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1/28/2008
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Put-to-the-Test: Embarcadero EA/Studio 1.5

Process modeling tool highlights include BPMN support, low cost and integration with ER/Studio data modeling environment.

Why is process modeling important? In a Forrester Research survey last year, nearly 80 percent of respondents indicated that they were either considering or already in some stage of deploying business process management (BPM) software, the primary drivers being reduced costs, increased agility, and standardization of business processes across IT and business units. BPM, in turn, begins with business process analysis (BPA) and process modeling. What cannot be measured cannot be improved, and process modeling is the first step to understanding and measuring current-state business processes with an eye on future-state improvement.

EA/Studio Business Modeler is an entry-level but professional-looking business process modeling tool from Embarcadero Technologies, a company better known for its data modeling and database administration products, ER/Studio and DBArtisan, respectively. Now in its second major release — following an inaugural v1.0 release and v1.1 upgrade last year — EA/Studio is a mid-tier solution positioned above products like Visio, which are essentially diagramming tools, and below advanced process modeling tools such as IDS Scheer's ARIS Design Platform, Mega's Mega Process, ITP Commerce's Process Modeler for Visio, and MetaStorm’s ProVision (acquired through Proforma). A free EA/Studio Community Edition released earlier this month gives you a taste of the tool's core business process modeling capabilities, but it lacks some of the helpful reporting and analysis capabilities of the $970 full version.

EA/Studio is aimed at organizations midway up the process modeling maturity curve: Organizations that would like to go beyond basic visual depiction of process flows (e.g. Visio diagrams) and towards more organized process design and metadata management as well as integrated process/data modeling, yet are not ready for a full-featured process modeling and execution environment.

Working with EA/Studio

For this review, I downloaded the free 14-day trial version of EA/Studio from the Embarcadero Web site. The demo is a full-featured version restricted only by the license period, so I procured an extended license from Embarcadero. The download, installation and license update were all painless and quick. Since EA/Studio interacts with ER/Studio, I also downloaded and installed the data modeling tool.

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EA/Studio's user interface
(click image for larger view)
There are three main parts to the EA/Studio user interface (as shown in the screen shot at right). The Diagram view in the center is where you draw process diagrams and spend most of your time. On the left is a Model view that presents a hierarchical parent-child tree of objects in the diagram. On the right is a pop-up Palette where you select objects to place on the Diagram view. The Palette is context-sensitive, displaying one set of objects if you are creating a business process diagram and another set if you are creating a conceptual diagram. The Palette also displays reference objects and external data objects (more on these later) as well as drawing shapes (including circle, hexagon, text label and so on).

EA/Studio supports the popular industry-standard Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN 1.0), which implies that we are presented with a specific, standardized set of modeling objects, and need to conform to certain modeling rules. Accordingly, objects on the EA/Studio Palette are grouped into Events (start, end, intermediate), Activities (tasks and embedded/independent sub-processes), Gateways, Connecting Objects (sequence and message flows, associations), Swimlanes (pools and lanes), and Artifacts (data objects, groups and annotations). Many of these objects can be further refined. EA/Studio lets us choose whether to validate against BPMN – a welcome flexibility. (For more detail on BPMN, visit the Object Management Group's BPMN site.)

Constructing a process flow is fairly straightforward: For example, you can use a Start Event followed by a few Tasks and an End Event, all tied together using Connecting Objects. For more sophisticated process flows, you can use objects such as Swimlanes, (which depict process flow across multiple departments or roles) and Sub-Processes (which drill down into more detailed process flows). Data Objects are used to describe the flow of data to and from external components such as data stores, reports or data feeds, or even individual tables and entities.

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