This Archi Spotlight has been written by Ad Gerrits. Ad is an Enterprise Architect at the municipality of Nijmegen and works as an independent entrepreneur at AG4IT. He mainly works within the Dutch government and has contributed, among other things, to the reference architecture for Dutch municipalities. He is a fan of ArchiMate and actively promotes its use in practice.
Nijmegen is one of the 380 Dutch municipalities in the Netherlands. With the increasing importance of IT for business operations, it is becoming increasingly important to work ‘under architecture’. That is why it was decided to adopt ArchiMate as the descriptive language for architecture a few years ago. Recently, Archi was chosen as the standard application to work with ArchiMate.
We love ArchiMate
There were several reasons for choosing ArchiMate: it helps in practice to better describe architecture, it is a worldwide standard and, nowadays, it is widely used within the Dutch government.
The GEMMA Reference Architecture for municipalities makes intensive use of ArchiMate. For, among other things, the modeling of business and application elements and their relations. Every municipality can register its own applications via the National Software Catalog and relate it to the nationwide reference architecture. All data can be exported in AMEFF-format (ArchiMate Model Exchange File Format) and imported into architectural tools used by municipalities.
Tooling that fits
In order to work well with ArchiMate, supporting tooling is necessary. There are several applications that support the use of ArchiMate. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages and are provided by companies with different business models.
We did not have the ambition to find ‘the best application’. Our aim was to select the application that is most suitable for us. For example, we find it important that tooling is easy to use, we don’t need support for BPMN or UML (‘Do one thing and do it well’), it must be affordable, etc.
Although we already used Archi and were charmed by it, there was always a major showstopper: the absence of a shared repository to be able to work well as a team. This is why we came to consider one of the well-known commercial products. However, the pricing of this solution was such that it was impossible for us to get the required funding.
Let there be collaboration
And then Archi’s ‘Model Repository Collaboration Plugin‘ was announced: “an extension to Archi that allows collaborative work on Archi through sharing and versioning of models in a repository”. Archi was back in the race! And more than that…
With the “Grafico” plug-in created by Jean-Baptiste Sarrodie as a base there was now a multi-user distributed repository solution to share and collaborate on Archi models. Because of the genial decision to use git-based repositories, features such as sharing, versioning, branching and reverting came into reach. Finally, the new and exciting features that Software Developers had enjoyed over the last 10 years were available for Enterprise Architects (more about this in ‘ArchOps: a new paradigm for EA Toolsets’).
Because the plug-in was still under development, we did a pilot to check the stability and whether the already available functionality was sufficient for us to get started. The answer to both was a clear ‘yes’.
Open development, open source
More than 10 years ago, the city council of Nijmegen decided to give preference to providers who work according to the ‘open source’ principle when purchasing software. In practice, this has led to a dormant existence, but in recent years the use of open source software has become very current again. Partly because open source products today are just as good or better than commercial products, and partly because with the increasing importance of IT, (too) high dependence on suppliers is undesirable.
With Archi, the benefits of open source development are well realised. There is a quality product, an active development that is driven by the needs of users, and there is no vendor lock-in. All code is public, the AMEFF exchange format was supported immediately after its introduction, and for version management git is used.
One argument against the use of open source is that often no security can be bought from a commercial supplier. Apart from the question of which type of security yields the most in practice, it is true that there is a completely different business model. This is the reason why we as Nijmegen decided to actively contribute to the further development of Archi in the form of a monthly donation. Comparatively, this is a fraction of the amount that commercial packages cost, but a gesture that shows our support for this type of development.
The road ahead
In Nijmegen we are learning step by step to make effective use of the possibilities that ArchiMate and Archi offer. We use Archi on Windows and Linux with Gitlab-hosted repositories. We periodically generate an HTML export that is published on the company intranet so that all employees have easy access to all information. We can continue for years to come.
The Archi roadmap depends for a large part on the available resources. There is still plenty of room for new functionality (go go ‘Scripting and Command Line Tools’!). Hopefully more organizations will choose Archi and are willing to give in the form of development capacity or a donation. In the Netherlands, we as Nijmegen will certainly do our best to encourage use at other municipalities!