July 1, 2017

Architecture and business processes description with diagrams

The current state of engineering science allows us to say, that any enterprise (organization, team, etc) is a system in one form or another. Such system may include staff and equipment, and it is a physical, personnel, organizational, managerial, logistical (etc) system at the same time. And all those things we need some way to describe.

On the one hand such systems contain technical stuff, which we know how to describe perfectly graphically (using UML, for instance), on the other — it is desirable to describe an enterprise entirely in a similar manner. And this is the subject of the article. And of course we will show you that Grapholite is Hercules in the word of graphical representation due to the variety of opportunities, and anyone can easily use this power, since the price is affordable.

What should be described?

When you are going to make a multidimensional description of enterprise (organisation, team), you should describe its structure. And the structure of enterprise can be considered as a kind of architecture.
Following ISO/IEC/IEEE 42010:2011: Architecture is fundamental concepts or properties of a system in its environment embodied in its elements, relationships, and in the principles of its design and evolution.

How to describe the architecture?

There are various ways to make the arcitecture description: starting by using a plain text and ending with graphical representations (diagrams). The choice is limited to wishes and capabilities of the customer as a reader of these architecture representations. In the end, it should be clear to him and his staff.

The description may be multifaceted, any system can be represented from different points of view: interactional, financial, material flows, etc. According to the practice of systems analysis, we may describe it in one or multiple paradigms:
  • Enterprise as a database. It's the basis to build any corporate information system (ERP, CRM, warehouse system, etc).
  • Enterprise as relationships and relative ranks of its parts and positions (jobs).
  • Enterprise as business processes, transforming raw materials/resources/information into a final product. 

Grapholite takes in account all these paradigms and provides specific shape sets to draw:
  • abstract data model: using ER model (entity-relationship) that defines a data or information structure that can be implemented in a database;
  • database schema: using UML class diagram to show the structure and relationships between tables, views and other database entities;
  • organization structure: using organizational chart to show hierarchical structure of enterprise and its parts: departments, job positions, etc;
  • business processes: they are the most important part in the architecture description. There are several ways to represent business processes in Grapholite — by using basic flow charts, cross-functional flowcharts, event-driven process diagrams (EPC), UML or BPMN.
Let's focus in more detail on business processes mapping as the most important item.

Diagrams and notations to describe business processes

Flow charts came to the world of business from computer science. This kind of charts is well known and intuitively obvious. However, it is quite primitive and not adapted to business processes mapping. For example, the division by functional roles does not fit into the basic flowcharts. And we resort to cross-functional flowcharts.

Cross-functional flowcharts (also known as swimlanes) take into account participants responsibilities for a certain part of the process. It's very convinient! Grapholite copes with this task perfectly by drawing beautiful swimlanes as easily as basic flow charts.

IDEF0 and IDEF3 are fairly well-known methodologies. In addition to diagramming technique it contains rules how to ask questions, how to implement modeling context and so on. One of the major cons is inability to elegantly simulate the situation of timeout, when the process is either waiting for the actions of one of the participants, or continues after a regulated delay. So, the methodology is considered a bit outdated and Grapholite does'n support it as a separate set of items and frames to design standardized sheets. But it's still possible to compose IDEF diagrams using basic blocks and arrows.

ARIS eEPC (extended event driven process chain) is a powerful methodology. It is well equipped and technologically advanced and despite the fact that it is already old, the application of this technology is still sometimes found. Grapholite supports EPC diagrams out of the box.

UML was used before and is used now to describe business processes, especially since UML 2.0 came. But even now it's the choice of connoisseurs. It's mainly an IT's thing that is not easy to apply to desribe the execution and management of activities, a role model and facts that really happen in the enterprise. In any case, Grapholite supports UML diagrams the best way.

BPMN is now the most appropriate solution to describe business processes. It's a methodology and a notation entended to model buisness processes and a good alternative to competing private decisions. It's an open, public standard. It is aimed at business partners, process engineers and application developers. Grapholite supports both BPMN 1.2 and 2.0.

It should be noted that Grapholite is not a modeling tool: it neither simulates processes, nor validates diagrams. But it allows you to describe graphically every aspect of business architecture using standard and well known charts from many metodologies, expanding it with other useful built-in features. And, at the same time, it keeps simplicity. You can try it yourself to make sure!

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