Software // Information Management
News
1/28/2008
12:52 PM
Connect Directly
RSS
E-Mail

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.

caption goes here
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.



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.

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
The Agile Archive
The Agile Archive
When it comes to managing data, donít look at backup and archiving systems as burdens and cost centers. A well-designed archive can enhance data protection and restores, ease search and e-discovery efforts, and save money by intelligently moving data from expensive primary storage systems.
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
InformationWeek Tech Digest - August 27, 2014
Who wins in cloud price wars? Short answer: not IT. Enterprises don't want bare-bones IaaS. Providers must focus on support, not undercutting rivals.
Flash Poll
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
InformationWeek Radio
Archived InformationWeek Radio
Howard Marks talks about steps to take in choosing the right cloud storage solutions for your IT problems
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.