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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.

Objectively Speaking

EA/Studio objects have properties. There are common properties (name, description and so on) as well as properties that are specific to the type of object. A task object, for example, has status, a data feed or report object has data elements, and a steward can be an individual or organization. Properties let you not only describe the object but also define implementation-level details such as the fields of a report or the columns in a table. All (or at least most) objects also have properties that show usage (a Confirm Order task, for example, reads an Order database) and impact analysis. Thus, you can use properties to quickly find out all the processes and tasks that read from or write to a particular data source.

EA/Studio organizes all work in a four-tier hierarchy: Workspace > Project > Model > Diagram. To me, this hierarchy seems excessively deep, adding to modeling complexity without adding much value. I can well imagine a business analyst working on multiple projects, each with multiple process models; what is less conceivable is an analyst working in multiple workspaces, each potentially containing multiple projects, with multiple models within each project and multiple diagrams within each model. I found similar overkill in the hierarchy of objects presented in the Model view which, as mentioned above, shows a parent-child view of objects and their components and relationships. In itself this is a very useful feature, but in the quest to present all related information in one place, EA/Studio delivers repeated displays of all occurrences of each object (for example, if object A is related to objects B, C and D, we see BCD listed under A, ACD listed under B, ABD listed under C and ABC listed under D, and this extended to multiple levels deep). This creates a clutter of information that leads to confusion rather than clarity.

All in all, though, the EA/Studio user interface is clean, well-organized and pleasant to the senses — no garish colors or excessive visual zeal. An Overview tab next to the Model view presents a thumbnail view of the entire diagram — another nice touch. I also liked the Find/Search feature, which lets you find an object on the diagram or search for an object within the workspace. In my limited usage, the tool appeared stable, without any unexpected glitches.

More Than Stand-Alone Modeling

Aficionados of integrated process/data modeling will be interested in EA/Studio’s ability to share conceptual data model through export/import with Embarcadero's flagship ER/Studio. For instance, you can create a conceptual data model in EA/Studio that has entities used in process models and then export the model to ER/Studio to add entity attribute details. You can then move the model back to EA/Studio to further enhance the process models. Process and data are inseparable (especially when you get to the lower levels of modeling); process/data integration through shared metadata helps keep everyone on the same page while reducing rework and errors.

Besides ER/Studio, you can also export to and import from Microsoft Excel. I was particularly interested EA/Studio's ability to import diagrams from Visio, as users of Microsoft's popular diagramming tool are prime prospects for deeper modeling tools. However, while the sample Visio diagram provided by Embarcadero transferred flawlessly into EA/Studio, I had less success with some other Visio diagrams that I tried.

Summing it Up

Consistent with its market positioning, EA/Studio lacks high-end features such as simulation and execution capabilities, sophisticated business rules handling and Web services support. That said, EA/Studio handily outperforms its nearest competitor, CA ERwin Process Modeler (formerly CA AllFusion Process Modeler), particularly in its support for BPMN (ERwin Process Modeler supports IDEF but not BPMN).

EA/Studio is Eclipse-based, and Embarcadero plans to migrate all its tools to the Eclipse platform to produce a more integrated toolset. Assuming Embarcadero does it right, this will be good news for those looking for a more integrated modeling environment. At $970 per user (+ $175 annual maintenance), EA/Studio is affordable enough, but you can sample the core modeling capabilities by downloading the free Community Edition (which lacks the conceptual modeling, impact analysis, usage reporting and artifact modeling features of the full version). Effective and efficient process modeling is as much an art as a science (and it requires tons of practice to boot), but a good tool can be a life-saver. With its pleasant and effective user interface, support for BPMN and interoperability with ER/Studio, EA/Studio is a nice addition to the marketplace and definitely worthy of consideration, especially in IT shops that haven’t settled on a heavy-duty BPA/BPM solution.

Rajan Chandras is a senior consultant with the New York offices of a leading global IT services firm, and is also a freelancing technology analyst and writer with a focus on information and IT management. He can be reached at rchandras@gmail.com.

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