EA Management Tool vs Drawing Tool

The enterprise architecture tools market offers a wide range of products purporting to support enterprise architecture.  EA tools appear to fall into two categories: Drawing Tools designed to produce high-level models of architectures for solution architects or project architects, and EA Management Tools designed to enable you to gain insights and make decisions in collaboration with the business and management.  They are really very different beasts, and we find it a bit odd that the descriptor ‘EA Tools’ or ‘EA Management Tools’ draws no clear distinction between them and what they offer.

I guess because of this, we often find ourselves performing demos of Essential to potential clients who come with one expectation of what they want from an enterprise architecture tool, but often leave with a very different view of the capabilities of such tools. 

The real power of drawing tools, such as Visio or Archimate, is that they allow Solution Architects and Project Architects to produce diagrams of solution design that can be used within a project (or a change requirement) to guide implementation, or to communicate the high-level solution architecture to interested stakeholders.  The visualisations they produce are static representations at a given point in time. 

An EA Management Tool, on the other hand, is designed to allow insights into the architecture, to ask questions of the architecture, to highlight opportunities and risks, and to support active discussion with CxOs, Managers and Business Partners.

These are two very different sets of requirements and in reality tools typically belong in one or other camp.  We are yet to see a tool that can do both effectively – lots of ‘EA tools’ try but so far, in our view, none succeed.     

Let’s consider a UML diagram of a solution, or a wiring diagram of the application estate and the messages they can convey: it can be complex, X is joined to Y, some data is passed between B and C, and so forth. 

Now imagine you are in front of the CIO or a Business Partner and are presenting these diagrams.  What is it that they really want to know?

  • How much is this going to cost?
  • What is going to be replaced by this solution?
  • Where are we wasting money (e.g. due to duplication)?
  • What is the business impact of this change? 

Can we answer their questions with these wiring diagrams?  Not really; for these stakeholders, the diagrams fall into the ‘interesting but not very useful’ category of information for these questions.

Now imagine you are with the Project Team who want to know:

  • Which solution components are impacted?
  • How many interfaces will be implemented or changed?
  • What data are we touching, etc.

Perfect, it speaks to their needs in terms of language and detail.

The questions that the CIO and Business Partner are asking require high-level dashboards and visualisations with the ability to dive into more detail in specific places, to perform ‘what ifs’ that provide the answers to their questions and support decision making.  These cannot be produced by a simple Drawing Tool, they are the domain of the EA Management Tool.

EA Management Tools do support certain elements of the Solution and Project Architect’s needs.  They provide:

  • Reference Architectures and Blueprints which aid product selection
  • Detail about existing system impacts such as:
    • Interfaces
    • Processes supported
    • Data used
    • etc.

They are, however, generally not best suited to effectively producing the solution drawings required by a project team to communicate solution design.

The best solution, we believe, is to use the right EA tool for the job and to integrate the drawing tools with EA Management tools to ensure that both needs, and audiences, are effectively met, whilst ensuring there is no duplication in terms of effort. 

We suggest caution if you try to force a solution to address both sets of needs, or if you select a tool that tries to bridge both.  If you ever saw the episode of the Simpson’s where the ‘The Homer’ car was built, you’ll know exactly where trying to meet everyone’s needs with one solution can end up.

Essential is an EA Management Tool, the diagram below gives examples of the support it provides across different roles of an organisation.

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