Modelling workshop

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The Introduction to Modelling workshop was held on Tuesday 8th December, 2009 at Conference Aston, Birmingham. This workshop is aimed at those who are new to modelling as well as at those who would just like confirmation that they're going in the right direction.


The workshop kicked off with the first session from JISC Community Engagement team, David Millard and Yvonne Howard. The session widened the perception of modelling, demonstrated different modelling techniques with a common example and illustrated how they connect each other. The modelling on the whole is divided into two main types, Hard and soft, based on Communication and support and Technical Specification and Intelligence. Portfolios of evidence, Scenarios and Personas ad Soft Systems Methodology fall under the soft type and Enterprise Architecture Modelling, Business Process Modelling, Universal Modelling Language fall under the hard type. The very first stage of modelling is the gathering of evidence that is used to communicate problems as an evidence for potential solutions. This is carried by surveys, interviews and so on. The second one is the Scenarios and Personas where scenarios capture the interactions between person and a system and accompanying personas capture the context of that interactions which includes motivations behind it, concerns and priorities. They were easy to understand when explained with the induction process modelling work at University of Bolton and sometimes were a bit ambiguous. The next part of the journey focussed on the systems thinking that include Soft systems Methodology, System Dynamics and Critical Systems Heuristics. They are the description of the system as a whole that displays certain behaviour or properties, structure that the individual components may or may have. The soft systems method is a seven stage description that includes getting information, analysing the information, constructing a conceptual problem based on CATWOE (Customer/Clients, Actors, Transformation, World view, Owners, Environment), Comparing models with the problem situation, Debate with the actors based on existing factors and finally the action for change.

The journey had practical session to sketch out the Soft systems Activity which was evidence based. Scenario: Successfully responding to a JISC Call and setting up a new project in a university context. The outcomes from the delegates from the practical session of the modelling journey revealed ‘Easy in theory and not in practice’.

The afternoon session started with the hard division of the Modelling spectrum. This can be divided into structural and behavioural based on the relations between system and their relationships and the interactions in the system itself. The initial step is the identification of key areas by breaking the problem into manageable chunks, developing use case visual diagrams to gather different requests like what the system should do, who benefits from the system and so on. To describe what is inside a use case, the Unified Modelling language (UML) and Business process Modelling notation (BPMN) were introduced to show interactions and communication. The UML activity diagrams includes notations for describing the workflow within the processes and sequence diagrams to show the interactions and communication. BPMN is very similar to UML, but the main advantage is that it can produce code that can be executed through a workflow engine either by its own transformation or by translation into Business Process Execution Language (BPEL).The last part of the Modelling journey was the introduction to Enterprise Architecture (EA) Modelling route, a model that fits in the whole business. Archimate,a unified way of modelling EA was then introduced. It was concluded that Modelling is essential to highlight the problem scenario and identify best ways of solve them up through different tools and techniques .The only best challenge is choosing the appropriate tool that is best suited to model the purpose.

Bill Oliver from JISC took us on the next presentation ‘‘Putting Modelling into Context’’. This presentation answered the question ‘Why Model?’ and introduced to different graphical Enterprise Architecture Modelling routes like the Business Process Modelling Notation and Unified Modelling language. We model to simplify our complex understanding of problems and improve the communication between Practitioners and Information technology developers/Providers. In enterprise Architecture terms it is to get ‘as-is’ and ‘to-be’ roadmap. Considering the factors that put modelling into context, the session then led us on the analysis of Bespoke and packaged software, while considering software services as a solution in wrestling with the wicked software development problem. The advantages of the bespoke software were they can be changed over time and are made to meet the end user’s requirements. The disadvantages might be they are expensive to develop and maintain in long term. While the packaged software are cheap and easy to upgrade based on the current requirements. In reality considering it’s implications and usage, it was concluded, ‘Best of both Worlds’, (which one can benefit from different things that do not normally go together) was the solution. The next part of the session focussed on the ways of identifying the common practices and processes at institutional and at sector level before putting modelling into context. Enrolling students, Providing Courses, assessment of student’s work financial services, Estate Services might be the common Processes but the practices will definitely differ and in some cases the applications may be tailored to the processes stated above. Considering the audience and their motive in modelling certain parts of their JISC funded project, the session had a practical exercise by answering some questions and mapping the answers directly into a simple High-level map. The next part of the session directed to the Service oriented Architecture route, which many institutions prefer to do. This is considered as the best practice when the whole organisation and their supporting ICT systems are to be modelled. Also, considering the audience from different institutions involved in different JISC funded projects, the JISC four layers above services approach was discussed. This briefly includes the Domain Map or the Model at the upper layer followed by Workflow/Process Models, Application (that includes specific software, service co-ordination and service usage Model at the bottom level. Finally, it was found from the exercise that the concepts were good in theory and bit complex in practice.

The last presentation was on EA modelling tool,Archimate. It was designed by the Dutch Information Technology research group Novey. Current research reveals that more than 50 organisations are using it. Here, it is used by the Flexible service Delivery programme Enterprise Architecture group members. The presentation introduced the importance of the tool Archimate through the Enterprise Architecture route. Archimate models the organisation’s structure, Business processes, Information Systems and so on. It resembles Unified Modelling Language but doesn’t aim to replace them. The tools that support Archimate are Bizzdesign Architect, IDS Sheer ARIS, Troux metis,Avolution Abacus and so on. The main advantage is that as a tool, it is very good at modelling high level business entities and doesn’t aim to model the process itself. It’s a unified way of modelling Enterprise Architecture that offers a good drill down approach in describing, visualising and analysing relations. Archimate is divided into sub layers based on the requirements namely Business, Application and Technology layer. These layers are interdependent and they support each other. These layers can be modelled separately and can be showed to a particular audience the part they are interested in. This working nature of Archimate was explained with an example. Finally, some experiences from the previous Archimate workshop in Bolton were shared.

The panel session at the last answered some questions on process modelling. The questions include

Different institutions use different models. Is it possible to compare models across institutions where common business processes are involved?

"It’s a good question and there’s a big debate going on. It is good to log on to Enterprise Architecture forum for answers".

What level of abstraction should a common model focus on?

"It depends how far we can drill down and some modellers feel if the level of abstraction matters when the purpose is achieved at each stage. In the drill down approach UML is preferred at the lower level and Archimate at the higher level".

(3)Can you suggest some good resources to extend the knowledge of UML?

"Books from Scott W. Ambler (like The Elements of UML); O'Reilly publications like Learning UML are very good".

(4)Can you please distinguish between HARD and Soft Systems Methodology and is there any situation they are more applicable to?

"The overall answer revealed after discussion was: SSM is good for action research when you are involved in the project for instance when the processes and practices are known. Also, they highlight the importance of organisational and individual learning. Hard systems way reflects the proper thinking of real world".


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