability it seems hasty to throw it away and start again!

The tool debate is an interesting one in terms of when an organisation should start to use a tool, as obviously it is crucial to understand the business problem that your EA is to solve and what is required of your tool before you make an investment.  However, in practice a tool would often be useful fairly early on in the process, before any such investment would be prudent, and this is precisely where and why Essential was born, to give many of the benefits of a traditional tool, much beyond the capability of Visio or Excel, without the investment required of a traditional tool.