Reducing Process Complexity in Diagrams Using Archimate

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In the realm of enterprise architecture and business process documentation, leveraging tools like ArchiMate can be transformative. Discover how ArchiMate simplifies complex concepts and enhances visualizations to drive understanding and efficiency in enterprise projects.

Recently, I worked on a project where we helped a company discover and document its enterprise architecture and business processes. We leveraged the Open Group’s ArchiMate standard and the Archi application to document process workflows, baseline architecture diagrams, value stream maps, data dissemination diagrams, enterprise & location diagrams, and more. The ArchiMate standard makes it very easy to take what are often complex concepts and visualize them so everyone can understand them.

How does ArchiMate achieve this? 

There are eight categories of objects in Archi: 

  1. Strategy 
  2. Business 
  3. Application
  4. Technology & physical
  5. Motivation
  6. Implementation & migration,
  7. Other 
  8. Relations 

Each category has a corresponding color which distinguishes it very clearly on diagrams. Within each category are sets of pre-configured objects that can be pulled into diagrams, named “Views” within Archi. Below are screenshots of the Palette showing the categories and pre-set objects available:

Palette categories and pre-set objects

How does ArchiMate simplify diagram creation?

So now that you’ve seen the flexibility of ArchiMate and Archi, you’re probably wondering how it simplifies diagram creation, especially with so many objects and categories. The simplification is more pertinent during the diagram’s perception rather than its creation: using ArchiMate ensures a common understanding. For instance, it took close to 20 hours to develop, perfect, and obtain approval for the following complex enterprise & locations diagram:

Archimate enterprise diagram
Complex enterprise & locations diagram

The above diagram replaced more than 10 different diagrams, spreadsheets, and documents. Granted, the above diagram is very busy and ended up being broken down into smaller, individual diagrams, but seeing where everything is located and what services each application provided was beneficial to understand where opportunities might exist. The process of diagramming this uncovered a few applications that didn’t need to be maintained anymore and several opportunities to consolidate.

To help highlight how the standard made the above diagram simpler: we used Devices to show physical machines, Application Components to represent an application (e.g., Excel), Application Services to show which capability was provided by the application, Data Objects to represent databases, Locations and Groupings to organize objects, and Access relationships and Serving relationships to show how everything interacted. The different types of objects in Archi / ArchiMate allow for abstraction at various levels. For instance, the diagram above was closer to the physical layer, which is why it contains devices and locations in addition to applications and services. 

The next diagram abstracts to a higher level and shows how data is disseminated. The business finds it easier to see what technology is providing them key data driving their decision-making processes.

ArchiMate disseminated high-level data

The next diagram goes another level higher and shows a view of how technology impacts business processes, and each step involved in the process along with the primary actor involved in the process. The number of applications present in the diagram decreases as one moves higher in the abstraction layer.

ArchiMate impact on business processes

The next diagram is abstraction at an even higher level, as evidenced by the amount of business-level objects compared to the number of application objects. At this abstraction level, business processes may act as objects in a much larger enveloping process and there are now multiple actors involved.

ArchiMate high-level diagram

As you probably noticed, the same types of objects are consistently used throughout. This uniformity makes it easier for stakeholders to understand. These diagrams still show a lot of complexity, but seeing complex business processes and technology represented in visual form allows stakeholders to understand how everything works together. In our project, we were able to modify diagrams like the one above to show how certain technology solutions would impact our client’s business processes. Seeing fewer manual steps and objects helped them reach a decision and balance the needs of impacted stakeholders.

How can ArchiMate make value stream mapping simpler?

Value streams can often be complex and may take the form of Excel spreadsheets, but as you can see in the next diagram, ArchiMate makes visualizing them pretty easy and much nicer aesthetically. Each step in the value stream calls out the value-added for that group of activities (broken out below) and eventually results in the goal in purple on the right.

ArchiMate value stream
ArchiMate value stream

As a software development company, we used a git repository to manage version control, but because Archi’s ArchiMate files are XML, it didn’t work very well until we developed supplemental workflow processes. We ended up having to manage separate files for each person’s diagrams and either import (for existing diagrams) or copy/paste them into the master diagram file (for new diagrams) once approved for merge.

One major benefit of Archi is that it allows you to export an entire model into a website (HTML files, etc.), which is great if you can host it somewhere. However, one big limitation we ran into is that users cannot zoom in or out. For really large and complex diagrams, that makes them unusable. End users were still able to navigate through the folder structure we developed and then view the smaller diagrams.

We also found that exporting individual diagrams (“views”) into images helped if we were looking for quick email approval of the diagram after already having had a working session. I also found that updating diagrams on the fly was pretty easy, ensuring that diagrams are wrapped up by the end of a working session instead of a lot of back & forth via indirect communication methods (email, chat, etc.). Exporting at 400% helped avoid pixelation of the images when viewing them, even for the larger diagrams, but if using Google Mail you’ll want to make sure to attach it (instead of pasting it into the body of the email) or it may end up pixelated for the recipient.

Wrapping it up

Using what I’ve highlighted above, we were able to perform discovery for our client and they were very happy! I was surprised to find out that there is a sizable demand for work like this, so if projects like these interest you, I encourage you to check our Careers page and apply. It is a lot of fun to learn all about a business and drive understanding—ArchiMate is a great way to do it!

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