Modeling Symbolic Representations

March 16, 2010

System modeling is all too often a flight for abstraction, when business analysts should instead look for the proper level of representation, ie the one with the best fit to business concerns.

Modeling is synchronic: contexts must be mapped to representations (Velazquez, “Las Meninas”).

Caminao’s blog (see Topics Guide) will try to set a path to Architecture Driven System Modelling. The guiding principle is to look at systems as sets of symbolic representations and identify the core archetypes defining how they must be coupled to their actual counterparts. That would provide for lean (need-to-know specs) and fit (architecture driven) models, architecture traceability, and built-in consistency checks.

This blog is meant to be a work in progress, with the basic concepts set open to suggestions or even refutation:

All examples are taken from ancient civilizations in order to put the focus on generic problems of symbolic architectures, disregarding technologies.

Symbolic representation: a primer

Original illustrations by Albert (http://www.albertdessinateur.com/) allow for concrete understanding of requirements, avoiding the biases associated with contrived textual descriptions.

Focus: Business Processes & Abstraction

July 16, 2016

Preamble

Abstractions, and corollary inheritance, are primarily understood with objects. Yet, since business processes are meant to focus on activities, semantics may have to be refined when abstraction and inheritance are directly used for behaviors.

(Antony Gormley)

Abstract objects cannot be directly mapped to abstract behaviors (Antony Gormley).

Considering that the primary purpose of abstractions is to tackle business variants with regard to supporting systems, their representation with use cases provides a good starting point.

Business Variants: Use case’s <extend> & <include>

Taking use cases as a modeling nexus between business and systems realms, <extend> and <include> appear as the default candidates for the initial description of behaviors’ specialization and generalization.

  • <include>: to be compared to composition semantics, with the included behaviors performed  by instances identified (#) by the owner UC (a).
  • <extend>: to be compared to aggregation semantics, with the extending behaviors performed  by separate instances with reference to the owner ones (b).
Included UCs are meant to be triggered by owners (a); that cannot be clearly established for abstract use cases and generalization (c).

Included UCs are meant to be triggered by owners (a); that cannot be clearly established for abstract use cases and generalization (c).

Abstract use cases and generalization have also been mentioned by UML before being curiously overlooked in following versions. Since none has been explicitly discarded, some confusion remains about hypothetical semantics. Notionally, abstract UCs would represent behaviors never to be performed on their own (c). Compared to inclusion, used for variants of operations along execution paths, abstract use cases would describe the generic mechanisms to be applied to triggering events at UC inception independently of actual business operations carried out along execution paths.

Nonetheless, and more importantly, the mix-up surrounding the generalization of use cases points to a critical fault-line running under UML concepts: since both use cases and classes are defined as qualifiers, they are supposed to be similarly subject to generalization and specialization. That is misguided because use cases describe the business behaviors to be supported by systems, not to be confused with the software components that will do the job. The mapping between the former and the latter is to be set by design, and there is no reason to assume a full and direct correspondence between functional requirements and functional architecture.

Use Cases Distilled

As far as use cases are considered, mapping business behaviors to supporting systems functionalities can be carried out at two levels:

  • Objects: UCs being identified by triggering agents, events, and goals, they are to be matched with corresponding users interfaces and controllers, the former for the description of I/O flows, the latter for the continuity and integrity of interactions.
  • Methods: As it’s safe to assume that use cases are underpinned by shared business functions and system features, a significant part of their operations are to be realized by methods of shared business entities or services.
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Setting apart UIs and controllers, no direct mapping should be assumed between use cases and functional qualifiers.

The business variants distilled into objects’ or services’ methods can be generalized and specialized according to OOD principles; and the same principles can be applied to specific users’ interfaces. But since purely behavioral aspects of UCs can neither be distilled into objects’ methods, nor directly translated into controller objects, their abstraction semantics have to be reconsidered.

Inheritance Semantics: Structural vs Functional

As far as software artifacts are concerned, abstraction semantics are set by programming languages, and while they may differ, the object-oriented (OO) paradigm provides some good enough consolidation. Along that perspective, inheritance emerges as a critical issue due to its direct impact on the validity of programs.

Generally speaking, inheritance describes how structural or behavioral traits are passed from ancestors to descendants, either at individual or type level. OO design is more specific and puts the focus on the intrinsic features (attributes and operations) supported by types or classes, which ensues that behaviors are not considered as such but through the objects’ methods that realize them:

  • Structural inheritance deals with attributes and operations set for the whole life-cycle of instances. As a consequence corresponding inheritance is bound to identities (#) and multiple ascendants (i.e identities) are ruled out.
  • Functional inheritance deal with objects behaviors which may or may not be frozen to whole life-cycles. Features can therefore be inherited from multiple ascendants.

That structural vs functional distinction matches the one between composition and aggregation used to characterize the links between objects and parts which, as noted above, can also be applied to uses cases.

Use Cases & Abstraction

Assuming that the structural/functional distinction defined for objects can also be applied to behaviors, use cases provide a modeling path from variants in business processes to OOD of controllers:

  • Behaviors included by UCs (a) are to be set along the execution paths triggered by UC primary events (#). Inheritance is structural, from UCs base controllers to corresponding (local) ones, and covers features (e.g views on business objects) and associated states (e.g authorizations) defined by use case triggering circumstances.
  • Behaviors extending UCs (b) are triggered by secondary events generated along execution paths. Inheritance is functional, from extending UCs (e.g text messaging) to UCs primary controllers.

Yet this dual scheme may not be fully satisfactory as it suffers from two limitations:

  • It only considers the relationships between UCs, not with the characteristics of the use cases themselves.
  • It ignores the critical difference between the variants of business logic and the variants of triggering conditions.

Both flaws can be patched up if abstract use cases are specifically introduced to factor out triggering circumstances (c):

Use cases provide a principled modeling path from variants in business processes to the OOD of corresponding controllers.

Use cases provide a principled modeling path from variants in business processes to the OOD of corresponding controllers.

  • Undefined triggering circumstances is the only way to characterize abstraction independently of what happens along execution paths.
  • Abstract use cases can then be used to specify inception mechanisms to be inherited by concrete use cases.

That understanding of abstract use cases comes with clear benefits with regard to security and confidentiality.

What is at Stake

Factoring out authentication and authorization epitomizes the benefits of abstract UCs:

  • Concrete schemes with included UC will give access to all registered users with the particulars of managers or customers checked later (a).
  • Alternatively, abstract schemes will use inheritance of inception mechanisms in order to explicitly prevent separate access (c).
  • Applying <include> with abstract UC should be ruled out because it would make room for the execution of operations with undefined triggering circumstances.
Interactions can only be triggered by concrete actors.

Interactions can only be triggered by concrete actors.

As a conclusion, by enabling a clear distinction between business logic and operational circumstances, abstraction can reinforce the security of functional architectures.

Further Reading

 

Business Stories: Stakeholders’ Plots & Users’ Narratives

July 4, 2016

Preamble

As Aristotle noted some time ago, plots are the backbone of any story as they uphold the causal sequence of events and actions: they provide the “why” of what happens, compared to narratives, which tell “how” what happened is being told.

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Only shadows will tell: as far as stories are concerned, possibilities remain unknown until their realization.

So, in principle, plots deal with possibilities and narratives with realizations. But in fact plots remain unknown until being narrated; in other words fictions are like Schrödinger’s cat: there is no way to set possibilities and realizations apart.

That literary conundrum may convey some useful clues for business analysis, with stakeholders objectives seen as plots, and users’ stories as narratives.

Stakeholders’ Plots vs Users’ Narratives

With regard to the functionalities of supporting systems, a key issue for business analysts is to accommodate specific and short-lived opportunities identified by business units with broader and long-standing objectives defined at corporate level.

Assuming a fictional view of business expectations, that issue can be charted in terms of plots and narratives:

  • Business objectives (as plots) are meant to apply continuously and consistently to different agents, different concerns, and different contexts. As such they are best defined as rules and constraints (declarative schemes).
  • Users’ stories (as narratives) are supposed to translate as soon as possible into business transactions. As such they are best defined as sequences of operations governed by users’ choices (procedural schemes).

Then, just like narratives are meant to carry out the plots, users’ stories are supposed to follow the paths set by business objectives. But if confusion is to be avoided between strategic orientations, regulatory directives, and opportunist moves, the walk of business objectives and the talk of users’ stories should be termed differently.

Business Objectives (Plots): Symbolic & Allochronic

The definition of business objectives has to find its terms between the Charybdis of abstractions and the Scylla of specific business processes, the former to be avoided because they are by nature detached from reality and only make sense with regard to models, the latter because they would be too specific and restrictive. In-between, business objectives would be best defined through:

  • Strategic and financial objectives expressed using symbolic categories applied to environments, products, and resources.
  • Modal time-frames identified in reference to events and qualified by assumptions with regard to symbolic categories.
  • Business functions to be optimized given a set of constraints.

These could be comprehensively and consistently expressed with declarative languages.

Users’ Stories (Narratives): Actual & Contemporaneous

Users’ stories are at their best when tied to specific circumstances and purposes without being led away by modeling concerns. As narratives they should stick to agents, triggering events, and scripted sequences of options, operations, and outcomes:

  • Compared to the symbolic categories used for business objectives, users stories should refer to actual subsets of objects and events defined on contexts.
  • Contrary to the modal time-frames of business objectives, the scripts of users’ stories must be fully timed with regard to their triggering events.

That can only be expressed as procedures.

From Fiction to Artifacts: Aligning Business Objectives & Enterprise Architectures

Likening business analysis to its distant literary kin goes beyond the metaphor as it points to a practical organization of business objectives and users’ stories.

And the benefits of the distinction between declarative (for business plots) and procedural (for users’ narratives) blueprints is not limited to business analysis but can be extended to systems architecture (as plots) and software design (as narratives). On that basis declarative schemes could be applied to business functions and architectures capabilities, and procedural ones to users’ stories (or use cases) and software design.

XBredModels_PlotsNarrs

On a broader perspective such a fictional approach may help to align enterprise architectures to business objectives.

Further Reading

External Links

Focus: UML Reenacted

June 26, 2016

Overview

After a promising inception twenty years ago by the OMG (Object Management Group), UML (Unified Modeling Language) seems to have lost part of its steam and fallen short of initial expectations.

(Marta Minujin)

UML library: too many books, too specific languages (Marta Minujin)

On a general perspective that may be due to the primacy given to the agendas of tools providers, at the expense of users concerns. More specifically, UML practices have been hamstrung by two opposed misconceptions: on one side UML has been associated to OO methods and as a result demoted by non-devotees; on the other side it has been taken as a substitute for programming languages, and so confined to class diagrams and code generation. Hopefully, two major advances in methods and development frameworks, respectively agile and MBSE, could correct those biases and renew UML appeal.

UML Core Artifacts

UML diagrams target five primary artifacts:

  • Use cases, events, and actors describe what happens between systems and active agents in their environments.
  • Activities describe what systems are supposed to do when use cases are triggered.
  • Classes describe systems components.
  • Sequences describe how systems components collaborate to perform activities.
  • States and transitions describe the behaviors and synchronization of systems components.
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UML Backbone

While those diagrams cover the whole of enterprise systems, UML is all too often limited to the description of software components.

UML and Enterprise Systems

As noted above, the lack of clear users guidelines can be seen as a main cause of UML piecemeal and biased adoption. That can be illustrated by the use of activity and class diagrams:

  • Whereas activity and state diagrams could have been tailored to fully and consistently describe business processes, an alternative notation (BPMN) with arguable benefits is often preferred by business analysts.
  • Whereas UML is meant to deal with the whole of systems, successful implementations like domain specific languages (DSL) focus on class diagrams and code generation.
Targets and Modeling Languages

UML in Context

But both negative trends could be reversed if changes in methodological or technical environments could put UML users on sounder grounds and give them clearer guidelines.

Methods: Use Cases & Agile

As it happened, use cases have been the main UML innovation, other artifacts having been already introduced by modeling languages. And more to the point, they were meant to be the cornerstone of the “unified” construction, a modeling bridge between business processes and supporting systems. That clearly didn’t happen with traditional (and failed) methods like waterfall, but agile could be more welcoming.

Use cases at the hub of UML diagrams

Use cases as a modeling bridge between business processes and supporting systems.

Agile principles put the focus on collaboration and iterative code development, with only sparse mentions of models or processes. But as requirements don’t always come as clear-cut short stories told by well identified business units, use cases may help agile teams to deal with organizational or architectural dependencies:

  • Open minded and Versatile: use cases are not limited to users because actors (aka roles) are meant to hide the actual agents involved: people, devices, or other systems. As a consequence, the scope of UCs is not limited to dialog with users but may also includes batch (as one-step interactions) and real-time transactions.
  • Modular and inter-operable: given their simplicity and clarity of purpose, use cases can be easily processed by a wide array of modeling tools on both sides of the business/engineering divide, e.g BPM and UML.
  • Iterative: given their modularity, use cases can be easily tailored to the iterative paradigm. Once a context is set by business process or user’s story, development iterations can be defined with regard to invariants (use case), iterations (extension points and scenarii), backlog units (activities), and exit condition.
  • Scalable: use cases provide a sound and pragmatic transition between domain specific stories and architectural features.

That could be the basis of an open relationship between agile development models and UML.

Frameworks: Classes & MBSE

Beyond the various labels (based/driven, system/software, development/engineering), all model based approaches to systems engineering and software development try to replace procedural approaches by declarative ones, and to redefine processes in terms of artifacts transformation.

Model Based Engineering Processes are governed by the status of artifacts

UML could be used to define and manage engineered artifacts.

The benefits of that approach have already been demonstrated at design level through the use of domain specific languages (DSLs). Since effective DSLs usually rely on class diagrams, UML could be used to leverage their success beyond code generation and across the whole of the engineering process.

With artifacts seamlessly and consistently defined and managed within a single engineering framework, procedural schemes could be replaced by declarative ones reusing, editing, or transforming artifacts depending on constraints.

Further Reading

 

Phased Yet Lean Processes

June 15, 2016

Preamble

Given their inclination to fall, phases may be a recurring bane of development projects. Agile solutions have emerged as a default option providing that projects can be fully and firmly put under shared ownership and their outcome delivered continuously. But even when such conditions cannot be met lean processes may still be achieved with the help of model based engineering frameworks.

Phasing Out Procedures (Tony Clagg)

Phasing Out Bureaucratic Procedures (Tony Clagg)

Phased vs Procedural

Not all applications can stand alone and therefore be developed by a cohesive team of business analysts and software engineers delivering a continuous stream of programs. Among the reasons for that:

  • Stakeholders and decisions-making may spread across organizational units.
  • Engineering resources may not be available simultaneously and continuously.
  • The schedules of decisions or deliveries may depend on expected but not forecast changes in technical, business, or regulatory environments.
vv

Agile & Phased Development Models

Traditional approaches to phasing constraints (notoriously Waterfall) have suffered from a bureaucratic bias as they have tried to coerce every project into predefined tasks and procedures targeting standard outcomes and deliverables. And with regard of phasing concerns, the lack of flexibility and built-in mechanisms has been counterproductive: instead of making room for phased decision-making, procedural solutions have resulted in fixed requirements set upfront.

Procedural vs Declarative

Engineering processes are to be considered when, whatever the reasons, activities cannot be performed simultaneously. Whereas procedural approaches deal with the problem with predefined sequences of generic activities, declarative ones directly consider associated input and output flows and set conditions on their processing.

Model Based Engineering Processes are governed by the status of artifacts

Model Based Engineering Processes are governed by the status of artifacts

Instead of one-fits-all predefined tasks, work-units can be defined with regard to their impact on development flows. As a consequence processes can be freed of bureaucratic shackles and combine iterative schemes with phasing engineering constraints.

Model Based Engineering

Agile development models are meant to epitomize lean engineering processes as development flows are seamlessly and continuously delivered to customers without the need of intermediate products.  Assuming that good schemes have to provide good-enough options, the aim is to build cut-to-the-bone processes for sub-optimal conditions, namely even if agile constraints of shared ownership and continuous delivery cannot be fully satisfied. And that can be achieved with the help of MBSE built-in mechanisms:

  • The challenge of distributed and differentiated ownership can be dealt with by adjusting the granularity of artifacts with regard to business domains, functional architecture, and platform deployment.
  • The constraints regarding discrete and phased development and delivery are not to be confronted  upfront through planning but dealt with dynamically by balancing users’ drive with artifacts’ phasing constraints.

Lean processes can then be achieved by anchoring model based frameworks to their environment.

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Lean processes have to be built bottom-up with work-units defined by their role on targeted artifacts.

Phased Yet Lean Processes

Lean processes can be defined by timed delivery without the use of unnecessary intermediate resources or assets.

Agile development models do the job by putting users’ needs on the driver’s seat and doing away with intermediate artifacts other than code. But compromises may be necessary if users don’t speak with a single organizational voice and milestones are needed to synchronize development flows. For that purpose model based engineering processes have to be coupled with their organizational and technical environments:

  • Downstream automated transformation are to ensure just-in-time delivery without undue or redundant intermediate documents and models (aka development inventories).
  • Upstream conceptual (or meta-) models are to ensure semantic consistency across projects.

From a broader perspective that will demonstrate the ultimate benefits of both agile and model based engineering approaches.

Further Readings

Thinking about Practices

June 8, 2016

Caminao's Ways

A few preliminary words

A theory (aka model) is a symbolic description of contexts and concerns. A practice is a set of activities performed in actual contexts. While the latter may be governed by the former and the former developed from the latter, each should stand on its own merits whatever its debt to the other.

Good practice has no need to show off theory to hold sway (Demetre Chiparus)

Good practices hold sway without showing off theoretical subtext (Demetre Chiparus)

With regard to Software Engineering, theory and practice are often lumped together to be marketed as snake oil, with the unfortunate consequence of ruining their respective sways.

Software Engineering: from Requirements heads to Programs tails

While computer science deals with the automated processing of symbolic representations, software engineering uses it to develop applications that will support actual business processes; that may explain why software engineering is long on methods but rather short on theory.

Yet, since there is a requirements head (for business…

View original post 661 more words

The Book of Fallacies

June 7, 2016

Caminao's Ways

Objectives

Whereas the design side of software engineering has made significant advances since the introduction of Object Oriented approaches, thanks mainly to the Gang of Four and others proponents of design patterns, it’s difficult to see much progress on the other (and opening) side of the engineering process, namely requirements and analysis. As such imbalance creates a bottleneck that significantly hampers the potential benefits for the whole of engineering processes, our understanding of requirements should be reassessed in order to align external and internal systems descriptions;  in other words, to put under a single modeling roof business objects and processes on one hand, their system symbolic counterparts on the other hand.

Given that disproving convictions is typically easier than establishing alternative ones, it may be necessary to deal first with some fallacies that all too often clog the path to a sound assessment of system requirements. While some are no…

View original post 784 more words

Projects Have to Liaise

May 25, 2016

Preamble

Liaison between projects is all too often preempted by methodological issues. So when some communication is needed alternatives should not be limited to no models at all or a medley of ambiguous ones.

Agile teams should not turn parochial (Juan Munoz)

How to avoid parochial behaviors, turf wars, and autarky (Juan Munoz).

Archetypal Development Models

Software engineering processes can be regrouped in two categories: phased ones are segmented with regard to responsibilities, tasks and the nature of artifacts, agile ones are iterative, with a single team sharing responsibilities for the definition, building and acceptance of final outcomes.

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Compared to phased projects, agile ones start right away with software and carry on without making use of intermediate development artifacts.

With regard to modeling languages, both approaches may encounter parochial pitfalls: tasked teams of phased projects may go through turf wars and misunderstandings, agile teams could tend to autarkic biases and objections to models.

Stories Must Be Set in Context

Agile projects start right away with writing users’ stories into software, making no use of intermediate development artifacts other than code. With business analysts and software engineers working side by side, the semantics of business objects and activities is meant to be directly, if progressively, inscribed into software artifacts.

Nonetheless, users’ stories, being by nature specific, are to be set against the broader context of enterprise business objectives. Teams may therefore have to communicate with outside entities and, considering that source code is seldom the preferred language of other units, agile teams may have to resort to means they would otherwise disparage. They would be in a better position if stories could be docked to open concepts to be used to contrive messages in line with projects’ needs and creeds.

Developments Must be Shared

Paraphrasing Einstein, the only reason for phased processes is so that everything doesn’t happen at once. In that case intermediate artifacts are to be introduced between tasks. But then, suppliers and customers, often from different backgrounds and with different concerns, have to agree about the semantics of the development flows. Moreover, the accuracy and consistency of agreed upon definitions must stand the test of time whatever the changes on each side.

As illustrated by model based software engineering processes, that objective is essentially attainable for programming languages; otherwise blurred footprints and ambivalent semantics require cumbersome maintenance of transformation rules as well as regressive updates of previous versions of the artifacts. In that case open concepts may help to prevent the corruption of a core of sound specifications by surroundings ambiguous ones.

Open Concepts: Yet Another Conceptual Framework ?

As many will have noticed, there is no lack of frameworks, conceptual or otherwise. So what could be the point of yet another one ?

The answer, as it should be, is to be found its impact on the use, or reuse, of artifacts by projects and teams, whatever their preferred development model. And that’s why the open source paradigm applied to open concepts is critical:

  • The difference between generalization and specialization is fully taken into account so that the semantics of sub-types defined by different projects cannot be modified.
  • The concept of Individuals is used to guarantee that business objects and activities are consistently identified across projects.
  • The semantics of sub-types are consistently, but not necessarily uniformly, defined across projects.
  • There is no overlapping of semantics even when subsets of individuals overlap.

Those are very strong constraints which, combined with the already limited footprint of open concepts, will result in a very compact set of concepts. And that is to make the difference: a small set of concepts, built from well-known principles, with clear properties and benefits, to be shared by projects independently of their modeling languages and development methods.

Further Readings

Open Concepts Will Make You Free

May 12, 2016

The idea that in order to get clear about the meaning of a general term one had to find the common element in all its applications has shackled philosophical investigation.

Ludwig Wittgenstein

Preamble

Bones of contentions are not unknown to systems engineering, some across the divide between business and systems realms, other between parties on each side. Whatever the motives, the protagonists often take refuge behind extensive and punctilious standards, two a penny, one for every nook and cranny of information systems or enterprise architecture. The ensuing misunderstandings are especially harmful for the alignment of business and systems: when looking for a sound bridge with secure conceptual lanes linking business processes and supporting systems, analysts are facing a maze of shaky flyovers.

Good concepts: purposeful but elegant, and unambiguous but versatile (Noguchi)

Open Concept: Clear purpose, Minimum features, Infinite variants (Noguchi)

Assuming that standards are meant to provide analysts and architects with more freedom in their choices, de-facto proprietary schemes are clearly self-defeating. Taking example from open sources solutions, a better alternative would be to agree on open concepts to serve as building blocs for modeling languages and methods set to objectives and environments.

Open to Different Languages

With regard to systems modeling, languages can be regrouped into four categories:

  • Knowledge management relies on formal languages to chart domains of discourse. Since such domains are by nature specific, there isn’t much to expect for KM standards beyond formal logic and inference engines.
  • Business processes modeling focuses on business logic and process control. Associated languages can therefore be seen as equivalent to a combination of UML’s activity and state diagrams.
  • UML covers the whole of systems specifications. Cut to the bone it could secure some consensus as a standard.
  • Domain specific languages (DSLs) can be seen as silo implementations of UML’s class diagrams supporting comprehensive code generation.
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Modeling Languages and Purposes

Each family clearly fulfills a well defined purpose; nonetheless, there seems to be no principled obstacle to their consolidation around a common conceptual hub. Yet, the practical challenge for large and complex organizations (the ones concerned) has been to find a consensus on shared definitions. That obstacle could be overcome if, instead of looking for some hypothetical overlapping between domains of discourse, their semantics would be set from open concepts.

Open to Different Methods

Beyond the expected benefits on costs and quality, two of the main objectives of methods is (1) to smooth the differences in skills and expertise and, (2) to facilitate communication across large organizations.

Broadly speaking, three schools of thought can be considered, depending on focus and perspective:

  • Agile approaches put the focus on skills and responsibilities and largely ignore communication issues across organization or along time.
  • Phased development models take the opposite view as they slice the tasks and detail development flows and intermediate deliveries.
  • Frameworks take a broader perspective, with some focusing on the definition of processes, others set on reasoned organization of models and artifacts.

All approaches could benefit from open concepts, if for different reasons:

  • As should be expected, agile methods don’t give much attention to development artifacts except the sanctified software. Nonetheless, when some unfortunate upshot make other kinds unavoidable, teams are set between the rocks and hard places of schemes deemed unsuitable. They would be in a better position if they could use open concepts to define the artifacts best suited to their situation.
  • Given their procedural nature, phased approaches are constrained by predefined tasks and deliverables whose adjustments are all too often limited to windows dressing. Process templates built from open concepts would be much more robust and versatile.
  • Frameworks focusing on processes (e.g TOGAF) have to compensate for their lack of conceptual anchors by being meticulous until they become overwhelmed with details. Open concepts could help them to factor out a compact backbone supporting a much smoother learning curve.
  • Frameworks focused on artifacts (e.g Zachman) face the opposite difficulty of mustering a consensus around their principles and semantics. That could be easier with open concepts.

As for languages, methods and frameworks serve different purposes and it would make sense to keep some options open depending on the enterprise organization and the characteristics of projects. That could obviously turn into a strenuous and costly endeavor for methods wholly and meticulously imported from outside or driven by harnessing tools. But the argument holds as well for single options with hefty upfront costs and steep learning curves: in any case methods are most successful when developed step by step from existing practices and organization, along each enterprise culture. That should make the case for mixed and pragmatic solutions.

How Concepts can Unlock Frameworks

The litmus test for assessing modeling languages, methods, or frameworks is their leverage on independence. Just like proprietary options and environments are widely and rightly opposed, choices of methods or frameworks should not preempt changes or alternatives, or incur cumbersome and costly transitions.

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Simplex communication channel (left) versus conceptual thesaurus (right).

That can hardly be achieved by simplex communication channels between modeling schemes, except for small, stable, closed and unambiguous ones.  Instead, versatile methods and frameworks could be build bottom up from practices and experience around a small set of well accepted open concepts managed with a conceptual Thesaurus.

Further Readings

Brands, Bots, & Storytelling

May 2, 2016

As illustrated by the recent Mashable “pivot”, meaningful (i.e unbranded) contents appear to be the main casualty of new communication technologies. Hopefully (sic), bots may point to a more positive perspective, at least if their want for no no-nonsense gist is to be trusted.

(Latifa Echakhch)

Could bots repair gibberish ? (Latifa Echakhch)

The Mashable Pivot to “branded” Stories

Announcing Mashable recent pivot, Pete Cashmore (Mashable ‘s founder and CEO) was very candid about the motives:

“What our advertisers value most about
 Mashable is the same thing that our audience values: Our content. The
 world’s biggest brands come to us to tell stories of digital culture, 
innovation and technology in an optimistic and entertaining voice. As 
a result, branded content has become our fastest growing revenue 
stream over the past year. Content is now at the core of our ad 
offering and we plan to double down there.

”

Also revealing was the semantic shift in a single paragraph: from “stories”, to “stories told with an optimistic and entertaining voice”, and finally to “branded stories”; as if there was some continuity between Homer’s Iliad and Outbrain’s gibberish.

Spinning Yarns

From Lacan to Seinfeld, it has often been said that stories are what props up our world. But that was before Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and others ruled over the waves and screens. Nowadays, under the combined assaults of smart dummies and instant messaging, stories have been forced to spin advertising schemes, and scripts replaced  by subliminal cues entangled in webs of commercial hyperlinks. And yet, somewhat paradoxically, fictions may retrieve some traction (if not spirit) of their own, reprieved not so much by human cultural thirst as by smartphones’ hunger for fresh technological contraptions.

Apps: What You Show is What You Get

As far as users are concerned, apps often make phones too smart by half: with more than 100 billion of apps already downloaded, users face an embarrassment of riches compounded by the inherent limitations of packed visual interfaces. Enticed by constantly renewed flows of tokens with perfunctory guidelines, human handlers can hardly separate the wheat from the chaff and have to let their choices be driven by the hypothetical wisdom of the crowd. Whatever the outcomes (crowds may be right but often volatile), the selection process is both wasteful (choices are ephemera, many apps are abandoned after a single use, and most are sparely used), and hazardous (too many redundant dead-ends open doors to a wide array of fraudsters). That trend is rapidly facing the physical as well as business limits of a zero-sum playground: smarter phones appear to make for dumber users. One way out of the corner would be to encourage intelligent behaviors from both parties, humans as well as devices. And that’s something that bots could help to bring about.

Bots: What You Text Is What You Get

As software agents designed to help people find their ways online, bots can be differentiated from apps on two main aspects:

  • They reside in the cloud, not on personal devices, which means that updates don’t have to be downloaded on smartphones but can be deployed uniformly and consistently. As a consequence, and contrary to apps, the evolution of bots can be managed independently of users’ whims, fostering the development of stable and reliable communication grammars.
  • They rely on text messaging to communicate with users instead of graphical interfaces and visual symbols. Compared to icons, text put writing hands on driving wheels, leaving much less room for creative readings; given that bots are not to put up with mumbo jumbo, they will prompt users to mind their words as clearly and efficiently as possible.

Each aspect reinforces the other, making room for a non-zero playground: while the focus on well-formed expressions and unambiguous semantics is bots’ key characteristic, it could not be achieved without the benefits of stable and homogeneous distribution schemes. When both are combined they may reinstate written languages as the backbone of communication frameworks, even if it’s for the benefits of pidgin languages serving prosaic business needs.

A Literary Soup of Business Plots & Customers Narratives

Given their need for concise and unambiguous textual messages, the use of bots could bring back some literary considerations to a latent online wasteland. To be sure, those considerations are to be hard-headed, with scripts cut to the bone, plots driven by business happy ends, and narratives fitted to customers phantasms.

Nevertheless, good storytelling will always bring some selective edge to businesses competing for top tiers. So, and whatever the dearth of fictional depth, the spreading of bots scripts could make up some kind of primeval soup and stir the emergence of some literature untainted by its fouled nourishing earth.

Further Readings

UML’s Semantic Master Key, Lost & Found

April 25, 2016

Preamble

When its first version was published twenty years ago the prognosis for OMG’s UML (Unified Modeling Language) was of rapid and wide expansion. It didn’t happen, and notwithstanding a noteworthy usage, UML has not become  “the” unified modeling language. Beyond the diverse agendas of methods and tools providers, this falling short may have something to do with a lack of robust semantics, as illustrated by UML 2.5’s halfhearted attempt to define individuals.

(Jonathan Monk)

Actual & Digital Identities (Jonathan Monk)

UML 2.5 Aborted Attempt with Individual 

UML 2.5 has often been presented as an attempt to redress the wayward and increasingly convoluted paths taken by the previous versions. Yet, beside some useful (and long needed) clarifications and adjustments, its governing group failed to agree on some compact and unambiguous semantics and had to content itself with perfunctory guidelines introduced as an afterthought.

As a matter of fact the OMG committee may have tried to get its semantics in order, as suggested by the chapter “On semantics” making the point right away with a distinction between the things to be described and the categories to be applied:

“A UML model consists of three major categories of model elements [classifiers, events, and behaviors], each of which may be used to make statements about different kinds of individual things within the system being modeled (termed simply “individuals”in the following)”.

That straightforward understanding (UML is meant to describe individual objects, events, or behaviors) could have provided the semantic cornerstone of a sound approach. Surprisingly, and for obscure reasons, it is soon smudged by syntactical overlapping and semantic ambiguity, the term “individual” being used indifferently as adjective and noun, and then appears to be restricted to classifiers only. That leaves UML with a dearth of clear semantics regarding its scope.

Individual as a Semantic Master Key

The early dismiss of individual as a constitutive concept is unfortunate because, taking a leaf from Archimedes, it could have been the fulcrum on which to place the UML lever.

To begin with, no modeling language, especially one supposed to be unified, can do without some convincing semantics about what it is supposed to describe. Furthermore, such a requirement is of primary importance for UML whose scope straddles the divide between business and systems realms, and must therefore rigorously define what they share and how they differ.

And that could have been neatly achieved with a comprehensive and unified interpretation of individuals, combined with a clear taxonomy of the aspects to be modeled:

  • Individuals are whatever occurrences (in business or systems contexts) with identities of their own.
  • These individuals (objects, events, or behaviors) can be specified with regard to their structure and relationships.

The logical primacy of this approach is reinforced by its immediate, practical, and conclusive benefits for business processes modeling on one side, model based engineering processes on the other side.

A Key to Business Processes Modeling

As far as business processes are concerned, modeling the part played by supporting systems turns around few critical issues, and these issues can be dealt more clearly and consistently when set in reference to individuals taxonomy (objects, behaviors, events) e.g:

  • Functional or non functional requirements ? The former can be associated with individuals, the latter cannot.
  • Architecture or application ? The former affect the specification of interactions between individuals, the latter affect only their local features.
  • Synchronous or asynchronous ? Specifications can only be made with regard to life-cycles and time-frames: system (objects), process (behaviors), or instant (event).
  • Structures or Relationships ? The former are bound to individuals’ identity, the latter are used between different individuals.
  • Inheritance or Delegation ? The former is used for the specification of structural or functional features, the latter for individuals’ behaviors.

More generally that understanding of individuals should greatly enhance the alignment of systems functional architectures with business processes.

A Key to Model Based Systems Engineering

As should be expected from a lack of semantic foundations, one of the main characteristics of the UML community is its fragmented practices, regrouped around diagrams (e.g Use case or Class) or task (e.g requirements analysis or code generation).

The challenge can be directly observed for model based system engineering and software development: with the exception of Statecharts for RT modeling, Class diagrams are the only ones used all along engineering processes; the others, when used, are reduced to documentation purposes. That bottleneck in development flows can be seen as the direct consequence of UML restricted semantics: since behaviors are not identified as individuals in their own right, their description cannot be directly translated into software artifacts, but have to be understood as part of active objects descriptions before being translated into class diagrams. Hence the apparent redundancy of corresponding diagrams.

As a corollary, reinstating a unified semantics of individual for both classifiers and behaviors could be the key to a seamless integration of the main UML diagrams. Most important, that would bear out the cross benefits of combining UML and MBSE.

Further Readings


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