Let’s talk concretely about one of the LeanIX functionalities often used by customers to integrate software landscapes and manage interfaces: the "Data Flow Visualizer". We'll frame the discussion using a 2018 LeanIX EA Connect Days presentation on this exact subject by Dominik Rose, Head of Special Projects at LeanIX, to address the following:
- How the Data Flow Visualizer augments LeanIX standard and custom reports;
- How to model an Interface in LeanIX; and
- How to foster discussions regarding Interface Architecture with the Data Flow Visualizer.
When to use the data flow visualizer
A Data Flow Visualizer is a way to collaboratively develop ad-hoc and interactive walkthroughs of integration strategies alongside Enterprise Architecture stakeholders. This information can be paired with a series of standard, built-in Reports and a marketplace of downloaded Custom Reports designed by a community of qualified users. All reports use live data received from a GraphQL API.
Said Rose in his 2018 EA Connect Days presentation: “Within a couple of clicks, you can create the exact pictures your stakeholders need and walk them through scenarios.”
And just like in Visio (but much better), a LeanIX Data Flow Visualizer enables the documentation of Integration Architecture efforts by allowing users to save transformation diagrams and link real-time data directly to the wider IT inventory to improve interface governance and enable the following benefits:
- Shorter time-to-market;
- Real-time insights into Big Data;
- Efficient scalability;
- Better user experience;
- Consistent channels; and
- Integrated workflows.
A use case relevant to all enterprises, Integration Architecture is an effective way to identify irregularities between Applications and their corresponding Interfaces in fast-growing IT landscapes. As well, it’s a sure-fire way to improve the efficacy of APIs by helping chart better connections to API Management tools and by re-designing APIs to better suit external parties.
“One of the hallmarks of a successful API program is that you get things that you don’t plan for and people build things you don’t expect.” - Mark O’Neill, VP Analyst, Gartner
Best practices to creating interfaces in LeanIX
That being said, how are Interfaces situated in the LeanIX data model—and what are some basic recommendations for creating better ones?
Interfaces represent one of the 10 core elements of the LeanIX data model, and all information about them is contained within dedicated “Fact Sheets”. As shown in the image below, LeanIX interprets Interfaces as being provided by an Application; consumed by 0..n Applications; reliant on specific technology; and directing data to support specific processes.
With this in mind, Rose offered four principles (below) and a series of best practice examples for modeling/designing Interfaces in LeanIX:
- "Business first" − Start with top-level views; drill-down only to create value.
- "Be clever regarding middleware" − In most cases, use it as technology to focus on end-to-end data flow.
- "Define ownership" − The providing Application “owns” the interface (e.g., offers the API).
- "Use Attributes" − Data Flow, Frequency and other aspects can be easily added.
Best practice modeling: APIs
Using LeanIX’s own API as an example, part of the tool’s software offerings include a GraphQL API and an MTM (Multi-Tenancy Manager) API. This means that if users want to receive Application Fact Sheet information, they can go to the GraphQL API; for user information, the MTM API. Each API relies on different technology, and LeanIX users can add specific Data Objects called “User” and “Fact Sheet” to easily portray the relationship.
In the image below, you can see that IT Components are listed as Technology since it is clear that the APIs are provided by LeanIX. Rose even recommends going one step further by linking Interface definitions as documents and tagging receiving systems as “External”.
- Model clear ownership since APIs mostly belong to one system and have a well-defined lifecycle.
- Use IT Components for technology in order to align with use cases like Standard Management and Technology Ownership.
- Link definitions (e.g., Swagger) of interfaces as documents.
- If the receiving system is externally-based but still requires management, attach “External” tags to applications.
When mapping the interfaces of Open APIs, concerns about managing consumption are relatively secondary and it thereby makes sense to use multiple IT Components in order to understand if they are managed by a standard API management system. However, since such APIs aren’t easily usable by the Data Flow, it is recommended to use a Table View or Inventory for identification.
- Include APIs without consumers even if they’re un-identified (and if you don’t care to).
- Use a Table View or an Inventory to identify APIs.
- Include more than one IT Component or Data Object if this provides extra value (e.g., by revealing which Interfaces are already managed by an API Management tool).
- Link to tools like Axway (or consider integrations).
How should we visualize ERPs? What about SAP PI? Are these Applications or IT Components? Based on his experience with LeanIX customers, Rose recommends listing both as IT Components in order to maintain end-to-end transparency into how well product data flows. Point being, if SAP PI is listed as an application, this information would be lost.
- Avoid listing Middleware as an Application in order to focus better on end-to-end data flows
- Delineate IT Components (e.g., Parent/Child) to include detailed information on aspects such as the consumed middleware module
- Consider how to integrate with the middleware (e.g., SAP PI) and create a source for interfaces
FTP servers, CSVs, manual interfaces: almost all companies are cursed with unwanted legacy and manual interfaces in their systems. But regardless of who is actually responsible for these technologies, Rose encourages users to include this information to create better integration models—even if the pieces don’t seem like natural fits.
- Define who owns legacy interfaces (e.g., FTP, CSV exports) to raise awareness of responsibilities that can lead to richer models.
- Include manual interfaces (if they offer a better view into the business). Such information can be valuable when consolidating, or planning, future projects.
Best practice modeling: legacy & manual interfaces
The Data Flow Visualizer can be accessed from four different entry points to quicken Integration Architecture efforts:
- Via the Interface Circle Map Report: An interactive and configurable look into the pathways of Interfaces connecting all enterprise functions. Interfaces underscoring Business Capabilities can be filtered for and then highlighted, and once an angle is chosen, users can exit the Interface Circle Map and move directly to the Data Flow Visualizer with a pre-drawn model detailing the exact relationship.
- Via Fact Sheets: If you know exactly which Application you’d like to inspect, you can open up a blank Data Flow diagram, insert its Fact Sheet and then click an arrow to expand its contents automatically and review the corresponding IT dependencies.
- Via multiple Applications: Accessed in the same way as the last option, categories of Applications grouped according to individual enterprise functions can be added in bulk to a LeanIX Data Flow canvas to examine the interfaces of many relationships at a time.
- Via Bookmark: The fourth entry point is by "Bookmark" (a.k.a., user-selected waypoints shareable to as many LeanIX users as desired).
Guiding meetings with the LeanIX data flow visualizer
And once you’re ready to create or improve existing relationships, here’s how the Data Flow Visualization can quickly be used inside meetings—and the questions and concerns it can immediately address.
"Show me Interfaces relevant to a specific project." (Navigate through the layout)
See all Interfaces—hand-picked or chosen by filter—by right-clicking on an Application and then selecting items pertaining to a specific project. Additional objects (IT Components, Data Objects, etc.) can be included on the canvas via drill-down selections.
"Let me change the layout of the Interface Model to my preferences so I can convey what I want." (Adapt the layout)
The flow of all objects and the layout itself of a Data Flow diagram can be re-sized either manually or positioned on either a vertical/horizontal axis. Boxes can be color-coded (using a mechanism similar to the complementary LeanIX Free Draw Visualizer), and all preferred views can be saved and shared with others.
"What if I want to change Application data while modeling? And what if other users do so without my knowing?" (Adapt the data)
During modelling, basic information used for LeanIX inventorying and reporting (Application Lifecycles, Data Objects, Application names, etc.) can be added/removed by accessing the corresponding Fact Sheets as listed on the right side of the diagram. And to see whether or not updates have been made by other users in your network, users just have to simply press “Check for Updates”.
"Is it easy to add/remove Interfaces while modeling?"(Handle new interfaces)
Just head to the corresponding Fact Sheet, add the new Consumed or Provided Interface and then save it. It will then be added right to the model/report.
"How can I share this information?"
If you want to save your Data Flow model, a window will open after clicking "Save" in the upper-right corner. Here you can give your Report a name and choose between three different sharing options: Private (only to be viewed and edited by the owner); Published (accessible to all viewers, but can only be edited by the owner); or Shared (can be edited by the owner and other users). Saved (or "bookmarked") Reports are automatically synchronized to the LeanIX-Confluence integration.
The Data Flow Visualizer gives Enterprise Architects more angles to explain the complexities of IT, and like every other built-in report in the tool, it offers business personnel new opportunities to participate directly in the process of IT strategizing. In fact, the Visualizer has even been expanded upon by ITARICON, a designer of digital solutions, to integrate with customers' SAP PI/PO and create even more shared pathways between Business and IT.
This is the innovation that LeanIX is focused on consistently improving and delivering, and alongside a team of Customer Success Agents, we can help you and your company transport enterprise data into the tool to get the process started. Just let us know your requirements and we will set up a free demonstration to see if our tool is right for you.