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Popkin's System Architect Offers a Solid Architecture and Modeling Development Platform

  • July 01 2004, 1:00am EDT
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REVIEWER: Susan Martin, senior vice president for Doreen Evans Associates, Inc.

BACKGROUND: Doreen Evans Associates (DEA) is a Boston-based consulting firm that focuses on business area analysis, process improvement and systems requirements analysis. We use visual models to facilitate the gathering of information, our LINKProcess methodology to guide the work, and repository-based modeling tools to make tasks faster, easier and more rigorous.

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

PROBLEM SOLVED: We needed custom models for business process analysis that would incorporate people, process and technology onto one map. We needed a custom user interaction map for use cases to incorporate business rules and system interface, data access and user interface requirements into a single model, and then link to standard data models, object models and use case models. We also needed to create powerful custom reports and extract information to RequirementsLINK, a Web-based application used for review, collaboration and requirements management.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: We use Popkin Software's System Architect throughout the life cycle of our projects. We begin by understanding the meta model for the project, and then build an appropriate architecture in System Architect. We create visual models to document the as-is process; then we identify opportunities for improvement. We capture statistics such as process timing, frequency and resource costs in the System Architect repository. We then extract this information and run analysis reports in Excel to highlight the areas for improvement and then formulate strategic systems plans. These models are stored in enterprise-level architectures and become permanent customer assets. We then capture systems requirements in System Architect. We track relationships in the repository to build traceability reports - showing which business processes are supported by which system functions. Our system functional specifications can be generated directly from the System Architect repository to reflect changes in regenerated documentation. The requirements repository is used during testing to generate user acceptance test cases and test scripts. Using business process models to drive requirements - and having the traceability supported in System Architect - means clients can trust that their processes will be enhanced and supported by a new system, rather than being driven by the technology. Using the System Architect repository, we ensure that the knowledge captured during a project remains an asset that our clients can reuse once the project is completed. Additionally, system requirements work can easily transfer to development within System Architect or other tools.

STRENGTHS: The strengths of System Architect include powerful graphical modeling for a wide variety of needs and architecture perspectives. Additionally, the product offers extensibility that supports customizing the models to each organization, our proprietary methodology and an open repository architecture that allows us to extract information, analyze it and create sophisticated deliverables.

WEAKNESSES: Internal reporting capabilities are limited. We developed our own reporting tool using the powerful Visual Basic for Applications capabilities in System Architect. We are evaluating Popkin's new Information Publisher, which extensively upgrades their analysis and Web publishing capabilities. Also, merging the work of multiple analysts into a single "Master" project is time-consuming. It's hard to see the effect of potential collisions. The relatively new SA Compare feature has made finding collisions and interpreting how to move forward more manageable.

SELECTION CRITERIA: With System Architect, models can be easily extended to specific business needs. We've added new diagram and definition types to support our LINKProcess and to accommodate customer requests. The ease with which you can make these changes, and that they carry forward into new releases, makes System Architect an invaluable tool. The tool set supports of a wide variety of model types, including any customer-requested ones.

DELIVERABLES: System Architect allows you to easily print diagrams to almost any size paper in any format. Diagram symbols and text scale well. Most of our reporting is done via VBA macros that pull information from various parts of the repository and organize into a deliverables document. We use some standard reporting options. We used System Architect's HTML generator and open architecture to extract information into a custom Web application, RequirementsLINK, that can be used for requirements management.

VENDOR SUPPORT: We have a long-standing relationship with Popkin. They have always been very responsive to resolving our issues. Popkin's Web site has a nice tips and tutorials and sample encyclopedias with real examples to get you started.

DOCUMENTATION: Documentation is good, though not excellent. We've searched on a word and not found it in the help files. You couldn't run the product easily with just the documentation.

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