The ArchiMate Framework and Modelling Language – Worth Your Time?

ArchiMate is a framework and a modelling language which is more and more becoming an industry standard. The version 1.0 was released in 2004, the current version, 3.1 was released beginning of 2020. Since 2008, ArchiMate is part of The Open Group. The ArchiMate framework and notation is increasingly becoming popular, especially since it has been integrated into The Open Group. This is also supported by searching for the term “ArchiMate” in Google Trends. Yet, there are quite a view voices that criticize ArchiMate. Criticism involves that it is too complex, not clear, not easy to use, difficult to read and hard to understand. This article describes the development of ArchiMate, the advantages and disadvantages of the current version, and provides some recommendations and thoughts for applying it.

 

The Development of the ArchiMate Framework 1.0 to 3.0

The ArchiMate framework basically represents a matrix of crucial enterprise architecture layers and aspects. Version 1.0 included the layers business, application, and technology as well as the aspects active structure, behavior, and passive structure. The aspects can be compared to aspects of a sentence, such as: “Michael is swimming in the river”, which would correspond to: Michael (active structure) is swimming (behavior) in the river (passive structure). Another example would be: “The campaign website provides customer data to the CRM system”. This sentence would accordingly translate into: The campaign website (active sentence) provides customer data (behavior) to the CRM system (passive structure).

ArchiMate 2.0 builds on those basics and adds an additional layer, as well as an additional aspect. The layer that is added is called implementation & migration. This layer describes the actual work packages and what has to be done in order to achieve the architecture results.

The additional aspect that has been added is motivation. While the active structure refers to the “what”, the behavior refers to “how”, the behavior aspect refers to “why”. Amending the above example with an explanation why we do it, we get the following sentence: “The campaign website provides customer data to the CRM system because we want to store all customer data in a central database”.

ArchiMate 3.0 was released in 2016. It added an additional aspect of Physical just next to the Technology layer. It mainly describes the hardware aspects that are increasingly relevant for IT. An example would be IoT sensors that require that the software development is adapted to the hardware specifications.

What are Advantages and Disadvantages of ArchiMate?

The probably most crucial aspect of using ArchiMate as a modelling language is that it is a well-established standard. Therefore, using it provides all the advantages of using an industry standard. Those include the availability of know-how and resources, trainings availability on the market, the availability of best practices that have been developed by others, and support by a variety of different tools. In addition, it allows for discussions and comparisons across organizations, as well as an integration with other modeling languages such as UML or BPMN. Finally, as ArchiMate also belongs to The Open Group, it is well compatible with using TOGAF, the most important Enterprise Architecture Standard. This fact, the fact that it is on the market since 2004, and that it is increasing in popularity also ensures that an investment into ArchiMate, e.g. adopting it in an organization, is future proof.

On the disadvantages side, people state that ArchiMate is quite complicated, not clear, not easy to read and not easy to understand. This opinion seems to be supported by every new release of ArchiMate, as every release adds new complexity to the framework and new elements to the notation. The latest version has about 60 different elements that can be used for modelling. While some say that those are too many elements, others say that they are not sufficient to describe everything they would like to describe. Another aspect that is often considered in today´s IT world is whether the tool, approach or framework supports an agile methodology. For ArchiMate, whose main advantage is to provide structure and illustrate situations clearly, this is not the case.

 

Summarizing the above analysis, it seems that ArchiMate is a well-suited notation to use. However, due to the number of different elements, there are only few people that can read and write it fluently. Comparing this situation to another written language, Chinese, some parallels become clear. While in modern Chinese, there are more than 50,000 different characters (pinyin), it is generally enough to know about 8,000 of them in order to be able to read and understand most articles in a newspaper. Similarly, it should be possible to learn the most important 20% of ArchiMate elements in order to read most ArchiMate documentations. In order to achieve this, there should be two prerequisites achieved:

First, ArchiMate should clearly state which elements of the notation are to be preferably used and which ones should only be used if one would like to be very precise.

Second, stakeholders that are not used to ArchiMate should learn the basics of the notation, including the set of basic elements described above.

For instance, the most important elements of ArchiMate are probably capabilities, processes, technology, and applications. If architects used mainly those elements, it would be much easier for many stakeholders to learn them. However, the most important elements also depend on the use case of the documentation as well as the target audience. Therefore, both aspects should be considered as well.

As it can be challenging to understand which elements of the notation are more frequently used than others, some tools try to provide support for this. Based on the analysis of prior ArchiMate documentations as well as the current modelling, the tool should suggest which elements are likely to follow. Such functionality would surely improve the readability of a documentation that has been created by a less experienced author.

Do you have experience with ArchiMate? What is your impression of it? Do you think that such enterprise architecture frameworks can still be used today?

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