Getting the Graphical Views

A couple of months ago, in my blog article ‘Where have all the graphical models gone?’ I described our approach to capturing knowledge about the enterprise using the forms in Protege rather than drawing diagrams. However, as the saying goes, a picture speaks a thousand words, so I would now like to highlight some new graphical features that are now available in Essential Architecture Manager and to explore some more of the background to our approach to capturing knowledge.

In Essential Architecture Manager, many of the elements that we capture are modelled so that they have a Definition of what the element is. This is then elaborated by an Architecture that describes how that element is composed. A useful way to think about this is that we black-box every element. The Definition is what we see on the outside of the box. We can still use that element in the overall model even if we know nothing more about how it works or how it is composed. However, if we do know more about the element – or we find out the details later on – we can then open the black-box and describe the Architecture, which tells us how the element is composed or how it works.

In fact, the Definition-Architecture approach means that we can define multiple architectures for an element. e.g. an Application Service or Application Provider can have both a Static Architecture and a Dynamic Architecture. It’s certainly more manageable to be able to separate these.

The Definitions are very naturally captured using the standard forms in Protege. We need to capture textual descriptions, relate the element directly to other elements in the model and so on. All of which is very productive, quick and straight-forward using the forms. This is why much of the input in Essential is form based.

In contrast, the Architectures add a contextual dimension to the relationships and dependencies that we are capturing between elements. We quickly found that the basic forms made this rather complex. Fortunately, the GraphWidget of Protege makes capturing Architectures much more straight-forward and we use this graphical tool in combination with the basic widgets for the capturing the Architecture.

The diagrams that are produced to capture these Architectures are focused on utility. Visually, they are basic and agnostic to any particular notation. However, whilst recognising that these diagrams may not be something you would hang on the wall, it would still be very useful to have these diagrams appear in the relevant analysis reports of Essential Viewer. This would be in addition to, not instead of, producing views in specific notations or other ‘graphical reports’.

To provide this capability, we have just released an update to the Essential Widgets and Essential Viewer that takes a snapshot of each architecture diagram during the repository publishing process. These snapshots are then presented in the relevant reports, such as Business Process Definition, Application Module Summary, Technology Product Details and so on. The update makes it very easy to bring in a relevant architecture diagram to any custom report. These updates to Viewer and Widgets have been packed into the latest version (1.3) of Essential Architecture Manager and all are available now to download.

But that’s not the end of the story for getting graphical views of your architecture model. Within the Protege environment, there is the Jambalaya SVG tab that provides a wealth of graphical reporting capabilities. Although we have been focusing on reporting within the Viewer environment – to open the analysis and view of the architecture to as wide an audience as possible in the organisation – there could be some value in sharing Jamabalaya reports with the community.

I would also like to draw your attention to Clint Cooper’s recent contribution – the Visio Export Tool. This produces a rendering either of selected areas or of the whole repository in Microsoft Visio. The resulting Visio file provides a readily-shared, graphical view of the model that can be easily manipulated to provide the view that you need to share with the wider audience in your organisation. Many thanks to Clint for sharing this with the rest of the Essential Project Community.

Although we take a forms-based approach to capturing the knowledge about the elements in the enterprise, there are a range of options for producing graphical views of this knowledge. From the snapshots of the architecture capture diagrams, clickable SVG diagrams to the Visio exports, there are now a range of options for getting the graphical view of your architecture that you need.

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