This question commonly pops up when we discuss Essential, either with our community, analysts or people in the EA business generally. I think, in many cases, the underlying question is ‘is Essential any good if you are giving it away for free?’. Well, based upon our experience in applying it as well as feedback from customers and Essential Project community members, we think so, but I still think it is worth explaining our rationale.
Essential began life as something we needed to support us in our early client engagements back in 2000/2001. Initially we created a meta model to support our EA work and either implemented it in client’s existing tools or, where there was no tool, we tried implementing it using UML (Rational Rose). We found that often, although better than PowerPoint or Excel which tends to end up as shelf ware, neither of these implementation approaches really gave our clients what they needed and so we looked to develop our own tool, around 2006.
We were still not thinking of developing a tool as a commercial offering, we simply wanted something that would make our lives as EA consultants easier. We also felt strongly that the true value of an EA repository was beyond purely documentation. We wanted something to allow us to interrogate the EA ‘knowledge’, to allow us to make the valuable insights that make EA essential to an organisation, and this didn’t exist at that time in most EA tools – and especially not in organisations that had no tool at all! Luckily for us, we stumbled upon Protégé, an ontology editor and knowledge-based framework developed by Stanford University (many thanks go out to them by the way), whilst actually looking at a different area of EA capability, and found that this met our needs completely, saving us much time and, I’m guessing, considerable heartache!
So, Essential was born and it has served us well in many client engagements. In fact we often found ourselves implementing it alongside traditional EA tools where the client had a need that the incumbent tool could not support without considerable time and money, but that Essential could support quite easily. Also, when engagements came to an end, most organisations were able to keep Essential up and running to continue to provide value, be it a consolidated view of applications and their links to processes, or as a simple technology standards catalogue etc. During this time we enhanced the tool and came to realise that, without really planning to, we had developed an EA tool that was not only easy to use and reliable, but that took a different approach to most other EA tools, moving away from the traditional documentation based approach to a more leading edge knowledge representation approach which suited our needs and the needs of our clients.
It was at this time that we came up with the idea of launching Essential as a free, open source EA tool for a number of reasons:-
- The objective of Essential was never really to directly compete with commercial EA tools.
- We had seen the value of it in our own engagements and we could see that others would find it equally useful, especially organisations that:-
- were at the beginning of their EA journey and could not cost justify the expense of a commercial tool
- did not yet understand the requirements of a tool, but that had a lot of information that they could capture that would provide vital decision support if only they could interrogate it.
- were unlikely to ever have the budget to cost justify the licensing fees associated with commercial EA tools, but that could definitely benefit from the decision support it offers.
- We felt that there was an opportunity to develop the tool (requirements and actual software contributions) in collaboration with a broader EA community.
- There were no English-language open source tools available at that time.
But obviously EAS is a business, we didn’t do this solely to benefit the EA community! The commercial opportunity for us was in providing services that would help organisations take full advantage of the tool (EA capability development) as well as raising our profile to the general EA community and potential customers.
So, to summarise, we couldn’t find a tool to meet our needs, so we developed our own based on our principles and philosophy towards EA (taking what we believed to be an novel approach) and launched it as a free, open source tool.
As a result we hope to:
- Aid those that may not yet, or ever, be in a position to justify buying a commercial EA tool
- Give the EA Community the opportunity to contribute their requirements, and extensions (if they so desire)
- Not just tell, but show everyone what EAS as an organisation is all about