Sep 142015
 14th September 2015  Posted by at 12:34 pm

Some of you might have noticed that Archi 3.3 has been released. This latest version of Archi includes a new plug-in which supports The Open Group’s ArchiMate file exchange format. This represents the fruits of some years and months’ labour! I’ve been collaborating with The Open Group, and representatives from associated parties and tool vendors, for some time now to produce a file format that can be used to exchange single ArchiMate models between conforming toolsets. Finally, version 1.0 has been released!

The file format uses XML, which is backed by a validating XSD Schema. Why is this? Wouldn’t XMI be better? Well, yes it would if we had a MOF representation of ArchiMate. Currently, one doesn’t exist. Also, it’s very hard to agree exactly what should be formally represented in a persistence format, as against what can be usefully represented and exchanged using a persistence format. For example, ArchiMate symbols use colour to denote the different layers, and custom colour schemes can be employed to convey meaning. Clearly, this is not something that can be enforced in a specification. Probably the only things that can be enforced are the ArchiMate concepts and relations themselves. Views, viewpoints, and visual arrangements of those concepts and relations are, arguably, optional. A valid ArchiMate model could simply consist of a set of concepts and relations. However, this is probably not very useful in the real world, and so the exchange format seeks to provide a file format for describing and exchanging the most used aspects of ArchiMate models, optional aspects as well as mandatory aspects.

So, simply put, the aim of The Open Group’s ArchiMate file exchange format is to provide a pragmatic and useful mechanism for exchanging ArchiMate models and visual representations between compliant toolsets. It does not seek to create a definitive representation of an ArchiMate model. For that to happen, I believe many things would have to be formally declared in the ArchiMate specification. For this reason, many of the components in the exchange format are optional. For example, the ArchiMate 2.1 specification describes the use of attributes as a means to extend the language and provide additional properties to the concepts and relations. The specification does not rigidly mandate their use. However, many toolsets do support and encourage the use of attributes to create model profiles, for example. To support this, the exchange format provides a properties mechanism, consisting of typed key/value pairs. This allows implementers to (optionally) represent additional information for all of the concepts, relations and views.

Even though I have emphasised that the main use for the exchange format is exchange (the name is a bit of a giveaway here ;-)), another advantage of using XML/XSD for the file format is that it is possible to use XSLT to transform the XML ArchiMate model instances into HTML documents, reports, as input for a database, and so on. I would say that the potential for exploiting ArchiMate data in this way is huge.

The exchange format could also help with learning the ArchiMate language and Enterprise Architecture – imagine a repository of ArchiMate models (tagged with Dublin Core metadata to facilitate search and description) that could be used as a resource pool of model patterns and examples for those new to the language. One thing that I personally would like to see is an extensive pool of example models and model snippets as examples of good modelling practice. And using the exchange format, these models and snippets can be loaded into any supporting toolset.

Here are my five “winning features” for the ArchiMate exchange format:

  • Transparent
  • Simple
  • Well understood format
  • Pragmatic
  • Open

I’m sure that The Open Group’s ArchiMate exchange format will contribute to, and encourage the use of ArchiMate, and perhaps reassure users that their valuable data is not locked into any one vendor’s proprietary tool format. I personally think that this is a great initiative and that we have achieved a great result. Of course, nothing is perfect and the exchange format is still at version 1.0, so user feedback is welcome. With greater uptake the format can be improved, and we may see it being exploited in ways that we have not yet thought of!

(For more information about the exchange format, see here)

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