Groningen: A modern IT-Architecture

Source: ICT Magazine, June 17th 2019, Mirjam Hulsebos

A widely known phenomenon: an extensive project is coming up, but before you can start it takes weeks, if not months because, while implementing, suddenly unknown links to applications appear. Links of which the IT team did not know they existed. For the Municipality of Groningen this was a commodity as well. As of this year, the municipality is putting an end to this by using a new platform for enterprise architecture and BPM.

In IT, we have been talking about ‘working under architecture’ for years. The first version of the modelling language ArchiMate was delivered in 2005. And with GEMMA a good architecture-model for municipalities exists. Nevertheless, everyday practice turns out most organizations hardly have insight into the relationships between processes, data and applications. The information that is available is fragmented, unstructured and often much knowledge is tacit and unlocked in employees’ heads. Furthermore, it happens some information is completely missing.

Lack of up-to-date and comprehensive insight

This was no different for the municipality of Groningen. Since October 2017, Jan de Baat has been part of the organization as an Information Architect. When he first joined the municipality, he found out architectural descriptions often had been made, but they lacked coherence. Moreover, they were best defined as static descriptions, not updated once created.

“There was simply no coherence and definitely no up-to-date insight into our IT landscape. In addition, an application at times was given a different name. One department used the supplier’s name, the other used the definition given by the application itself and a third one chose to refer to the application using the name of its version. In each case, a variety of applications were unconsciously being used by multiple departments. Then of course you miss out on various benefits.”

But time wasted every time new IT-projects was a weigh bigger thorn in the eye. Jan de Baat: “The municipality employs two Information Architects and two Application Architects. Together, we needed to come up with the IT-strategy and plans in terms of development. But we couldn’t make this work as collecting the information took too much time. “

Bear the burden of updating information

The Municipality of Groningen at the time used two solutions which both turned out to have their shortcomings. “We had the chance to kick off a new approach,” De Baat says, “and if you have this opportunity, you wisely try to find what tooling meets your wishes and requirements.” Jan used his experience and knowledge and knew it would be challenging to start modelling all processes and their interrelations. Challenging, but worth its time, seen the fact it is even more complicated to keep on updating information once changes have been made. “I didn’t want the architects to bear the burden of updating information all by themselves. In my opinion, the tool had to be user-friendly. Friendly for everyone involved in processing and the provision of information. Most BPM-tooling did not meet our needs. Most tools are designed for IT-specialists to work with. They often date back to the early 2000s. The software of those tools is still applicable today, but it requires an awful lot of effort and time to get to know the solution. And that becomes a problem if you want every Application- and Process Manager or owner to get started. ”

After reading an article, and being referred to the Municipality of Haarlemmermeer, which uses Bluedolphin, Jan took a closer look to BlueDolphin’s options. “After some comparisons I found out this softeware distinguished itself by a pleasant user interface. You work with BlueDolphin without gaining specific knowledge beforehand. I found out the software did not feature the possibility to manage versions yet, but then I was told that feature will be released shortly.” The Municipality of Groningen thereby has a relatively large influence on that next release. “The supplier is a Dutch company with a lot of customers in the Dutch municipal market. As a result, we and fellow municipalities relatively have a lot of influence on the direction of development.”

Ambassador

At present, the municipality of Groningen has been using the software for a year. About half of all processes and associated applications are described. De Baat consciously takes it easy. “We recently concluded a contract with a supplier who will take care of our complete generic infrastructure. When transferring applications from our hardware infrastructure to the infrastructure of this new supplier, a lot of information will become available. We therefore decided to embed the complete mapping of the architecture landscape within the migration process. ”

Jan expects after the migration 90 percent of the landscape will be visualized. “By then, we will be promoting the tool within our organization. As I already indicated, the goal is for the departments to keep their own information up to date. They will be assisted in doing so by the Information Advisors, who act as an intermediary between IT and business. De Baat: “They are still a bit cautious because the tool doesn’t contain our complete landscape yet. But once we have incorporated our entire landscape in the tool, Information Advisors will experience the added value in their daily work. I hope that this will result in ambassadorship. I hope these users will they will then inspire other stakeholders to consult the tool and if necessary, add information as well.”

Short and long term

At short notice, the added value primarily concerns the provision of insight into architecture. De Baat: “The new solution makes it weigh easier to reuse applications in other places instead of always having to buy something new. Moreover, my fellow Architects and I focus on strategic issues rather than collecting information.”

Common Ground, one of the predominant strategic topics today, concerns the separation of data and applications. Common Ground was introduced by the VNG (Dutch municipal association). In the future, data will be accessed by API’s whereby an API gateway defines who may have access to certain data and with what parties data may be exchanged. De Baat: “That’s one of the specks on the horizon. The creation of a transparent architectural landscape is our architecture transparent is a necessary step towards that speck.”