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Monday, January 23, 2006


The Best Enterprise Architecture Tool Ever Built

I was in the office of a government client last week getting an impromptu demo of his new Popkin System Architect installation (Popkin was sold last year to Telelogic, which cleansed the Popkin name from the product but it's still currently referred to as Popkin in architecture trade). Popkin SA is a comprehensive software tool for architecture modeling that's particularly popular in the US federal government because it supports DoDAF, the Department of Defense Architectural Framework.

Anyway, he gave me the 30-minute demo of the latest release. Impressive software with an equally impressive price tag - about $30,000 USD per seat when you figure in the necessary training and support. Nice to know where our tax dollars are being spent.

However, lest you think this is a semi-disguised pitch for a software product, its not. I want to show you a very critical tool for enterprise architecture and system design that, depending on the size chosen, costs roughly $100-200 USD. Ready? Here it is...

Yep, a whiteboard. With a nice set of markers and an eraser. If you're really in the mood to spend, a bottle of whiteboard cleaner is a nice add-on, although I've found that repeated use of cleaners eventually takes the finish off of the boards and causes ink stains, but that's a minor quibble.

Nothing beats a whiteboard for a number of enterprise architecture activities, such as brainstorming, communicating ideas to others, and documenting designs and other activites. It's cheap, it's immediate, and it's highly effective. Sounds obvious and straightforward, right? Not to people who I refer to as 'tool jockeys' - who advance the notion that everything will work out great simply because we have a new tool for this or that. Mind you, tool jockeys are like children, today's tool is good for, well, today, and then they're immediately rhapsodizing about the next great tool that will dramatically change the enterprise for the better.

However, tool jockeys have a much more sinister role if they're congregated into a group, which I refer to as a Tool Guild, or simply, a Guild. Guilds can be dangerous to organizations because their cliquish behavior often is used to advance technical agendas at odds with architects and IT managers. These agendas are usually centered around the maintenance of the technical status quo, and thus their jobs. Here are two real examples from my experience:

The primary focus of tool-centric Guilds is self-preservation, not technology and certainly not the best interests of the organization. In the example of the data modelers above, I mentioned that Microsoft Visio 2003 contains a very rich set of data modeling tools and templates that were available to all IT workers as part of their MS Office installations. The group immediately dismissed that because they claimed it didn't work with their tools and their repository. The Guild had spoken.

The looks of absolute horror on their faces when I showed them (via my laptop) that Visio did, in fact, easily interoperate file-wise with their toolsets was, in the vernacular of the Mastercard TV commercials, priceless. Wonder what they thought when some time later, their CTO mandated that application groups could do their own data modeling. Assuming, of course, that these folks are still employed there...

Again, nothing beats the good ol' low-tech whiteboard to develop and communicate ideas. For a quick and easy way to transmit whiteboard information to others that were not present (and no, its not copying it to paper longhand), click here.

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