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A Powerful and Adaptable Tool for Enterprise Architecture Design and Management

Published
  • July 01 2003, 1:00am EDT

REVIEWER: Tom Goodell, president of Integrated Knowledge Systems, Inc. (IKS).

BACKGROUND: Integrated Knowledge Systems, Inc. is a Minneapolis-based consulting firm that offers a variety of services under the umbrella of its Whole Systems Design methodology for creating sustainable high-performance organizations.

PLATFORMS: Intel- based PCs and servers, with Windows 98, Windows 2000, Windows 2000 Server and Windows XP.

PROBLEM SOLVED: IKS needed a tool that could fully support our Whole Systems Design (WSD) methodology. WSD incorporates distinctions of human communication and coordination of action into enterprise process, workflow and data architectures, thereby addressing the primary weakness of traditional methodologies ­ the absence of an effective approach to dealing with problems that are essentially human in nature. While it was vital that we could create our models, we could not afford to compromise on powerful process and data modeling, analysis and synchronization capabilities. We needed the ability to perform extensive analysis and generate a variety of reports in different formats.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: We use Popkin's System Architect throughout the life cycle of enterprise architecture design and implementation. We use System Architect's powerful graphical environment to create visual models of action and data architectures. (Action architectures include the distinctions of traditional process and workflow architectures, but extend those to include human interactions.) We also use System Architect's integrated repository capabilities to capture non- visual meta-information, including a robust data dictionary, relationships between structures in the various models, definitions of terms and definitions for roles that are essential to the processes. The models and meta-information are stored in the integrated repository that forms the core of a System Architect encyclopedia. This information is used to identify and prioritize opportunities for business process engineering, implementing technology, re- crafting of people's roles and other design activities. This analysis forms the basis for strategic systems plans. We use System Architect's ability to track relationships in the repository to generate both RFP content and specifications for custom systems. When we are building a solution, we use System Architect's forward and reverse schema generation tools to create and maintain physical databases, including synchronizing the physical databases with the schema in System Architect after the database has been created. When we implement off-the- shelf solutions, we use System Architect to reverse engineer the physical schema of the applications, design the integration interfaces between those systems and generate any necessary data structures to establish the integration. Multiple projects can share a repository using the check-in and checkout capabilities. Potential conflicts can be monitored and resolved before they lead to design problems. We can rapidly create powerful models, validate them with users and turn them into solutions. Easy model maintenance ensures that models become corporate assets that can be built upon in sequential or parallel projects, and they can be reused. Models and physical systems stay synchronized, causing fewer mistakes.

STRENGTHS: The strengths of System Architect include powerful graphical modeling for a wide variety of enterprise and subject area architectures, extensibility that supports customizing the models to fit the unique needs of organizations and to support our WSD methodology. Additionally, it automatically generates a Web- browsable version of the repository.

WEAKNESSES: Reporting capabilities are limited. We developed our own reporting tool using the powerful VBA capabilities built into System Architect.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We selected System Architect for several reasons. Models can be easily extended to specific business needs. The tool set supports a wide variety of model types. It offers very robust data modeling support, with forward and reverse schema generation and synchronization. Its VBA capabilities allow custom functionality and import and export of repository contents.

DELIVERABLES: One of the greatest values of System Architect is its integration of all the various components in an encyclopedia. From this, we can use System Architect to generate diagrams, reports, RFP contents, meta-information and a Web-browsable version of the repository.

VENDOR SUPPORT: Support has been outstanding, well beyond what we usually experience. Popkin employees are enthusiastic about their commitment to their customers. Tech support responds promptly to questions. Support technicians are knowledgeable, friendly and committed to finding solutions. On the rare occasions that we encounter an issue, it has been promptly addressed.

DOCUMENTATION: Documentation is excellent. Popkin now ships the product with a combination of interactive help screens and PDF files. They are well-written and easy to understand.

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