Let's face it. Business and IT executives have more important things to think about than modeling languages. But for a moment, consider this: If the only modeling tools you use are proprietary solutions, then you'll be limited to the vendor's view of your enterprise architecture.
That's why a group of companies and academics in the Netherlands created ArchiMate, an architectural modeling language and standard that's vendor-neutral. In short, to understand what ArchiMate does, just think of those lines and boxes you're often shown by IT. ArchiMate standardizes that, so you don't need the creator there to explain what it means.
But it also goes further, providing a way to talk about business services and stakeholders. And in its new version - which was recently released by the standards body, the Open Group - it aligns more with TOGAF, another Open Group standard and a popular Enterprise Architecture framework.
To help you understand why any of that matters, Marc Lankhorst offers the example of a large Dutch bank and insurance company that used ArchiMate to design its business processes, applications and infrastructures. Lankhorst is a principle advisor with Novay and an enterprise architect who served as project leader for the development of ArchiMate. He explained ArchiMate's business value during a recent interview.
They have now linked this into their portfolio management process, so they use it to make decisions on their projects and applications portfolio, for example, to compute the value that an application adds to the business by looking at the important processes it supports and using that type of information in portfolio decisions, or to look at the coherence between applications to decide the order at which projects have to run to improve the architecture.
They even go so far as to tie the upper layers of the architecture into business modeling in the economic sense of the word, where they do analyses like: What is the business model of my new service for my clients and how does this reflect in the architecture? What do I need to do to provide a service to my customers, when my business model asks that I'm focusing on customer value instead of efficiency, for example.
These decisions influence the underlying design of your architecture.
Lankhorst said ArchiMate also helps IT and enterprise architects step back from the technical details to see the whole picture, which can help them identify gaps and silos for future integration.
ArchiMate is more widely embraced in the Netherlands and Europe, according to the Open Group, though there is some interest in the U.S. Currently, there are at least 10 commercial tools and several open source tools that support ArchiMate, and some vendors use it in their architectural tooling.
"There are some tools of course that have vendor-specific ways of modeling architecture and you can see them as competitors," Lankhorst said. "One of the main reasons of developing ArchiMate originally is our customers said we don't want to have a vendor-specific solution because then we can only buy their tools, hire their consultants, get their trainers, etc."
That freedom alone makes ArchiMate and modeling in general worth at least some consideration, particularly if you're an IT leader and most definitely if you're an enterprise architect.