Joining us is Marc Lankhorst, Managing Consultant and Chief Technology Evangelist at BiZZdesign in The Netherlands. He also leads the development team within the ArchiMate Forum at The Open Group. The interview is moderated by Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.
Here are some excerpts:
Gardner: There are many big changes happening within IT, business, and the confluence of both. We are talking about Agile processes, lean development, DevOps, the ways that organizations are addressing rapidly changing business environments and requirements.
Companies today want to transform digitally to improve their business outcomes. How does Enterprise Architecture (EA) as a practice and specifically the ArchiMate standard support being more agile and lean?
Lankhorst: The key role of enterprise architecture in that context is to control and reduce complexity, because complexity is the enemy of change. If everything is connected to everything else, it’s too difficult to make any changes, because of all of the moving parts.
And one of the key tools is to have models of your architecture to create insights into how things are connected so you know what happens if you change something. You can design where you want to go by making something that is easier to change from your current state.
It’s a misunderstanding that if you have Agile development processes like Scrum or SAFe then eventually your company will also become an agile organization. It’s not enough. It’s important, but if you have an agile process and you are still pouring concrete, the end result will still be inflexibility.
Stay flexible, move with the times
So the key role of architecture is to ensure that you have flexibility in the short-term and in the long-term. Models are a great help in that. And that’s of course where the ArchiMate standard comes in. It lets you create models in standardized ways, where everybody understands them in the same way. It lets you analyze your architecture across many aspects, including identifying complexity bottlenecks, cost issues, and risks from outdated technology — or any other kind of analysis you want to make.
Enterprise architecture is the key discipline in this new world of digital transformation and business agility. Although the discipline has to change to move with the times, it’s still very important to make sure that your organization is adaptive, can change with the times, and doesn’t get stuck in an overly complex, legacy world.
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Gardner: Of course, Enterprise Architecture is always learning and improving, and so the ArchiMate standard is advancing, too. So please summarize for me the improvements in the new release of ArchiMate, version 3.1.
Lankhorst: The most obvious new addition to the standard is the concept of a value stream, that’s the latest new concept or new standard. That’s inspired by business architecture, and those of you who follow things like TOGAF®, a standard of The Open Group, or the BIZBOK will know this that value streams are a key concept in there, next to things like capabilities. ArchiMate didn’t yet have a value stream concept. Now it does, and it plays the same role as the value stream does for the TOGAF framework.
It lets you express how a company produces its value and what the stages in the value production are. So that helps describe how an organization realizes its business outcomes. That’s the most visible addition.
Next to that, there are some other changes, minor things, such as you can have a directed association relationship instead of only an undirected one. That can come in very handy in all kinds of modeling situations. And there are some technical improvements to various definitions; they have been clarified. The specification of the metamodel has been improved.
One technical improvement specifically of interest to ArchiMate specialists is the way in which we deal with so-called derived relationships. A derived relationship is basically the conclusion you can draw from a whole chain of things connected together. You might want to see what’s actually the end-to-end connection between things on that chain so there are rules on that. We have changed, improved, and formalized these rules. That allows, at a technical level, some extra capabilities in the language.
And that’s really for the specialists. I would say the first two things, the value stream concept and this directed association — those are the most visible for most end users.
Overall value of the value stream
Gardner: It’s important to understand how value streams now are being applied holistically. We have seen them, of course, in the frameworks — and now with ArchiMate. Value streams provide a common denominator for organizations to interpret and then act. That often cuts across different business units. Help us understand why value streams as a common denominator are so powerful.
Lankhorst: Value stream helps express the value that an organization produces for its stakeholders, the outcomes it produces, and the different stages needed to produce that value. It provides a concept that’s less detailed than looking at your individual business processes.
Value stream helps express the value that an organization produces for its stakeholders, the outcomes it produces, and the different stages needed to produce that value. It provides a concept that’s less detailed than looking at your individual business processes.
If you look at the process level, you might be standing too closely in front of the picture. You don’t see the overall perspective of how a company creates value for its customers. You only see the individual tasks that you perform, but how that actually adds value for your stakeholders — that’s really the key.
The capability concept and the mapping between them is also very important. That allows you see what capabilities are needed for the stages in the value production. And in that way, you have a great starting point for the rest of the development of your architecture. It tells you what you need to be able to do in order to add value in these different stages.
You can use that at a relatively high level, an economic perspective, where you look at classical value chains from, say, a supplier via internal production to marketing and sales and to the consumer. You can also use that at a fine-grade level. But the focus is really always about the value you create — rather than the tasks you perform.
Gardner: For those who might not be familiar with ArchiMate, can you provide us with a brief history? It was first used in The Netherlands in 2004 and it’s been part of The Open Group since 2008. How far back is your connection with ArchiMate?
Lankhorst: Yes, it started as a research and development project in The Netherlands. At that time, I worked at an applied research institute in IT. We did joint collaborative projects with industry and academia. In the case of ArchiMate, there was a project in which we had, for example, a large bank and a pension fund and the Dutch tax administration. A number of these large organizations needed a common way of describing architectures.
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That began in 2002. I was the project manager of that project until 2004. Already during the projects the participating companies said, “We need this. We need a description technique for architecture. We also want you to make this a standard.” And we promised to make it into a standard. We needed a separate organization for that.
So we were in touch with The Open Group in 2004 to 2005. It took a while, but eventually The Open Group adopted the standard, and the official version under the aegis of The Open Group came out in 2008, version 1. We had a number of iterations: in 2012, version 2.0, and in 2016, version 3.0. Now, we are at version 3.1.
Gardner: The vision for ArchiMate is to be a de facto modeling notation standard for Enterprise Architecture that helps improve communication between different stakeholders across an organization, a company, or even a country or a public agency. How do the new ArchiMate improvements help advance this vision, in your opinion?
The value streams concept gives a broader perspective of how value is produced — even across an ecosystem of organizations. This broad perspective is important.
Lankhorst: The value streams concept gives a broader perspective of how value is produced — even across an ecosystem of organizations. That’s broader than just a single company or a single government agency. This broad perspective is important. Of course it works internally for organizations, it has worked like that, but increasingly we see this broader perspective.
Just to name two examples of that. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in its most recent NATO Architecture Framework version 4 came out early last year, now specify ArchiMate as one of the two allowed metamodels for specifically modeling architecture for NATO.
For these different countries and how they work together, this is one of the allowed standards. For example, the British Ministry of Defence wants to use ArchiMate models and the ArchiMate Exchange format to communicate with industry. For example, when seek a request for proposal (RFP), they use ArchiMate models for describing the context of that and then require industry to provide ArchiMate models to describe their solution.
Another example is in the European System of Central Banks. They have joint systems for doing transactions between central banks. They have completely modeled those out in ArchiMate. So, all of these different central banks have the same understanding of the architecture, across, between, and within organizations. Even within organizations you can have the same problems of understanding what’s actually happening, how the bits fit together, and make sure everybody is on the same page.
A manifesto to control complexity
Gardner: It’s very impressive, the extent to which ArchiMate is now being used and applied. One of the things that’s also been impressive is that the goal of ArchiMate to corral complexity hasn’t fallen into the trap of becoming too complex itself. One of its goals was to remain as small as possible, not to cover every single scenario.
How do you manage not to become too complex? How has that worked for ArchiMate?
Lankhorst: One of the key principles behind the language is that we want to keep it as small and simple as possible. When we drew up our own ArchiMate manifesto — some might know of the Agile manifesto – and the ArchiMate manifesto is somewhat similar.
One of the key principles is that we want to cover 80 percent of cases for the 80 percent of the common users, rather than try to cover a 100 percent for a 100 percent of the users. That would give you exotic use cases that require very specific features in the language that hardly anybody uses. It can clutter the picture for all the users. It would be much more complicated.
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So, we have been vigilant to avoid that feature-creep, where we keep adding and adding all sorts of things to the language. We want to keep it as simple as possible. Of course, if you are in a complex world, you can’t always keep it completely straightforward. You have to be able to address that complexity. But keeping the language as easy to use and as easy to understand as possible has and will remain the goal.
Gardner: The Open Group has been adamant about having executable standards as a key principle, not too abstract but highly applicable. How is the ArchiMate standard supporting this principle of being executable and applicable?
Lankhorst: In two major ways. First, because it is implemented by most major architecture tools in the market. If you look at the Gartner Magic Quadrant and the EA tools in there, pretty much all of them have an implementation of the ArchiMate language. It is just the standard for EA.
In that sense, it becomes the one standard that rules them all in the architecture field. At a more detailed level, the executable standards, the ArchiMate Exchange format has played an important role. It makes it possible to exchange models between different tools for different applications. I mentioned the example of the UK Ministry of Defence which wants to exchange models with industry, specify their requirements, and get back specifications and solutions using ArchiMate models. It’s really important to make these kinds of models and this kind of information available in ways that the different tools can use, manipulate, and analyze.
Gardner: That’s ArchiMate 3.1. When did that become available?
Lankhorst: The first week of November 2019.
Gardner: What are the next steps? What does the future hold? Where do you take ArchiMate next?
Lankhorst: We haven’t made any concrete plans yet for possible improvements. But some things you can think about is simplifying the language further so that it is even easier to use, perhaps having a simplified notation for certain use cases so you don’t need the precision of the current notation. Maybe having an alternative notation that looks easier to the eye.
There are some other things that we might want to look at. For example, ArchiMate currently assumes that you already have a fair idea about what kind of solution you are developing. But maybe it’s moving an upstream to the brainstorming phase of architecture. So supporting the initial stages of design. That might be something we want to look into.
There are various potential directions but it’s our aim to keep things simple and help architects express what they want to do — but not make the language overly complicated and more difficult to learn.
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So simplicity, communication, and maybe expanding a bit toward early-stage design. Those are the ideas that I currently have. Of course, there is a community, the ArchiMate Forum within The Open Group. All of the members have a say. There are other outside influences as well, with various ideas of where we could take this.
Gardner: It’s also important to note that the certification program around ArchiMate is very active. How can people learn more about certification in ArchiMate?
Lankhorst: You can find more details on The Open Group website, it’s all laid out there. Basically, there are two levels of certification and you can take the exams for that. You can take courses with various course providers, BiZZdesign being one of them, and then prepare for the exam.
Increasingly, I see in practice of this is the requirements when architects are hired, that they are certified so that the company that hires, say consultants, knows that at least they know the basics. So, I would certainly recommend taking an exam if you are into Enterprise Architecture.
Gardner: And of course there are also the events around the world. These topics come up and are often very uniformly and extensively dealt with at The Open Group events, so people should look for those at the website as well.