In-Depth

Data modelers, BPM gradually unite

Modeling enterprise systems is no easy task. That is not surprising. For one thing, the business enterprise today is complex, and the people who manage it are asked to do more with less. But modeling the enterprise is difficult for another reason: There are many different types of models that can be employed to describe enterprise systems.

Notable among the types of models used over the years are data design models, object models, system models and business process models.

Yet this bounty of models may not be a blessing. The push to implement business objectives using technology is often a jumble as data designers, business planners and system architects talk about the same problems while speaking in wholly different languages.

Although it is not applicable to every modeling problem, UML's continued acceptance seems to be bringing more cohesion to the modeling tools arena. The journey to deeper integration of diverse tools may just be underway, and the future far from clear, but there are signs that business models and data models are coming closer together. Increasingly, the desire to do more with less is affecting the data modeling tools market, where there is a renewed interest in business process modeling.

Different, new modeling tools address various aspects of what may someday become a single problem. Version 9.5 of Sybase's PowerDesigner and Quest Software's QDesigner include support for all nine UML diagrams and meta data integration. Embarcadero Technologies has begun to offer various integrations that couple its ER/Studio data design tool with its Describe and DT/Studio application modeling tools. Computer Associates' AllFusion ERwin Data Modeler 4.1 includes the ability to manage multiple models and allows for a number of database administrators and developers to work on the same models.

There is a common theme that can be seen across all new data modeling tools -- more focus on business process modeling.

Why the shift? Businesses are looking for ways to improve efficiency while at the same time cutting costs. ''The goal,'' noted Chuck Faris, director of consulting services at Popkin Software, New York City, ''is to increase assets by reducing time and increasing value.''

Organizations looking for ways to cut costs and increase efficiency are trying harder to understand the business processes involved in gaining a better knowledge of what is essential and what is not. And the best way to understand those processes is to model them.

''People are beginning, some more than others, to actually do, instead of deciding to do, some data design process,'' Faris said. People are looking at their companies in terms of the enterprise model. Organizations are looking for answers to how they can increase their overall effectiveness and gain manageability over what they are doing.

From its inception, Popkin's System Architect tool has incorporated data integrated with structured and business process flows. Over the years, it has also come to support UML. Those working with System Architect share data in a common, multi-user repository, which means a business process modeler has work available immediately from a data modeler and vice versa.

''Business process lends to a data integrated view,'' Faris explained. ''The view from a business process changes that data model because of business efficiency. You might design a data model that's perfectly normalized, but you're not done until you look at that data through the business process.''

Sub-empowered enterprises
Other data modeling tools vendors have supported business process modeling for quite some time.

San Francisco-based Embarcadero Technologies, for example, claims to have launched its ER/Studio product as a business meta data modeling and physical database design tool back in 1996. ''When we launched,'' said Greg Keller, director of design and modeling solutions, ''the tradition of these types of tools had been purely data design-driven.'' What made ER/Studio unique, he added, is that it offered both aspects in one tool. Embarcadero has moved to further modeling use across the enterprise development team since the launch of its Describe products. Describe arose in October 2000 when Embarcadero combined elements of its database design software with the GD Pro software engineering tool gained when the company purchased Active Software.

ER/Studio covers the conceptual, logical design of data for an enterprise. ''That, in turn, can be moved into disparate forms of meta data for a database,'' Keller noted. A user can create a business model of a way to store data and then turn that into reality.

For its part, Computer Associates (CA) International Inc., Islandia, N.Y., has fashioned a suite of modeling tools around its well-established ERwin data designer. In the past, ''people were doing data modeling, but didn't know how to tie it back to business processes,'' said Greg Clancy, brand manager for AllFusion, the brand under which ERwin and other CA modelers have been bundled. These tools are part of the AllFusion Modeling Suite, which also includes a data model validator, a model manager and a component modeler. ERwin supports business process modeling through its integration with AllFusion Process Modeler, said Clancy. Although the tools can be sold separately and used isolated, Clancy admonishes that they should be looked at as a suite.

Data modeling expert Sybase continues to update its PowerDesigner offering. And business modeling is a prime area of interest. The Dublin, Calif., company added business process modeling capabilities in Version 9.0 through the Business Process Model. The Business Process Model, noted David Dichmann, senior product manager, ''allows you to use non-technical business terms in a control-type diagram.''

Sybase concluded that failures of IT projects in general were not a result of buggy code, but rather were caused by the misalignment of technology with corporate goals or the way business works. That was the impetus behind the Business Process Model. With it, ''IT has a great way to communicate with business effectively and efficiently,'' said Dichmann. ''It gives businesses a way of reengineering themselves.'' How is this accomplished? The Business Process Model helps users to understand what their business does and helps them to document and refine processes to make the business more successful in automating them.

Quest Software's QDesigner is essentially the same product as Sybase's PowerDesigner, with some modifications. Darin Pendergraft, product marketing manager at QDesigner in Irvine, Calif., explained that the Business Process Model in the tool ''allows people a graphical way to support business tasks and functions and how they all fit together.'' If an individual is looking at a model application, he added, they have a very focused view only of the application. If one is looking at a model business, however, that could encompass multiple apps. The Business Process Model, Pendergraft continued, ''helps people see how [something] is going to be used, how it benefits the business and what other aspects the business needs.''

Ready for prime time
Any transition does take time, but Arthur Langer, chair, instruction and curricular development programs in information technology and continuing education at Columbia University, New York, pointed out that the transition to business process modeling does not take as long as most people think. ''People spend a lot more time thinking about the problem than dealing with it,'' he noted.

Some of Langer's former students called him to assess the information system structure at WNET TV, Channel 13 in New York. There, with WNET's CTO, Ken Devine, Langer realized that the future of WNET was to combine IT management and engineering technology.

WNET is one of the largest producers of content for PBS in the country, and tracks 30 to 40 production rooms that have some very large costs involved with them. ''We never had any way of getting our results out of [general ledger],'' said WNET's Devine.

Langer, who had years of experience using System Architect and already had education geared toward how to use the tool in the workplace, brought the rest of WNET up to speed on it. With his help, the TV station was able to link together a number of different scheduling and database projects to track results within Devine's department.

''We're moving decidedly into an environment where, because of our ability to move data around and do what we need to do with it, [we can] be much more responsive with how we do our business,'' Devine noted.

The key to the success of WNET's transition to business process modeling was gaining control of its data. ''Art  [Langer] taught me that it was essential to get control of our data and look at it and move it around,'' Devine explained. ''I never had a clue of that coming from the engineering side of it.''

Prior to implementing System Architect, WNET's network environment was running Groupwise on a Novell network and had minimal capabilities. ''The capabilities and integration of technology were not adequate,'' Langer noted, adding that the TV station has a lot of Apple equipment and specialized equipment. ''But one central theme of all these things is the data,'' Langer said, ''and being able to integrate it across all the departments that have a need for it.''

In the last two years, the TV station has seen much more efficiency in the running of its data queries. ''This is the only station in the [PBS] system that has growth,'' Devine added. ''Everyone else in the system is trending downward. We believe one of the reasons [for our growth] -- and certainly the fundraising people believe this -- is the ability to mine the data; the way they're approaching it is so much more sophisticated now and has made their business more successful.''

System Architect allows WNET to do database reverse-engineering, workflow and data diagramming, forward engineering and database design. The station has also built an interconnection system using System Architect that allows it to have multiple fields across multiple systems with different names, such as ''customer'' and ''cust.''

Business process modeling, Devine noted, ''is the piece that has enabled us to grow and move forward -- the absolute key.'' Langer concurred that business process modeling is the foundation. ''You can have all these other activities going on, but if you don't have that business processing tool, everything else collapses on it,'' he said. ''You have to have a sophisticated tool to drive it and qualified people to get the data in.''

Atlanta-based Intertech Consulting Inc. was also looking for a comprehensive set of tools that would allow both technical and non-technical members of the organization to collaborate to create systems. PowerDesigner 9.5 provided these capabilities, said Donald Clayton, president of the firm, and also offered UML diagram support on multiple platforms, meaning Intertech would not need to purchase additional non-integrated tools.

Healthy approach
Connecting data modeling to business process modeling is important to Health Data Services, Charlottesville, Va. 'In order to build an application to solve some business problem, you have to understand what the problem is,' noted Jeff Moyers, CTO at the developer of vertical market apps for the health-care industry.

''The easiest way to understand what the problem is, is to model it,'' he added.

Health Data Services is using Embarcadero's ER/Studio to model and construct various databases for its applications. The organization has three primary, fairly large models it uses to comprise the major parts of what it does. ''I'm dependent on a modeling tool like ER/Studio to give me structure to do this work and let me more easily manipulate the management and relationships in a database and those sorts of things,'' Moyers said.

After comparing several products, Health Data Services chose ER/Studio because of its user interface and logical layout. In addition, the company found the tool intuitive to use, said Moyers. ''The others weren't powerful enough or, if they were, the interface was so poorly done in comparison to ER/Studio there would be a big tradeoff in productivity because it would be more difficult to use,'' he explained.

How powerful does Moyers need a modeling tool to be? ''I need it to do whatever I need it to do at any point in time,'' he said. ''You don't realize you don't have enough power until you need it. When you need it, you need it.''

Moyers needs to be able to create fairly large models, move around them with ease, reverse engineer a database quickly, do it well and fast, and with minimal price and effort. He found that ER/Studio meets those needs.

Moyers believes the ability to easily navigate a structure is one of ER/Studio's strongest points. ''Being able to navigate that model and get to where you want to be quickly, easily and intuitively is of critical importance when dealing with myriad relationships in a database,'' he said. Moyers also appreciates the tool's separation of the logical model from the physical model, its overview visual representation of a model, and the ability to model a massive amount of data.

Despite Health Data Services' belief in the importance of business process modeling, the organization does not yet rely on tools to do its business process modeling. The reason, Moyers said, is that his is a small shop. ''It takes time to learn how to do that stuff properly; and then it takes time to actually implement that and do it properly. If I invested time in it, I'm sure I would get some good return from it, but I don't currently have the time to invest in it,'' he said.

Clearly, the move to connect business and data models is ongoing, and incremental.

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