By The Open Group
The Open Group’s upcoming Amsterdam Summit in May will feature a full day on May 14 dedicated to ArchiMate®, an open and independent modeling language for Enterprise Architecture, supported by tools that allow Enterprise Architects to describe, analyze and visualize relationships among business domains in an unambiguous way.
One of the tools developed to support ArchiMate is Archi, a free, open-source tool created by Phil Beauvoir at the University of Bolton in the UK as part of a Jisc-funded Enterprise Architecture project that ran from 2009-2012. Since its development, Archi has grown from a relatively small, home-grown tool to become a widely used open-source resource that averages 3000 downloads per month and whose community ranges from independent practitioners to Fortune 500 companies. Here we talk with Beauvoir about how Archi was developed, the problems inherent in sustaining an open source product, its latest features and whether it was named after the Archie comic strip.
Tell us about the impetus for creating the Archi tool and how it was created…
My involvement with the ArchiMate language has mainly been through the development of the software tool, Archi. Archi has, I believe, acted as a driver and as a hub for activity around the ArchiMate language and Enterprise Architecture since it was first created.
I’ll tell you the story of how Archi came about. Let’s go back to the end of 2009. At that point, I think ArchiMate and Enterprise Architecture were probably being used quite extensively in the commercial sector, especially in The Netherlands. The ArchiMate language had been around for a while at that point but was a relatively new thing to many people, at least here in the UK. If you weren’t part of the EA scene, it would have been a new thing to you. In the UK, it was certainly new for many in higher education and universities, which is where I come in.
Jisc, the UK funding body, funded a number of programs in higher education exploring digital technologies and other initiatives. One of the programs being funded was to look at how to improve systems using Enterprise Architecture within the university sector. Some of the universities had already been led to ArchiMate and Enterprise Architecture and were trying it out for themselves – they were new to it and, of course, one of the first things they needed were tools. At that time, and I think it’s still true today, a lot of the tools were quite expensive. If you’re a big commercial organization, you might be able to afford the licensing costs for tools and support, but for a small university project it can be prohibitive, especially if you’re just dipping your toe into something like this. So some colleagues within Jisc and the university I worked at said, ‘well, what about creating a small, open source project tool which isn’t over-complicated but does enough to get people started in ArchiMate? And we can fund six months of money to do this as a proof of concept tool’.
That takes us into 2010, when I was working for the university that was approached to do this work. After six months, by June 2010, I had created the first 1.0 version of Archi and it was (and still is) free, open source and cross-platform. Some of the UK universities said ‘well, that’s great, because now the barrier to entry has been lowered, we can use this tool to start exploring the ArchiMate language and getting on board with Enterprise Architecture’. That’s really where it all started.
So some of the UK universities that were exploring ArchiMate and Enterprise Architecture had a look at this first version of Archi, version 1.0, and said ‘it’s good because it means that we can engage with it without committing at this stage to the bigger tooling solutions.’ You have to remember, of course, that universities were (and still are) a bit strapped for cash, so that’s a big issue for them. At the time, and even now, there really aren’t any other open-source or free tools doing this. That takes us to June 2010. At this point we got some more funding from the Jisc, and kept on developing the tool and adding more features to it. That takes us through 2011 and then up to the end of 2012, when my contract came to an end.
Since the official funding ended and my contract finished, I’ve continued to develop Archi and support the community that’s built up around it. I had to think about the sustainability of the software beyond the project, and sometimes this can be difficult, but I took it upon myself to continue to support and develop it and to engage with the Archi/ArchiMate community.
How did you get involved with The Open Group and bringing the tool to them?
I think it was inevitable really due to where Archi originated, and because the funding came from the Jisc, and they are involved with The Open Group. So, I guess The Open Group became aware of Archi through the Jisc program and then I became involved with the whole ArchiMate initiative and The Open Group. I think The Open Group is in favor of Archi, because it’s an open source tool that provides a neutral reference implementation of the ArchiMate language. When you have an open standard like ArchiMate, it’s good to have a neutral reference model implementation.
How is this tool different from other tools out there and what does it enable people to do?
Well, firstly Archi is a tool for modeling Enterprise Architecture using the ArchiMate language and notation, but what really makes it stand out from the other tools is its accessibility and the fact that it is free, open source and cross-platform. It can do a lot of, if not all of, the things that the bigger tools provide without any financial or other commitment. However, free is not much use if there’s no quality. One thing I’ve always strived for in developing Archi is to ensure that even if it only does a few things compared with the bigger tools, it does those things well. I think with a tool that is free and open-source, you have a lot of support and good-will from users who provide positive encouragement and feedback, and you end up with an interesting open development process.
I suppose you might regard Archi’s relationship to the bigger ArchiMate tools in the same way as you’d compare Notepad to Microsoft Word. Notepad provides the essential writing features, but if you want to go for the full McCoy then you go and buy Microsoft Word. The funny thing is, this is where Archi was originally targeted – at beginners, getting people to start to use the ArchiMate language. But then I started to get emails — even just a few months after its first release — from big companies, insurance companies and the like saying things like ‘hey, we’re using this tool and it’s great, and ‘thanks for this, when are we going to add this or that feature?’ or ‘how many more features are you going to add?’ This surprised me somewhat since I wondered why they hadn’t invested in one of the available commercial tools. Perhaps ArchiMate, and even Enterprise Architecture itself, was new to these organizations and they were using Archi as their first software tool before moving on to something else. Having said that, there are some large organizations out there that do use Archi exclusively.
Which leads to an interesting dilemma — if something is free, how do you continue developing and sustaining it? This is an issue that I’m contending with right now. There is a PayPal donation button on the front page of the website, but the software is open source and, in its present form, will remain open source; but how do you sustain something like this? I don’t have the complete answer right now.
Given that it’s a community product, it helps that the community contributes ideas and develops code, but at the same time you still need someone to give their time to coordinate all of the activity and support. I suppose the classic model is one of sponsorship, but we don’t have that right now, so at the moment I’m dealing with issues around sustainability.
How much has the community contributed to the tool thus far?
The community has contributed a lot in many different ways. Sometimes a user might find a bug and report it or they might offer a suggestion on how a feature can be improved. In fact, some of the better features have been suggested by users. Overall, community contributions seem to have really taken off more in the last few months than in the whole lifespan of Archi. I think this may be due to the new Archi website and a lot more renewed activity. Lately there have been more code contributions, corrections to the documentation and user engagement in the future of Archi. And then there are users who are happy to ask ‘when is Archi going to implement this big feature, and when is it going to have full support for repositories?’ and of course they want this for free. Sometimes that’s quite hard to accommodate, because you think ‘sure, but who’s going to do all this work and contribute the effort.’ That’s certainly an interesting issue for me.
How many downloads of the tool are you getting per month? Where is it being used?
At the moment we’re seeing around 3,000 downloads a month of the tool — I think that’s a lot actually. Also, I understand that some EA training organizations use Archi for their ArchiMate training, so there are quite a few users there, as well.
The number one country for downloading the app and visiting the website is the Netherlands, followed by the UK and the United States. In the past three months, the UK and The Netherlands have been about equal in numbers in their visits to the website and downloads, followed by the United States, France, Germany, Canada, then Australia, Belgium, and Norway. We have some interest from Russia too. Sometimes it depends on whether ArchiMate or Archi is in the news at any given time. I’ve noticed that when there’s a blog post about ArchiMate, for example, you’ll see a spike in the download figures and the number of people visiting the website.
How does the tool fit into the overall schema of the modeling language?
It supports all of the ArchiMate language concepts, and I think it offers the core functionality of you’d want from an ArchiMate modeling tool — the ability to create diagrams, viewpoints, analysis of model objects, reporting, color schemes and so on. Of course, the bigger ArchiMate tools will let you manipulate the model in more sophisticated ways and create more detailed reports and outputs. This is an area that we are trying to improve, and the people who are now actively contributing to Archi are full-time Enterprise Architects who are able to contribute to these areas. For example, we have a user and contributor from France, and he and his team use Archi, and so they are able to see first-hand where Archi falls short and they are able to say ‘well, OK, we would like it to do this, or that could be improved,’ so now they’re working towards strengthening any weak areas.
How did you come up with the name?
What happens is you have pet names for projects and I think it just came about that we started calling it “Archie,” like the guy’s name. When it was ready to be released I said, ‘OK, what should we really call the app?’ and by that point everyone had started to refer to it as “Archie.” Then somebody said ‘well, everybody’s calling it by that name so why don’t we just drop the “e” from the name and go with that?’ – so it became “Archi.” I suppose we could have spent more time coming up with a different name, but by then the name had stuck and everybody was calling it that. Funnily enough, there’s a comic strip called ‘Archie’ and an insurance company that was using the software at the time told me that they’d written a counterpart tool called ‘Veronica,’ named after a character in the comic strip.
What are you currently working on with the tool?
For the last few months, I’ve been adding new features – tweaks, improvements, tightening things up, engaging with the user community, listening to what’s needed and trying to implement these requests. I’ve also been adding new resources to the Archi website and participating on social media like Twitter, spreading the word. I think the use of social media is really important. Twitter, the User Forums and the Wikis are all points where people can provide feedback and engage with me and other Archi developers and users. On the development side of things, we host the code at GitHub, and again that’s an open resource that users and potential developers can go to. I think the key words are ‘open’ and ‘community driven.’ These social media tools, GitHub and the forums all contribute to that. In this way everyone, from developer to user, becomes a stakeholder – everyone can play their part in the development of Archi and its future. It’s a community product and my role is to try and manage it all.
What will you be speaking about in Amsterdam?
I think the angle I’m interested in is what can be achieved by a small number of people taking the open source approach to developing software and building and engaging with the community around it. For me, the interesting part of the Archi story is not so much about the software itself and what it does, but rather the strong community that’s grown around it, the extent of the uptake of the tool and the way in which it has enabled people to get on board with Enterprise Architecture and ArchiMate. It’s the accessibility and agility of this whole approach that I like and also the activity and buzz around the software and from the community – that for me is the interesting thing about this process.
For more information on ArchiMate, please visit:
For information on the Archi tool, please visit: http://www.archimatetool.com/
For information on joining the ArchiMate Forum, please visit: http://www.opengroup.org/getinvolved/forums/archimate
Phil Beauvoir has been developing, writing, and speaking about software tools and development for over 25 years. He was Senior Researcher and Developer at Bangor University, and, later, the Institute for Educational Cybernetics at Bolton University, both in the UK. During this time he co-developed a peer-to-peer learning management and groupware system, a suite of software tools for authoring and delivery of standards-compliant learning objects and meta-data, and tooling to create IMS Learning Design compliant units of learning. In 2010, working with the Institute for Educational Cybernetics, Phil created the open source ArchiMate Modelling Tool, Archi. Since 2013 he has been curating the development of Archi independently. Phil holds a degree in Medieval English and Anglo-Saxon Literature.