Archive for the ‘Frameworks’ Category

GDPR Ontological Primer

May 10, 2018

Preamble

European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), to come into effect  this month, is a seminal and momentous milestone for data privacy .

Nothing Personal (Arthur Szyk)

Yet, as reported by Reuters correspondents, European enterprises and regulators are not ready; more worryingly, few (except consultants) are confident about GDPR direction.

Misgivings and uncertainties should come as no surprise considering GDPR’s two innate challenges:

  • Regulating privacy rights represents a very ambitious leap into a digital space now at the core of corporate business strategies.
  • Compliance will not be put under a single authority but be overseen by an assortment of national and regional authorities across the European Union.

On that account, ontologies appear as the best (if not the only) conceptual approach able to bring contexts (EU nations), concerns (business vs privacy), and enterprises (organization and systems) into a shared framework.

A workbench built with the Caminao ontological kernel is meant to explore the scope and benefits of that approach, with a beta version (Protégé/OWL 2) available for comments on the Stanford/Protégé portal using the link: Caminao Ontological Kernel (CaKe_GDPR).

Enterprise Architectures & Regulations

Compared to domain specific regulations, GDPR  is a governance-oriented regulation set across business concerns and enterprise organization; but unlike similarly oriented ones like accounting, GDPR is aiming at the nexus of business competition, namely the processing of data into information and knowledge. With such a strategic stake, compliance is bound to become a game-changer cutting across business intelligence, production systems, and decision-making. Hence the need for an integrated, comprehensive, and consistent approach to the different dimensions involved:

  • Concepts upholding businesses, organizations, and regulations.
  • Documentation with regard to contexts and statutory basis.
  • Regulatory options and compliance assessments
  • Enterprise systems architecture and operations

Moreover, as for most projects affecting enterprise architectures, carrying through GDPR compliance is to involve continuous, deep, and wide ranging changes that will have to be brought off without affecting overall enterprise performances.

Ontologies arguably provide a conclusive solution to the problem, if only because there is no other way to bring code, models, documents, and concepts under a single roof. That could be achieved by using ontologies profiles to frame GDPR categories along enterprise architectures models and components.

CakeGDPR_00.jpg

Basic GDPR categories and concepts (black color) as framed by the Caminao Kernel

Compliance implementation could then be carried out iteratively across four perspectives:

  • Personal data and managed information
  • Lawfulness of activities
  • Time and Events
  • Actors and organization.

Data & Information

To begin with, GDPR defines ‘personal data’ as “any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person (‘data subject’)”. Insofar as logic is concerned that definition implies an equivalence between ‘data’ and ‘information’, an assumption clearly challenged by the onslaught of big data: if proofs were needed, the Cambridge Analytica episode demonstrates how easy raw data can become a personal affair. Hence the need to keep an ontological level of indirection between regulatory intents and the actual semantics of data as managed by information systems.

CakeGDPR_data

Managing the ontological gap between regulatory understandings and compliance footprints

Once lexical ambiguities set apart, the question is not so much about the data bases of well identified records than about the flows of data continuously processed: if identities and ownership are usually set upfront by business processes, attributions may have to be credited to enterprises know-how if and when carried out through data analytics.

Given that the distinctions are neither uniform, exclusive or final, ontologies will be needed to keep tabs on moves and motives. OWL 2 constructs (cf annex) could also help, first to map GDPR categories to relevant information managed by systems, second to sort out natural data from nurtured knowledge.

Activities & Purposes

Given footprints of personal data, the objective is to ensure the transparency and traceability of the processing activities subject to compliance.

Setting apart (see below for events) specific add-ons for notification and personal accesses,  charting compliance footprints is to be a complex endeavor: as there is no reason to assume some innate alignment of intended (regulation) and actual (enterprise) definitions, deciding where and when compliance should apply potentially calls for a review of all processing activities.

After taking into account the nature of activities, their lawfulness is to be determined by contexts (‘purpose limitation’ and ‘data minimization’) and time-frames (‘accuracy’ and ‘storage limitation’). And since lawfulness is meant to be transitive, a comprehensive map of the GDPR footprint is to rely on the logical traceability and transparency of the whole information systems, independently of GDPR.

That is arguably a challenging long-term endeavor, all the more so given that some kind of Chinese Wall has to be maintained around enterprise strategies, know-how, and operations. It ensues that an ontological level of indirection is again necessary between regulatory intents and effective processing activities.

Along that reasoning compliance categories, defined on their own, are first mapped to categories of functionalities (e.g authorization) or models (e.g use cases).

CakeGDPR_activ1

Compliance categories are associated upfront to categories of functionalities (e.g authorization) or models (e.g use cases).

Then, actual activities (e.g “rateCustomerCredit”) can be progressively brought into the compliance fold, either with direct associations with regulations or indirectly through associated models (e.g “ucRateCustomerCredit” use case).

CakeGDPR_activ2

Compliance as carried out through Use Case

The compliance backbone can be fleshed out using OWL 2 mechanisms (see annex) in order to:

  • Clarify the logical or functional dependencies between processing activities subject to compliance.
  • Qualify their lawfulness.
  • Draw equivalence, logical, or functional links between compliance alternatives.

That is to deal with the functional compliance of processing activities; but the most far-reaching impact of the regulation may come from the way time and events are taken into account.

Time & Events

As noted above, time is what makes the difference between data and information, and setting rules for notification makes that difference lawful. Moreover, by adding time constraints to the notifications of changes in personal data, regulators put systems’ internal events on the same standing as external ones. That apparently incidental departure echoes the immersion of systems into digitized business environments, making all time-scales equal whatever their nature. Such flattening is to induce crucial consequences for enterprise architectures.

That shift together with the regulatory intent are best taken into account by modeling events as changes in expectations, physical objects, processes execution, and symbolic objects, with personal data change belonging to the latter.

Gdpr events

Mapping internal (symbolic) and external (actual) events is a critical element of GDPR compliance

Putting apart events specific to GDPR (e.g data breaches), compliance with regard to accuracy and storage limitation regulations will require that all events affecting personal data:

  • Are set in time-frames, possibly overlapping.
  • Have notification constraints properly documented.
  • Have likelihood and costs of potential risks assessed.

As with data and activities, OWL 2 constructs are to be used to qualify compliance requirements.

Actors & Organization

GDPR introduces two specific categories of actors (aka roles): one (data subject) for natural persons, and one for actors set by organizations, either specifically for GDPR assignment, or by delegation to already defined actors.

Gdpr actors

GDPR roles can be set specifically or delegated

OWL 2 can then be used to detail how regulatory roles can be delegated to existing ones, enabling a smooth transition and a dynamic adjustment of enterprise organization with regulatory compliance.

It must be stressed that the semantic distinction between identified agents (e.g natural persons) and the roles (aka UML actors) they play in processes is of particular importance for GDPR compliance because who (or even what) is behind an actor interacting with a system is to remain unknown to the system until the actor can be authentically identified. If that ontological lapse is overlooked there is no way to define and deal with security, confidentiality or privacy regulations.

Conclusion

The use of ontologies brings clear benefits for regulators, enterprise governance, and systems architects.

Without shared conceptual guidelines chances are for the European regulatory orchestra to get lost in squabbles about minutiae before sliding into cacophony.

With regard to governance, bringing systems and regulations into a common conceptual framework is to enable clear and consistent compliance strategies and policies, as well as smooth learning curves.

With regard to architects, ontology-based compliance is to bring cross benefits and externalities, e.g from improved traceability and transparency of systems and applications.

Annex A: Mapping Regulations to Models (sample)

To begin with, OWL 2 can be used to map GDPR categories to relevant resources as managed by information systems:

  • Equivalence: GDPR and enterprise definitions coincide.
  • Logical intersection, union, complement: GDPR categories defined by, respectively, a cross, merge, or difference of enterprise definitions.
  • Qualified association between GDPR and enterprise categories.

Assuming the categories properly identified, the language can then be employed to define the sets of regulated instances:

  • Logical property restrictions, using existential and universal quantification.
  • Functional property restrictions, using joints on attributes values.

Other constructs, e.g cardinality or enumerations, could also be used for specific regulatory constraints.

Finally, some OWL 2 built-in mechanisms can significantly improve the assessment of alternative compliance policies by expounding regulations with regard to:

  • Equivalence, overlap, or complementarity.
  • Symmetry or asymmetry.
  • Transitivity
  • etc.

Annex B: Mapping Regulations to Capabilities

GDPR can be mapped to systems capabilities using well established Zachman’s taxonomy set by crossing architectures functionalities (Who,What,How, Where, When) and layers (business and organization), systems (logical structures and functionalities), and platforms (technologies).

Rules_GDPR

Regulatory Compliance vs Architectures Capabilities

These layers can be extended as to apply uniformly across external ontologies, from well-defined (e.g regulations) to fuzzy (e.g business prospects or new technologies) ones, e.g:

Ontologies, capabilities (Who,What,How, Where, When), and architectures (enterprise, systems, platforms).

Such mapping is to significantly enhance the transparency of regulatory policies.

Further Reading

External Links

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EA: The Matter of Layers

March 7, 2018

As the world turns digital,traditional fences between social, businesses, and systems realms are progressively crumbling. That brings new challenges for enterprises governance, in particular when manifold business stakes and IT systems are concerned.

tonyCragg_bottles
Layers & labels (T. Cragg)

Supposedly, enterprise architecture would deal with the framing of enterprises and systems concerns into a single paradigm. Yet spirited controversies persist between bottom up and top down approaches, the former trying to upgrade the footprint of IT systems to enterprise level, the latter ready to downgrade these systems to equipment level. But dissent in that case means unfinished business: like diggers tunneling from opposite directions, both groups are to succeed together or fail together. For that to be achieved common sense dictates that both teams agree on target, with each one getting its specific orientation right.

What to look for

Issue (information systems) and circumstances (digitization of business environment) put the focus on the relationship between business processes and enterprises organization and how to capture, manage, and use information.

On that account, and not surprisingly, understandings differ between EA proponents:

  • Bottom-up approaches are focused on the distinction between processes, applications, and data, overlooking key enterprise architecture concerns (a).
  • Top-down approaches come with a better understanding of EA stakes but fall short of the conceptual bridge between organization and business environments (b) .
EASquare_persp

Bottom-up (a) and top-down (b) approaches to EA

These shortcomings can be mended and approaches made to converge.

How to get there

As already noted, EA can only succeed as a discipline if systems and enterprise perspectives can be crossed, i.e if bottom-up and top-down approaches can be joined. That cannot be achieved along the outdated Process/Application/Data layers:

To begin with, the distinction between application and data, inherited from traditional programming, goes against both object-oriented design and service oriented architectures; then, processes don’t describe architectures but the way they are used.

On a broader perspective, if the impact of digitized business environments on EA is to be taken into account, data and information are to be redefined in a new paradigm, the former associated with a raw input, to be mined from the business environment and processed into the latter. It ensues that (1) data becomes irrelevant for architecture concerns and, (2) information becomes a key asset for enterprise architecture.

Merging applications and data into a logical/functional layer between business and engineering processes also critically redefines the perspective: instead of a being a collection of applications, business processes become the nexus of the architecture.

EASquare_sys

Introducing a functional layer between business and engineering processes

With a bottom-up EA perspective focused on business and engineering processes, a top-down counterpart has to be set from enterprise perspective that would ensure a meeting of minds around business processes.

That can be readily achieved by keeping processes as pivot between business environments and objectives on one side, enterprise organization on the other side:

EASquare2_eam

Processes are the nexus of enterprise and engineering concerns.

Enterprise architects could then focus on the mapping of business functions to services, the alignment of quality of services with architecture capabilities, and the flows of information across the organization.

Why It Matters

A proper understanding of architecture layers is not an academic concern to be overlooked. As a matter of fact, what is at stake is the very practical purpose of EA: display of boxes and arrows or effective handling of the spindle between business processes and architectural assets. Whereas anything will do for the former, the latter cannot be achieved without a principled and effective coupling between enterprise models and systems engineering.

Further Reading

External Links

Focus: Requirements Reuse

February 22, 2018

Preamble

Requirements is what to feed engineering processes. As such they are to be presented under a wide range of forms, and nothing should be assumed upfront about forms or semantics.

What is to be reused: Sketches or Models  ? (John Devlin)

Answering the question of reuse therefore depends on what is to be reused, and for what purpose.

Documentation vs Reuse

Until some analysis can be carried out, requirements are best seen as documents;  whether such documents are to be ephemeral or managed would be decided depending on method (agile or phased), contents (business, supporting systems, implementation, or quality of services), or purpose (e.g governance, regulations, etc).

What is to be reused.

Setting apart external conditions, requirements documentation could be justified by:

  • Traceability of decision-making linking initial requests with actual implementation.
  • Acceptance.
  • Maintenance of deliverables during their life-cycle.

Depending on development approaches, documentation could limited to archives (agile development models) or managed as intermediate products (phased development models). In the latter case reuse would entail some formatting of requirements.

The Cases for Requirements Reuse

Assuming that requirements have been properly formatted, e.g as analysis models (with technical ones managed internally at system level), reuse could be justified by changes in business, functional, or quality of services requirements:

  • Business processes are meant to change with opportunities. With requirements available as analysis models, changes would be more easily managed (a) if they could be fine-grained. Business rules are a clear example, but that could also be the case for new features added to business objects.
  • Functional requirements may change even without change of business ones, e.g if new channels and users are introduced addressing existing business functions. In that case reusable business requirements (b) would dispense with a repeat of business analysis.
  • Finally, quality of service could be affected by operational changes like localization, number of users, volumes, or frequency. Adjusting architecture capabilities would be much easier with functional (c) and business (d) requirements properly documented as analysis models.

Cases for Reuse

Along that perspective, requirements reuse appears to revolve around two pivots, documents and analysis models. Ontologies could be used to bind them.

Requirements & Ontologies

Reusing artifacts means using them in contexts or for purposes different of native ones. That may come by design, when specifications can anticipate on shared concerns, or as an afterthought, when initially unexpected similarities are identified later on. In any case, reuse policies have to overcome a twofold difficulty:

  • Visibility: business and functional analysts must be made aware of potential reuse without having to spend too much time on research.
  • Overheads: ensuring transparency, traceability, and consistency checks on requirements (documents or analysis models) cannot be achieved without costs.

Ontologies could help to achieve greater visibility with acceptable overheads by framing requirements with regard to nature (documents or models) and context:

With regard to nature, the critical distinction is between document management and model based engineering systems. When framed as ontologies, the former is to be implemented as thesaurus targeting terms and documents, the latter as ontologies targeting categories specific to organizations and business domains.

Documents, models, and capabilities should be managed separately

With regard to context the objective should be to manage reusable requirements depending on the kind of jurisdiction and stability of categories, e.g:

  • Institutional: Regulatory authority, steady, changes subject to established procedures.
  • Professional: Agreed upon between parties, steady, changes subject to accord.
  • Corporate: Defined by enterprises, changes subject to internal decision-making.
  • Social: Defined by usage, volatile, continuous and informal changes.
  • Personal: Customary, defined by named individuals (e.g research paper).

Combining contexts of reuse with architectures layers (enterprise, systems, platforms) and capabilities (Who,What,How, Where, When).

Combined with artificial intelligence, ontology archetypes could crucially extend the benefits of requirements reuse, notably through the impact of deep learning for visibility.

On a broader perspective requirements should be seen as a source of knowledge, and their reuse managed accordingly.

Further Reading

Healthcare: Tracks & Stakes

February 8, 2018

Preamble

Healthcare represents at least a tenth of developed country’s GDP, with demography pushing to higher levels year after year. In principle technology could drive costs in both directions; in practice it has worked like a ratchet: upside, innovations are extending the scope of expensive treatments, downside, institutional and regulatory constraints have hamstrung the necessary mutations of organizations and processes.

Health Care Personal Assistant (Kerry James Marshall)

As a result, attempts to spread technology benefits across healthcare activities have dwindle or melt away, even when buttressed by major players like Google or Microsoft.

But built up pressures on budgets combined with social transformations have undermined bureaucratic barriers and incumbents’ estates, springing up initiatives from all corners: pharmaceutical giants, technology startups, healthcare providers, insurers, and of course major IT companies.

Yet the wide range of players’ fields and starting lines may be misleading, incumbents or newcomers are well aware of what the race is about: whatever the number of initial track lanes, they are to fade away after a few laps, spurring the front-runners to cover the whole track, alone or through partnerships. As a consequence, winning strategies would have to be supported by a comprehensive and coherent understanding of all healthcare aspects and issues, which can be best achieved with ontologies.

Ontologies vs Models

Ontologies are symbolic constructs (epitomized by conceptual graphs made of nodes and connectors) whose purpose is to make sense of a domain of discourse:

  1. Ontologies are made of categories of things, beings, or phenomena; as such they may range from simple catalogs to philosophical doctrines.
  2. Ontologies are driven by cognitive (i.e non empirical) purposes, namely the validity and consistency of symbolic representations.
  3. Ontologies are meant to be directed at specific domains of concerns, whatever they can be: politics, religion, business, astrology, etc.

That makes ontologies a special case of uncommitted models: like models they are set on contexts and concerns; but contrary to models ontologies’ concerns are detached from actual purposes. That is precisely what is expected from a healthcare conceptual framework.

Contexts & Business Domains

Healthcare issues are set across too many domains to be effectively fathomed, not to mention followed as they change. Notwithstanding, global players must anchor their strategies to different institutional contexts, and frame their policies as to make them transparent and attractive to others players. Such all-inclusive frameworks could be built from ontologies profiled with regard to the governance and stability of contexts:

  • Institutional: Regulatory authority, steady, changes subject to established procedures.
  • Professional: Agreed upon between parties, steady, changes subject to accord.
  • Corporate: Defined by enterprises, changes subject to internal decision-making.
  • Social: Defined by usage, volatile, continuous and informal changes.
  • Personal: Customary, defined by named individuals (e.g research paper).

Ontologies set along that taxonomy of contexts could then be refined as to target enterprise architecture layers: enterprise, systems, platforms, e.g:

A sample of Healthcare profiled ontologies

Depending on the scope and nature of partnerships, ontologies could be further detailed as to encompass architectures capabilities: Who, What, How, Where, When. 

Concerns & Architectures Capabilities

As pointed above, a key success factor for major players would be their ability to federate initiatives and undertakings of both incumbents and newcomers, within or without partnerships. That can be best achieved with enterprise architectures aligned with an all-inclusive yet open framework, and for that purpose the Zachman taxonomy would be the option of choice. The corresponding enterprise architecture capabilities (Who,What, How, Where, When) could then be uniformly applied to contexts and concerns:

  • Internally across architecture layers for enterprise (business and organization), systems (logical structures and functionalities), and platforms (technologies).
  • Externally across context-based ontologies as proposed above.

The nexus between environments (contexts) and enterprises (concerns) ontologies could then be organised according to the epistemic nature of items: terms, documents, symbolic representations (aka surrogates), or business objects and phenomena.

Mapping knowledge to architectures capabilities

That would outline four basic ontological archetypes that may or may not be combined:

  • Thesaurus: ontologies covering terms, concepts.
  • Document Management: thesaurus and documents.
  • Organization and Business: ontologies pertaining to enterprise organization and business processes.
  • Engineering: ontologies pertaining to the symbolic representation (aka surrogates) of organizations, businesses, and systems.

Global healthcare players could then build federating frameworks by combining domain and architecture driven ontologies, e.g:

Building federating frameworks with modular ontologies designed on purpose.

As a concluding remark, it must be reminded that the objective is to federate the activities and systems of healthcare players without interfering with the design of their business processes or supporting systems. Hence the importance of the distinction between ontologies and models introduced above which would act as a guaranty that concerns are not mixed up insofar as ontologies remain uncommitted models.

Further Reading

External Links

Unified Architecture Framework Profile (UAFP): Lost in Translation ?

July 2, 2017

Synopsis

The intent of Unified Architecture Framework Profile (UAFP) is to “provide a Domain Meta-model usable by non UML/SysML tool vendors who may wish to implement the UAF within their own tool and metalanguage.”

Detached Architecture (Víctor Enrich)

But a meta-model trying to federate (instead of bypassing) the languages of tools providers has to climb up the abstraction scale above any domain of concerns, in that case systems architectures. Without direct consideration of the domain, the missing semantic contents has to be reintroduced through stereotypes.

Problems with that scheme appear at two critical junctures:

  • Between languages and meta-models, and the way semantics are introduced.
  • Between environments and systems, and the way abstractions are defined.

Caminao’s modeling paradigm is used to illustrate the alternative strategy, namely the direct stereotyping of systems architectures semantics.

Languages vs Stereotypes

Meta-Models are models of models: just like artifacts of the latter represent sets of instances from targeted domains, artifacts of the former represent sets of symbolic artifacts from the latter. So while set higher on the abstraction scale, meta-models still reflect the domain of concerns.

Meta-models takes a higher view of domains, meta-languages don’t.

Things are more complex for languages because linguistic constructs ( syntax and semantics) and pragmatic are meant to be defined independently of domain of discourse. Taking a simple example from the model above, it contains two kinds of relationships:

  • Linguistic constructs:  represents, between actual items and their symbolic counterparts; and inherits, between symbolic descriptions.
  • Domain specific: played by, operates, and supervises.

While meta-models can take into account both categories, that’s not the case for languages which only consider linguistic constructs and mechanisms. Stereotypes often appear as a painless way to span the semantic fault between what meta-models have to do and what languages use to do; but that is misguided because mixing domain specific semantics with language constructs can only breed confusion.

Stereotypes & Semantics

If profiles and stereotypes are meant to refine semantics along domains specifics, trying to conciliate UML/SysML languages and non UML/SysML models puts UAFP in a lopsided position by looking the other way, i.e towards one-fits-all meta-language instead of systems architecture semantics. Its way out of this conundrum is to combine stereotypes with UML constraint, as can be illustrated with PropertySet:

UAFP for PropertySet (italics are for abstract)

Behind the mixing of meta-modeling levels (class, classifier, meta-class, stereotype, meta-constraint) and the jumble of joint modeling concerns (property, measurement, condition), the PropertySet description suggests the overlapping of two different kinds of semantics, one looking at objects and behaviors identified in environments (e.g asset, capability, resource); the other focused on systems components (property, condition, measurement). But using stereotypes indifferently for both kind of semantics has consequences.

Stereotypes, while being the basic UML extension mechanism, comes without much formalism and can be applied extensively. As a corollary, their semantics must be clearly defined in line with the context of their use, in particular for meta-languages topping different contexts.

PropertySet for example is defined as an abstract element equivalent to a data type, simple or structured, a straightforward semantic that can be applied consistently for contexts, domains or languages.

That’s not the case for ActualPropertySet which is defined as an InstanceSpecification for a “set or collection of actual properties”. But properties defined for domains (as opposed to languages) have no instances of their own and can only occur as concrete states of objects, behaviors, or expectations, or as abstract ranges in conditions or constraints. And semantics ambiguities are compounded when inheritance is indifferently applied between a motley of stereotypes.

Properties epitomize the problems brought about by confusing language and domain stereotypes and point to a solution.

To begin with syntax, stereotypes are redundant because properties can be described with well-known language constructs.

As for semantics, stereotyped properties should meet clearly defined purposes; as far as systems architectures are concerned, that would be the mapping to architecture capabilities:

Property must be stereotyped with regard to induced architecture capabilities.

  • Properties that can be directly and immediately processed, symbolic (literal) or not (binary objects).
  • Properties whose processing depends on external resource, symbolic (reference) or not (numeric values).

Such stereotypes could be safely used at language level due to the homogeneity of property semantics. That’s not the case for objects and behaviors.

Languages Abstractions & Symbolic Representations

The confusion between language and domain semantics mirrors the one between enterprise and systems, as can be illustrated by UAFP’s understanding of abstraction.

In the context of programming languages, isAbstract applies to descriptions that are not meant to be instantiated: for UAFP “PhysicalResource” isAbstract because it cannot occur except as “NaturalResource” or “ResourceArtifact”, none of them isAbstract.

“isAbstract” has no bearing on horses and carts, only on the meaning of the class PhysicalResource.

Despite the appearances, it must be reminded that such semantics have nothing to do with the nature of resources, only with what can be said about it. In any case the distinction is irrelevant as long as the only semantics considered are confined to specification languages, which is the purpose of the UAFP.

As that’s not true for enterprise architects, confusion is to arise when the modeling Paradigm is extended as to include environments and their association with systems. Then, not only that two kinds of instances (and therefore abstractions) are to be described, but that the relationship between external and internal instances is to determine systems architectures capabilities. Extending the simple example above:

  • Overlooking the distinction between active and passive physical resources prevents a clear and reliable mapping to architecture technical capabilities.
  • Organizational resource lumps together collective (organization), individual and physical (person), individual and organizational (role), symbolic (responsibility), resources. But these distinctions have a direct consequences for architecture functional capabilities.

Abstraction & Symbolic representation

Hence the importance of the distinction between domain and language semantics, the former for the capabilities of the systems under consideration, the latter for the capabilities of the specification languages.

Systems Never Walk Alone

Profiles are supposed to be handy, reliable, and effective guides for the management of specific domains, in that case the modeling of enterprise architectures. As it happens, the UAF profile seems to set out the other way, forsaking architects’ concerns for tools providers’ ones; that can be seen as a lose-lose venture because:

  • There isn’t much for enterprise architects along that path.
  • Tools interoperability would be better served by a parser focused on languages semantics independently of domain specifics.

Hopefully, new thinking about architecture frameworks (e.g DoDAF) tends to restyle them as EA profiles, which may help to reinstate basic requirements:

  • Explicit modeling of environment, enterprise, and systems.
  • Clear distinction between domain (enterprise and systems architecture) and languages.
  • Unambiguous stereotypes with clear purposes

A simple profile for enterprise architecture

On a broader perspective understanding meta-models and profiles as ontologies would help with the alignment of purposes (enterprise architects vs tools providers), scope (enterprise vs systems), and languages (modeling vs programming).

Back to Classics: Ontologies

As introduced long ago by philosophers, ontologies are meant to make sense of universes of discourse. To be used as meta-models and profiles ontologies must remain neutral and support representation and contents semantics independently of domains of concern or perspective.

With regard to neutrality, the nature of semantics should tally the type of nodes (top):

  • Nodes would represent elements specific to domains (bottom right).
  • Connection nodes would be used for semantically neutral (aka syntactic) associations to be applied uniformly across domains (bottom left).

That can be illustrated with the simple example of cars:

KM_CaseRaw

RDF graphs (top) support formal (bottom left) and domain specific (bottom right) semantics.

With regard to contexts, ontologies should be defined according to the nature of governance and stability:

  • Institutional: Regulatory authority, steady, changes subject to established procedures.
  • Professional: Agreed upon between parties, steady, changes subject to accords.
  • Corporate: Defined by enterprises, changes subject to internal decision-making.
  • Social: Defined by usages, volatile, continuous and informal changes.
  • Personal: Customary, defined by named individuals (e.g research paper).

Ontologies set along that taxonomy could also be refined as to be aligned with enterprise architecture layers: enterprise, systems, platforms, e.g:

Ontologies, capabilities (Who,What,How, Where, When), and architectures (enterprise, systems, platforms).

With regard to concerns ontologies should  focus on the epistemic nature of targeted items: terms, documents, symbolic representations, or actual objects and phenomena. That would outline four basic concerns that may or may not be combined:

  • Thesaurus: ontologies covering terms and concepts.
  • Document Management: ontologies covering documents with regard to topics.
  • Organization and Business: ontologies pertaining to enterprise organization, objects and activities.
  • Engineering: ontologies pertaining to the symbolic representation of products and services.
KM_OntosCapabs

Ontologies: Purposes & Targets

More generally, understanding meta-models and profiles as functional ontologies is to bring all EA business and engineering concerns within a comprehensive and consistent conceptual framework.

Further Reading

Models
Architectures
Enterprise Architecture
UML

External Links

Squaring EA Governance

April 18, 2017

Preamble

Enterprise governance has to face combined changes in the way business times and spaces are to be taken into account. On one hand social networks put well-thought-out market segments and well planned campaigns at the mercy of consumers’ weekly whims. On the other hand traditional fences between environments and IT systems are crumbling under combined markets and technological waves.

Squaring Governance in Space and Time (Jasenka Tucan-Vaillant)

So, despite (or because of) the exponential ability of intelligent systems to learn from circumstances, enterprise governance is not to cope with such dynamic complexities without a reliable compass set with regard to key primary factors: time-frames of concerns; control of processes; administration of artifacts.

Concerns & Time-frames

Confronted to massive and continuous waves of stochastic data flows, the priority is to position external events and decision-making with regard to business and assets time-frames:

  • Business value is to be driven by market opportunities which cannot be coerced into predefined fixed time-frames.
  • Assets management is governed by continuity and consistency constraints on enterprise identity, objectives, and investments along time.

Governance Square and its four corners

Enterprises, once understood as standalone entities, must now be redefined as living organisms in continuous adaptation with their environment. Governance schemes must therefore be broadened to business environments and layered as to take into account the duality of time-frames: operational for business value, strategic for assets.

Control of processes and administration of artifacts can then be defined accordingly.

Time & Control: Processes

Architectures being by nature shared and persistent, their layers are meant to reflect different time-frames, from operational cycles to long-term assets:

  • At enterprise level the role of architectures is to integrate shared assets and align various objectives set along different time-frames. At this level it’s safe to assume some cross dependencies between processes, which would call for phased governance.
  • By contrast, business units are meant to be defined as self-governing entities pursuing specific objectives within their own time-frame. From a competitive perspective markets opportunities and competitors moves are best assumed unpredictable, and processes best governed by circumstances.

Enterprise Processes have to align business and engineering objectives

Processes can then be defined vertically (business or Systems) as well as horizontally (enterprise architecture or application development), and governance set accordingly:

  • At enterprise level processes are phased: stakeholders and architects plan and manage the development and deployment of assets (organization and systems).
  • At business units level processes are lean and just-in-time: business analysts and software engineers design and develop applications supporting users needs as defined by users stories or use cases.

Models are then to be introduced to describe shared assets (organization and systems) across the enterprise. They may also support business analysis and software engineering.

Spaces & Administration: Models and Artifacts

Whatever the targets and terminologies, architecture is best defined as a relationship between concrete territories (processes and systems) and abstract maps (blueprints or models).

Carrying on with the four corners of governance square:

  • Business analysts are to set users’ narratives (concrete) in line with the business plots (blueprints) set by stakeholders.
  • Software engineers designing applications (concrete) in line with systems functional architectures (blueprints).

Enterprise Architecture uses maps to manage territories

As for the overlapping of business and development time-frames, the direct mapping between concrete business and system corners (e.g though agile development) is to facilitate the governance of integrated actual and numeric flows across business and systems.

Conclusion: A Compass for Enterprise Architects

Behind turfs perimeters and jobs descriptions, roles and responsibilities involved in enterprise architecture can be summarized by four drives:

  • Business stakeholders (top left): adjust organization as to maximize the versatility and plasticity of architectures.
  • Business analysts (bottom left): define business processes with regard to broader objectives and engineering efficiency.
  • Software engineers (bottom right): maximize the value for users and the quality of applications.
  • Systems architects (top right): dynamically align systems with regard to business models and engineering processes.

Orientation should come before job descriptions

Whereas roles and responsibilities will generally differ depending on enterprise environment, business, and culture, such a compass would ensure that the governance of enterprise architectures hinges on reliable pillars and is driven by clear principles.

Further Reading

Focus: MDA & UML

November 9, 2016

Preamble

UML (Unified Modeling Language) and MDA (Model Driven Architecture) epitomize the lack of focus and consistency of the OMG’s strategy. As it’s safe to assume that there can be no architectures without models, MDA and UML arguably bring sensible (if not perfect) schemes without significant competition.

MarcelBroodthaers-2Pipes

Unified language for Business and System Modeling (Marcel Broodthaers)

 

Unfortunately, not much has been made to play on their obvious complementarity and to exploit their synergies.

MDA & the Nature of Models

Model driven architecture (MDA) can be seen as the main (only ?) documented example of model based systems engineering. Its taxonomy organizes models within three layers:

  • Computation independent models (CIMs) describe organization and business processes independently of the role played by supporting systems.
  • Platform independent models (PIMs) describe the functionalities supported by systems independently of their implementation.
  • Platform specific models (PSMs) describe systems components depending on implementation platforms.

Engineering can then be managed along architecture layers (a), or carried out as a whole for each application (b).

mapsterrits_landingschar

Managing changes at architecture (a) or application (b) level.

It’s important to note that the MDA framework is completely neutral with regard to methods: engineering processes can be organized as phased activities (procedural), iterations (agile), or artifacts transformation (declarative).

Logic & The Matter of Models

Whatever the idiosyncrasies and fuzziness of business concerns and contexts, at the end of the day requirements will have to be coerced into the strict logic of computer systems. That may be a challenging task to be carried out directly, but less so if upheld by models.

As it happens, a fact all too often ignored, models come with sound logical foundations that can be used to formalize the mapping of requirements into specifications; schematically, models are to be set in two formal categories:

  • Descriptive (aka extensional) ones try to classify actual objects, events, and processes into categories.
  • Prescriptive (aka intensional) ones specify what is expected of systems components and how to develop them.
The logical basis of models

The logical basis of models

Interestingly, that distinction provides a formal justification to the one between analysis and design models, the former for the consolidation of requirements across business domains and enterprise organization, the latter for systems and software designs. Such logical foundations could help to manage the mapping of business processes and systems architectures.

UML & the Anatomy of Models

Except scientific computation, there is no reason to assume a-priori congruence between the description of business objects and processes and the specification of the software components. As a corollary, their respective structures and features are better to be dealt with separately.

But that’s not the case at architecture level, where domains and identities have to be managed continuously and consistency on the two sides of the business/system divide. At this level (aka enterprise architecture), responsibilities and identification and communication mechanisms must be defined uniformly.

Compared to MDA set at architecture level, UML describes the corresponding artifacts for business, systems, and platform layers. Regardless of the confusing terminology (layers or levels), that puts MDA and UML along orthogonal dimensions: the former (layers) deals with the nature of contents, the latter (levels) with their structures and features.

MDA is only concerned with architectures, UML describe the structure of architecture components.

MDA is only concerned with architectures, UML describe the structure of architecture components.

Using the same unified modeling language across business, systems, and platform layers is to clearly and directly enhance transparency and traceability; but the full extent of MDA/UML cross-benefits is to appear when models logic is taken into account.

Models & Systems Evolution

As illustrated by the increasing number of systemic crashes, systems obsolescence is no longer a matter of long-term planning but of operational continuity: change has become the rule and as far as complex and perennial systems are concerned, architectures are to evolve while supporting their functional duties seamlessly. If that is to be achieved, modularity and a degree of consistency are necessary between the nature of changes and their engineering. That’s where MDA is to help.

As pointed to above, modularity is best achieved with regard to level (architecture, element) and models contents (business, systems, platforms).

At architecture level, changes in domains, identification, and categories must be aligned between descriptive (enterprise) and prescriptive (systems) models. That will be best achieved with UML models across all MDA layers.

Using UML and MDA helps to align descriptive and prescriptive models at architecture level.

Using UML and MDA helps to align descriptive and prescriptive models at architecture level.

The constraints of continuity and consistency can be somewhat eased at element level: if descriptive (business) and prescriptive (systems) models of structures and features are to be consistent, they are not necessarily congruent. On component (prescriptive/design) side, UML and object-oriented design (OOD) are to keep them encapsulated. As for the business (descriptive/analysis) side, since structures and features can be modeled separately (and OOD not necessarily the best option), any language (UML, BPMN, DSL,etc.) can be used. In between, the structure (aka signature) of messages passed at architecture level is to be specified depending on communication framework.

Considering the new challenges brought about by the comprehensive interoperability of heterogeneous systems, the OMG should reassess the full range of latent possibilities to be found in its engineering portfolio.

Further Reading

Caminao & EACOE

September 19, 2016

Synopsis

Taking a cue from a recent discussion about the Enterprise Architecture Center Of Excellence (EACOE), the intent of this article is to apply EACOE criteria to the Caminao framework:

(M.Kippenberger)


How to assess EA frameworks and methodologies (M. Kippenberger)

  1. Business Initiatives (Projects): Initiatives should address cross-organizational or individual concerns.
  2. Directed Guidance: Explicit methods, tools, and artifacts.
  3. Consistency and Simplicity: Single frame of symbolic representation and reference.
  4. Structured and Precise Definitions: Frame built from a compact, complete, and consistent set of concepts to be logically extended.
  5. Clarity and Reason in Modeling: Two distinct model sets – Architecture Models and Implementation Models.
  6. Value in Models Transformations: Why develop artifacts that do not lead anywhere?
  7. Skills Acquisition: Enterprise Architecture skills are acquired through practice and experience.
  8. Multiple Architect Roles: Collaboration between the many architect roles in contemporary business.

Business Initiatives: Managing Expectations & Commitments

Enterprise architecture is meant to serve business purposes set across organizational units. If intents and values of corresponding initiatives are to be properly measured and prioritized, portfolios management must tackle two inherent difficulties:

  • How to rank a motley of expectations and commitments possibly subject to cross-dependencies.
  • How to plan and schedule projects whose outcomes are set within changing environments governed along different time-frames.
Qualified Information Flows across Architectures and Processes

Enterprise Architecture & Separation of Concerns

That can be made easier if initiatives are classified and documented according to scope (enterprise, systems, platforms) and purpose (business processes, systems engineering, operations).

Frame of Reference: A Comprehensive and Consistent Modeling Paradigm

Enterprise architecture as a corporate discipline is upheld by the needs of large and complex organizations, which implies a wide range of units carrying out their projects according to their own concerns, organization, and methods.

Targets and Modeling Languages

All-inclusive Modeling Paradigm: Scope and Languages

As it’s safe to assume that different modeling languages are also involved, a frame of reference must be supported by a modeling paradigm covering the shared semantics of the basic domains of concern, namely: business processes, enterprise organization, systems functional architectures, and software engineering. That can be done with the conceptual backbone of the Caminao framework.

Directed Guidance: Model Driven Architecture

To be of any use, methods and tools should not become a constraint, introduce cumbersome procedures, or induce unjustified overheads. Hence the benefit of model based blueprints that could be adjusted according to the nature of problems (business value, assets, operations) and contexts (enterprise, systems, technologies), e.g:

  • Agile processes will combine requirements with development and bypass analysis phases (a).
  • Projects meant to be implemented by Commercial-Off-The-Shelf Software (COTS) will start with business requirements, possibly using BPM, then carry on directly to platform implementation, bypassing system analysis and design phases (b).
  • Changes in enterprise architecture capabilities will be rooted in analysis of enterprise objectives, possibly but not necessarily with inputs from business and operational requirements, continue with analysis and design of systems functionalities, and implement the corresponding resources at platform level (c).
  • Projects dealing with operational concerns will be conducted directly through systems design and platform implementation (d).
Processes should be devised according enterprise concerns and engineering contexts

Blueprints set according to layers and purpose

That scheme illustrates the benefits of  combining EA with model based engineering schemes.

Consistency and Simplicity: Seven Concepts & Three layers

As far as architectures are concerned, consistency and simplicity are best achieved through a clear understanding of architecture capabilities as defined by the Zachman framework: who, what, how, where, and when.

ccc

Well established concepts are used to describe architecture capabilities

The semantics are to be defined in relation to architecture level: business, systems, and platforms. The role of enterprise architects is then to see how assets can best realize capabilities, and to align processes to supporting capabilities.

Structured and Precise Definitions: Formal Operators uniformly applied across Modeling Lanes

As illustrated a-contrario by the plenty of “universal” standards, combining simplicity, consistency, and all-inclusive relevancy is not easily achieved.

A way out of the conundrum is to delineate a small set of formal constructs and operators to be uniformly, comprehensively and consistently applied across models to connect, structure, and specialize conceptual nodes independently of their semantics:

vvv

Conceptual nodes are connected, structured, and specialized using a single set of formal constructs.

On one hand such constructs provide a syntactic glue between the building blocs defined from basic concepts. On the other hand the semantics of these blocs can be extended and refined along the four standard modeling lanes (aka perspectives): objects, symbolic representations, activities, and execution states.

Clarity and Reason: Descriptive (extensional) vs Prescriptive (intensional) Models

Clarity for enterprise architects should begin with a distinction between environments and enterprise, the former given as realms of changing opportunities subordinate to external factors, the latter supposedly governed according to purposes and plans. Reason is needed to manage the relationship between environments and enterprise architectures, and that endeavor  fully depends on architects’ ability to build serviceable symbolic representations (aka models).

That makes for two distinct model sets:

  • Business environments are represented by extensional models, i.e ones describing actual objects and activities with regard to the categories set by enterprise business model.
  • Enterprise architectures are described by intensional models, i.e ones prescribing how organization and systems are to be built.
vvv

Two distinct model sets: descriptive for business environments, prescriptive for systems architectures and artifacts.

Depending on size, complexity of organizations and systems, a level of indirection can be managed in between, as illustrated by MDA distinction between computation independent (CIM), platform independent PIM), and platform specific (PSM) models. PIMs and PSMs would correspond respectively to EACOE architecture and implementation.

Value in Models Transformation: Lean, Users Driven, & Knowledge Based

EA being a management discipline, it is bound to induce a motley of models to be shared and distributed across business and supporting units. In order to avoid a glut of redundant models, cumbersome procedures, and poor return on investment, processes have to remain lean and cut to the bone.

That can be achieved if models are justified by clearly identified purpose (governance or engineering), and set with clear semantics (descriptive, prescriptive, or mixed):

  • Descriptive (extensional) ones are supposed to be computation independent models (CIMs) and used to support transformations into other descriptive models, e.g analytical or conceptual ones.
  • Prescriptive (intensional) ones target platform specific models (PSMs), their purpose is to support crossed transformations or code generation targeting different platforms.
  • Mixed ones (PIMs) stand in-between and describe platform independent (aka functional) architectures meant to support business processes and be supported by systems platforms.

Models can then be understood as intermediate products to be processed “just-in-time” depending on users’ drive and artifacts’ status.

cccc

Just-in-time processes & Knowledge Based Models: Computation independent (blue), Platform independent (yellow), Platform specific (grey).

With artifacts “inventories” organized along layers, the traceability and transparency of inputs would be set with regard to embedded knowledge: business, organization and supporting systems, and platform technologies. The value of transformations could then be assessed on that basis.

Skills Acquisition: Modular & Smooth Learning Curve

The range of enterprise architecture skills is by nature multi-faceted and volatile:

  • Multi-faceted: Enterprise architects have to deal with the variety of business domains, the singularity of human organizations, and the technicality of systems architectures.
  • Volatile: enterprise architecture is essentially a work in progress whose purpose is to combine changing environments, emerging structures and behaviors, and planned organization.

If they are to tally with such disparate needs, skills are best defined with regard to a limited number of stable characteristics:

  • Target: Enterprise and business oriented, or systems and technology oriented.
  • Purpose: Architectures or business value.
cc

Skills should be primary defined with regard to purpose and target

Given the diversity and transformations of challenges, the relevant skills have to be adjusted, expanded, and deepened continuously; that can only be achieved through a cross-reinforcement of practical and theoretical abilities combined with a modular and smooth learning curve.

Frameworks built from meticulously detailed processes, or sketched from broadly defined principles are ill-fitted to such pedagogy. By contrast, Caminao is built from a small and robust backbone of formally defined concepts that can be fleshed out with enterprise concrete semantics and decorated with customized terminology. That is to enable a step-by-step and open approach to EA.

Multiple Architect Roles: Responsibilities & Decision-making

As already mentioned, the raison d’être of enterprise architecture is to bring under a single roof business processes, enterprise organization, and IT systems. After dealing with criteria related to artifacts and communication, the last to consider is the way EA frameworks should support the integrity and consistency of decision-making.

The Caminao framework define responsibilities of enterprise architects along two dimensions: models and change management.

Regarding models, the dual perspective (actual vs symbolic) remains at the core of EA decision-making: business environments and processes should never be confused with their symbolic representations as systems surrogates. As a matter of fact managing that relationship is at the core of enterprise architecture, and these models are critical for the definition of responsibilities as well as for the support of collaboration. Bluntly speaking, without that distinction enterprise architects would find nothing to manage.

What moves first: actual contexts and processes or enterprise abstractions

EA Decision-making

Regarding change and decision-making, differentiated models will help enterprise architects with the evolution of structures (objectives and assets) and the conduct of operations (processes and configurations), the former shared across business processes and time-frames, the latter set for specific processes and time cycles.

Concluding Remark: EA as Entropy Antidote

The emergence of EA as a discipline is not happening by chance but as a consequence of the crumbling of the traditional boundaries between enterprises and their environment. Faced with the new challenges of competition in seamless digital environments, enterprises success is conditioned by the plasticity and versatility of their architectures, more precisely on their ability to “digest” the variety of data, process it into serviceable information, to be distributed as knowledge towards the different units depending on purposes and time-scales : assets and organization, business value, systems capabilities.

KEA: Knowledge is the Key to EA

KEA: Knowledge as the Key to EA

Along that reasoning EA can be seen as a natural antidote to entropy: like corporate cousins of  Maxwell’s demon, enterprise architects are to stand at enterprise data gates, looking for changes that could decrease internal complexity relative to the external one.

Further Reading

External Links

Models as Parachutes

August 31, 2016

Preamble

The recent paralysis of British Airways world operations (due to a power failure, if officials are to be believed), following the crash of Delta Airlines’ reservation system and a number of similar incidents, once again points to the reliability of large and critical IT systems.

László Moholy-Nagy-para

Models as Parachutes (László Moholy-Nagy)

Particularly at risk are airlines or banking systems, whose seasoned infrastructures, at the cutting edge when introduced half a century ago, have been strained to their limit by waves of extensive networked new functionalities. Confronted to the magnitude and complexity of overall modernization, most enterprises have preferred piecemeal updates to architectural leaps. Such policies may bring some respite, but they may also turn into aggravating factors, increasing stakes and urgency as well as shortening odds.

Assuming some consensus about stakes, hazards, and options, the priority should be to overcome jumping fears by charting a reassuring perspective in continuity with current situation. For that purpose models may provide heartening parachutes.

Models: Intents & Doubts

Models can serve two kinds of purposes:

  • Describe business contexts according to enterprise objectives, foretell evolution, and simulate policies.
  • Prescribe the architecture of supporting systems and the design of software components.
Business analyst figure maps from territories, software architects create territories from maps

Models Purposes: Describe contexts & concerns, Design supporting systems

Frameworks were supposed to combine the two perspectives, providing a comprehensive and robust basis to systems governance. But if prescriptive models do play a significant role in engineering processes, in particular for code generation, they are seldom fed by their descriptive counterpart.

Broadly speaking, the noncommittal attitudes toward descriptive models comes from a rooted mistrust in non executable models: as far as business analysts and software engineers are concerned, such models can only serve as documentary evidence. And since prescriptive models are by nature grounded to systems’ inner making, there is no secure conceptual apparatus linking systemic changes with their technical consequences. Hence the jumping frights.

Overcoming those frights could be achieved by showing the benefits of secure and soft landings.

Models for Secure Landings

As any tools, models must be assessed with regard to their purpose: prescriptive ones with regard to feasibility and reliability of architectures and design, descriptive ones with regard to correctness and consistency. As already noted, compared to what has been achieved for the former, nothing much has been done about the validity of the latter.

Yet, and contrary to customary beliefs, the rigorous verification of descriptive (aka extensional) models is not a dead-end. Of course these models can never be proven true because there is no finite scope against which they could be checked; but it doesn’t mean that nothing can be done to improve their reliability:

Models must be assessed with regard to their purpose

How to Check for secure landings

  • Correctness: How to verify that all the relevant individuals and features are taken into account. That can only be achieved empirically by building models open to falsification.
  • Consistency: How to verify that the symbolic descriptions (categories and connectors) are complete, coherent and non redundant across models and abstraction levels. That can be formally verified.
  • Alignment: How to verify that current and required business processes are to be seamlessly and effectively supported by systems architectures. That can be managed by introducing a level of indirection, as illustrated by MDA with platform independent models (PIMs) set between computation independent (CIMs) and platform specific (PSMs) ones.

Once established on secure grounds, models can be used to ensure soft landings.

Models for Soft Landings

Set within model based system engineering frameworks, models will help to replace piecemeal applications updates by seamless architectures modernization:

  • Systems: using models shift the focus of change from hardware to software.
  • Enterprise: models help to factor out the role of organization and regulations.
  • Project management: models provide the necessary hinge between agile and phased projects, the former for business driven applications, the latter for architecture oriented ones. Combining both approaches will ensure than lean and just-in-time processes will not be sacrificed to system modernization.
Seamless architectures modernization (a) vs Piecemeal applications updates (b).

Seamless architectures modernization (a) vs Piecemeal applications updates (b).

More generally, and more importantly, models are the option of choice (if not the only one) for enterprise knowledge management:

  • Business: Computation independent models (CIMs), employed to trace, justify and rationalize business strategies and processes portfolios.
  • Systems: Platform specific models (PSMs), employed to trace, justify and rationalize technical alternatives and decisions.
  • Decision-making and learning: Platform independent models (PIMs), employed to align business and systems and support enterprise architecture governance.

And knowledge management is arguably the primary factor for successful comprehensive modernization.

Strategic Decision-making: Cash or Crash

Governance is all about risks and decision-making, but investing on truly fail-safe systems for airlines or air traffic control can be likened to a short bet on the Armageddon, and that cannot be easily framed in a neat cost-benefit analysis. But that may be the very nature of strategic decision-making: not amenable to ROI but aiming at risks assessment and the development of the policies apt to contain and manage them. That would be impossible without models.

Further Reading

Conceptual Models & Abstraction Scales

March 22, 2016

Following the recent publication of a new standard for conceptual modeling of automation systems (Object-Process Methodology (ISO/PAS 19450:2015) it may be interesting to explore how it relates to abstraction and meta-models.

oskar-schlemmer-at-bahaus

Meta-models are drawn along lean abstraction scales (Oskar Schlemmer )

Models & Meta Models

Just like models are meant to describe sets of actual instances, meta-models are meant to do the same for sets of modeling artifacts independently of their targets. Along that reasoning, conceptual modeling of automation systems could be achieved either with a single language covering all aspects, or with a meta-language dealing with different sets of models, e.g MDA’s computation independent, platform independent, and platform specific models.

Modeling Languages covering technical, functional, and business concerns.

Two alternative options for the modeling of automation systems: unified language, or a meta language covering technical (e.g PSMs), functional (e.g PIMs), and business (e.g CIMs) scopes.

Given a model based engineering framework (e.g MDA), meta-models are generally used to support downstream models transformation targeting designs and code. But when upstream conceptual models are concerned, the challenge is to tackle the knowledge-to-systems transition. For that purpose some shared modeling roof is required for the definition of the symbolic footprint of the targeted business in the automation system under consideration.

Symbolic Footprint

Given that automation systems are meant to manage symbolic objects (aka surrogates), one should expect the distinction between actual instances and their symbolic representations to be the cornerstone of corresponding modeling languages. Along that reasoning, modeling of automation systems should start with the symbolic representation of actual business footprints, namely: the sets of objects, events, and processes, the roles played by agents (aka active objects), and the description of the associated states and rules. Containers would be added for the management of collections.

Automation systems modeling begins with the symbolic representation of actual instances

Automation systems modeling begins with the symbolic representation by systems of actual instances of business related objects and phenomena.

Next, as illustrated by the Object/Agent hierarchy, business worlds are not flat but built from sundry structures and facets to be represented by multiple levels of descriptions. That’s where abstractions are to be introduced.

Abstraction & Variants

The purpose of abstractions is to manage variants, and as such they can be used in two ways:

  • For partial descriptions of actual instances depending on targeted features. That can be achieved using composition (for structural variants) and partitions (for functional ones).
  • As hierarchies of symbolic descriptions (aka types and sub-types) subsuming variants identified at instances level.

On that basis the challenge is to find the level of detail (targeted actual instances) and abstraction (symbolic footprint) that will best describe supporting systems functionalities. Such level will have to meet two conditions:

  1. A minimal number of comprehensive and exclusive categories covering the structural variants of the sets of instances to be uniformly, consistently, and continuously identified by both enterprise and supporting systems.
  2. A consistent but adjustable set of types and sub-types anchored to the core structural categories and covering the functional variants .

Climbing up and down abstraction ladders looking for right levels is arguably the critical part of conceptual modeling, but the search will greatly benefit from the distinction between models and meta-models. Assuming meta-models are meant to ignore domain specific features altogether, they introduce a qualitative gap on abstraction scales as the respective hierarchies of models and meta-models are targeting different kind of instances. The modeling of agents and roles epitomizes the benefits of that distinction.

Abstraction & Meta Models

Taking customers for example, a naive approach would use Customer as a modeling type inheriting from a super-type, e.g Party. But then, if parties are to be uniformly identified (#), that would preclude any agent for playing multiple roles, e.g customer and supplier.

A separate description of parties and roles would clearly be a better option as it would unify the identification of the former without introducing unwarranted constraints on the latter which would then be defined and identified as the realization of a relationship played by a party.

Not surprisingly, that distinction would also be congruent with the one between models and meta-model:

  • Meta-models will describe generic aspects independently of domain-specific considerations, in particular organizational context (units and roles) and interactions with systems (a).
  • Models will define StaffSupplier and Customer according to the semantics of the business considered (b).
Composition, partitions and specialization can be used to detail the symbolic footprint

Composition, partitions and specialization can be used along two different abstraction scales.

That distinction between abstraction scales can also be applied to the conceptual modeling of automation systems.

Abstraction Scales & Conceptual Models

To begin with definitions, conceptual representations could be used for all mental constructs, whereas symbolic representations would be used only for the subset earmarked for communication purposes. That would mean that, contrary to conceptual representations that can be detached of business and enterprise practicalities, symbolic representations are necessarily built on design, and should be assessed accordingly. In our case the aim of such representations would be to describe the exchanges between business processes and supporting systems.

That understanding neatly fits the conceptual modeling of automation systems whose purpose would be to consolidate generic and business specific abstraction scales, the former for symbolic representations of the exchanges between business and systems, the latter symbolic representation of business contents.

At this point it must be noted that the scales are not necessarily aligned in continuity (with meta-models’ being higher and models’ being lower) as their respective ontologies may overlap (Organizational Entity and Party) or cross (Function and Role).

Toward a System Modeling Ontology

Along an analytic perspective, ontologies are meant to determine the categories that can comprehensively and consistently denote the instances of a domain under consideration. With regard to the modeling of automation systems, a relevant ontology would map a subset of semantic categories (for conceptual representations) to functional ones (for systems symbolic representations).

Further Reading

External Links