By Peter Coffee  |  Posted 2004-09-20 Print this article Print

System Architect Version 10, released earlier this month by Popkin Software & Systems Inc., defies the "Version 10 curse" that often seems to pull a product across the line from maturity to senility. Reviewed by eWEEK Labs in several previous versions spanning roughly a decade of refinement, this broad-spectrum modeling tool has grown in this release to reflect the expanding charter of the enterprise systems professional in every respect but one: System Architect remains a Windows-only offering in a world that increasingly seeks additional platform options.

At a single-seat price of $5,750, System Architect 10 is not a casual purchase. However, the product is available in a trial download form that also allows evaluation of high-end options for simulation and XML development. Trial users can also test System Architects decision support and scenario exploration tools, which meet U.S Department of Defense standards.

The products continued high standard of broad capability, impressive usability and highly professional support are only somewhat dimmed by its exclusive availability on Windows workstations. In theory, its offered for Windows 98 or later, but our tests on a Windows 98 machine suggest System Architect has resource requirements that will be better met by Windows NT Service Pack 6 or Windows 2000 or later.

Overall, however, System Architect Version 10 readily earns an eWEEK Labs Analysts Choice designation.

System Architect has always ranked high with us because of its eclectic approach to various diagramming doctrines. It supports a long list of methods, one that actually does run from A (the A-Zero context diagram of an IDEF0 model) to Z (the focus/perspective cellular organization of the Zachman Framework).

Version 10 also plays to many audiences beyond the IT project community that got most of the attention in System Architects earliest versions. For example, it gives upper management a set of higher-level aids for exploring larger questions of models and their relationships.

Code-pounding Web services teams arent ignored, either—theyll welcome Version 10s automated assistance for generating Business Process Execution Language for Web Services (the emerging multivendor standard promoted by BEA Systems Inc., IBM, Microsoft Corp., SAP AG and Siebel Systems Inc.).

Version 10 offers notable improvements in granular security for sensitive projects that involve many interacting disciplines and roles. We especially like the organization model for access management: Rather than a simple hierarchy of privileges within individual projects, Popkin has introduced a model of "catalogs" that can provide precisely tailored privileges for user roles that span multiple project "encyclopedias" (Popkins term for database-resident repositories of diagrams and definitions).

We also welcome System Architects support for organizations that rely on extensive collections of widely distributed project documentation. Version 10 enables direct access from a System Architect model to network-accessible external documents. This avoids another curse, one that afflicts enterprise modeling tools that are too often overtaken by events. Instead of functioning as a separate, often outdated attempt to describe what an organization is doing, a System Architect Version 10 model can serve as the actual hub of whats happening.

Expert users who build custom solutions on the System Architect foundation will find themselves well-served by Version 10 refinements that include an upgrade to Version 6.3 of Microsoft Corp.s Visual Basic for Applications as the embedded automation language. VBA 6.3, introduced in 2001, made technical improvements, such as assertions for debugging, and management improvements, such as improved project password protection. The subsequent VBA 6.4 seems to have been almost a stealth update, ignored even on many Microsoft VBA support pages. Its therefore unlikely that the lack of VBA 6.4 support will create any issues for System Architect users.

Version 10 accelerates the learning process for new users with a Guidebook front-end environment that offers clear paths into the products potentially overwhelming collection of tools. The Guidebook also provides a foundation for developing customized instructional aids.

Any enterprise considering a cultural commitment to formal modeling should allocate resources to this kind of site-specific tailoring to maximize its returns.

Technology Editor Peter Coffee can be reached at peter_coffee@ziffdavis.com.

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Peter Coffee is Director of Platform Research at salesforce.com, where he serves as a liaison with the developer community to define the opportunity and clarify developersÔÇÖ technical requirements on the companyÔÇÖs evolving Apex Platform. Peter previously spent 18 years with eWEEK (formerly PC Week), the national news magazine of enterprise technology practice, where he reviewed software development tools and methods and wrote regular columns on emerging technologies and professional community issues.Before he began writing full-time in 1989, Peter spent eleven years in technical and management positions at Exxon and The Aerospace Corporation, including management of the latter companyÔÇÖs first desktop computing planning team and applied research in applications of artificial intelligence techniques. He holds an engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from Pepperdine University, he has held teaching appointments in computer science, business analytics and information systems management at Pepperdine, UCLA, and Chapman College.

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