CATEGORY: Data Warehouse Design, Administration & Management

REVIEWERS: Dan Chilibeck, IT project leader, and Jack Levey, senior advisor of planning and special projects, for the Food Informatics Division of Health Canada.

BACKGROUND: Health Canada is the federal department responsible for helping the people of Canada maintain and improve their health. Health Canada provides national leadership to develop health policy, enforce health regulations, promote disease prevention and enhance healthy living for all Canadians. Health Canada's Food Directorate is responsible for maintaining the safety of the Canadian food supply and setting food policy. The Food Informatics Division (FID) is responsible for providing application development, data management, Web services and infrastructure support services in support of the Food Directorate mission.

PLATFORMS: Windows 2000 Professional and Windows NT 4 Server (SP6).

PROBLEM SOLVED: Our goal was to more closely align our IT services with the Food Directorate mission. The primary problem facing FID was that we did not have a clear vision of how our systems, data and technology supported that mission. We decided to implement a formal enterprise architecture to help us better manage our information technology and selected the Zachman framework as its foundation. The framework assists us in helping the Food Directorate senior management make better IT investment and planning decisions.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: Initially, we used Popkin's System Architect to reverse engineer all our current operational databases. It performed this task admirably. Next, we captured our current application designs in UML by reverse engineering all our Visual Basic application source code. Currently, we are using System Architect to help standardize and capture other IT deliverables such as requirements, test plans, business workflows and reports in our development projects.

STRENGTHS: System Architect stores all information within an integrated repository known as an encyclopedia. This allows a user to create linkages between items such as organizational units, business functions, software systems and databases to conduct impact and gap analyses. From a data-modeling viewpoint, it separates the data elements from the logical data models and the physical data models. Now, we can define data elements once, reuse them across many logical data models and map these to a physical data model implemented as an Oracle or Microsoft Access database. System Architect's extensibility features include a built-in VBA development environment that can be used to automate certain common tasks, such as the importing of requirements from other software tools. Other extensibility features include easy customization of notations (UML vs. SSAD), definitions and diagrams used.

WEAKNESSES: Learning to use the rich functionality within the tool is a major challenge and can require significant amounts of time. It's easier to learn if you focus on only one specific aspect (e.g., data modeling) of the tool at a time. Another drawback is that System Architect stores data content in a DBF file format. It really should support a more secure, scalable database platform such as SQL Server or Oracle. However, the latest release of System Architect (9.0) adds SQL Server functionality.

SELECTION CRITERIA: The primary reason for selecting System Architect was its Zachman framework support. Also, we required a tool that would support data modeling, object modeling and business modeling using notations commonly understood by our organization (E-R, UML, etc.). Finally, we required a tool that was sufficiently flexible and extensible to support a standard development process for FID.

DELIVERABLES: System Architect produces a nice combination of standard and ad hoc reports. We use it to produce data dictionaries, requirements specifications, test plans, data model diagrams and UML model diagrams.

VENDOR SUPPORT: Vendor support is very good. We've had very little difficulty getting answers to questions. The Web site provides excellent resources – especially Tool Tips, an archive containing tips on how to use the tool more effectively or understand underlying software functionality. Another plus has been that Popkin notifies us about upcoming product releases.

DOCUMENTATION: Documentation is generally well organized, available in online and hard-copy versions, and adequately explains how to use the various System Architect feature sets. The VBA object model documentation could use some better examples; we had to perform some exploratory analysis on this in order to understand how to properly use it.

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