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.''
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
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
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
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
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
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''
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.
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
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