Models, interoperability limitations and how to overcome them with patterns and transformations

There is an interesting report by Michael zur Muehlen, “Enterprise Architecture based on Design Primitives and Patterns, Guidelines for the Design and Development of Event-Trace Descriptions (DoDAF OV-6c) using BPMN”, already published in 2009 discussing about round-trip architecture, interoperability issues and architectural primitives of the DoDAF architecture framework.

Michael zur Muehlen (DoD Business Transformation Agency) suggested that “there is a need for standard formats for diagrams, standard data formats for the exchange of these diagrams, and standard formats for data that moves within and between the architectures that diagrams represent.” Even though the DoDAF v2 meta-model (DM2) has been implemented in a similar fashion by different tool vendors, the implementations are using different techniques, that is “modeling languages”, to express an architecture by viewpoints. Such modeling languages include UML®, BPMN™, IDEF0, IDEF1 and some other vendor-specific notations like in ProVision® or ARIS®.

Regarding the interchange of models between different tools, Michael zur Muehlen is saying that “even within a single standard solution problems persist. A major issue facing interoperability standards is the inconsistent implementation of existing specifications. Even though multiple tools may support the same diagramming technique, they may each use proprietary extensions. The same is true for the data formats used for model persistency.” In his report Mr. zur Muehlen gives an overview of the 2009 market situation which is nicely depicted in his figure 1-1, shown in the following:

Primitives OV 6c Guidelines Fig 1Fig. 1 Test results for tool interoperability using the XPDL for BPMN model exchange (Michael zur Mühlen, 2009)

Note that only the green cells indicate a “success”. Some tool are even incapable of re-importing their own models previously exported to the XPDL format. Out of 38 combinations only five had turned out to provide a successful model exchange!

So it is valid to say that there is a serious lack of feasibility in building integrated architectures and ensuring the interoperability of the tools involved in architecture design and analytic processes. As a result, the communication between architects and deciders inside organizations may indeed suffer severely.

To overcome these problems, Michael zur Muehlen has outlined the concept of a BPMN™ subset of primitives and patterns for describing the operational view’s event-trace (DoDAF OV-6c). The issue of tool interoperability thus can be summarized on two complementary conceptual levels implemented in a tool:

  1. A data exchange scheme
  2. Modeling patterns and primitives

Concerning the data exchange scheme we have developed the concept of XPDL scheme “flavors” to adopt vendor-specific XPDL extensions.

Applying unified modeling patterns and primitives conceptually is the right way to describe reality by harmonized models. However, real life tells us that there are not only different interpretations of standard modeling languages (and hence different tool features!), but also non-standard languages. And to this add an unlimited number of applied modeling patterns.

For the practical application of model exchanges we have developed a new technology called “pattern-based transformations” (PBT). Individual modeling patterns in the source model are transformed into harmonized target modeling patterns. The whole transformation is expressed by a set of pattern-based rules. By this approach an internally unified model representation and architecture is established. And from here vendor-specific model representations are be obtained. Among many other use cases we have applied our pattern-based technology to defense frameworks in the context of the UML® modeling language and the Unified Profile for DoDAF/MODAF (UPDM). A PBT technology white paper is available here.

The PBT technology is of course embedded into the overall hub-and-spoke application architecture of the BPM-X Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) component with its enterprise service bus and a large number of modeling tool and format adapters.

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