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Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield

Sybase gives us the flexibility to configure PowerDesigner to conform the modeling tool to the way we work rather than forcing us to change the way we work to conform to PowerDesigner.

Tim Graham
Enterprise Architecture Modeler, Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield

Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield is a mutual insurance company owned by its policyholders. The company and its subsidiaries provide health coverage to more than two million members in Iowa and South Dakota. Through the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, Wellmark is part of a trusted national network that covers more than 100 million people.

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Enhancing Enterprise Architecture Through Modeling
Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield has a well-established enterprise architecture governance program as well as a data governance program that combine to define the standard technology building blocks that help the company improve business processes. To help manage, document and understand the impact of application changes on business processes and systems, Wellmark is developing a methodology based on the Zachman Framework for Enterprise Architecture to add to its enterprise architecture (EA) program. The methodology includes a defined set of architectural models.

“We launched the enterprise architecture modeling project to bring our EA program to the next level,” says Tim Graham Enterprise Architecture Modeler for Wellmark. “Having a well-developed architecture will allow us to better understand how changes to business processes and organizational changes impact the company and who will be affected.”

To properly expand the EA program, Wellmark required additional modeling capabilities that will allow the EA team to model the business using a formal methodology.

Leveraging the Current Investment in PowerDesigner
As Wellmark began the process to develop the EA methodology, Graham looked to leverage the large number of existing data models the EA team had already created using Sybase PowerDesigner. The project launch happened to coincide with a new release of PowerDesigner (version 15) that featured additional EA functionality. Graham says that the HTML reporting feature that PowerDesigner offers will play a significant part in the EA project.

“We will be able to easily generate PowerDesigner reports in HTML and load them onto a SharePoint site so that we can disseminate the information easily and timely,” Graham says. “Because of these reporting capabilities, we don’t have to train non-technical staff on how to use PowerDesigner. They benefit from the tool even if they don’t know how to use PowerDesigner.”

The ease of using the PowerDesigner interface along with the new capabilities convinced Wellmark that the modeling tool would be best suited to build and maintain the enterprise architecture models. “We also like the flexibility that PowerDesigner offers, which lets us add functionality specific to our needs,” Graham says. “This includes adding extensions for specific DBMS functions, report templates, and Visual Basic scripts that enable us to automate many repetitive tasks.”

Wellmark considered other modeling tools but could not find one that provides the same level of impact-analysis functionality. “The PowerDesigner repository is also a key differentiator,” Graham adds. “When architects check out models for modification, we can bring the models back together through the repository, which helps us with version control. The other tools we considered had repositories, but we were not comfortable with the ability to take a model out, work on it separately, and check it back in.”

Support for the Zachman Framework for Enterprise Architecture.
PowerDesigner also closely supports the Zachman EA Framework ontology, a grid that Wellmark will use to organize views based on different perspectives. The framework allows different users to focus on what they want to look at, such as inventory or data at the scope level (CEO), down to different perspectives such as business users, architects, builders and developers. Each perspective has its own set of who, what, where, when, how and why questions.

Another key PowerDesigner feature that Wellmark appreciates is traceability, which will give the EA team the ability to create dependencies between any two object types as well as between objects that are not in the same model. The team will be able to manage the dependencies through a two-dimensional matrix.

The traceability functions in PowerDesigner will allow Wellmark to perform impact analysis, which Graham says will give Wellmark a “big bang for the buck”. The EA staff will be able to analyze how changes will impact all processes through different models, model types, and objects. “We will be able to pull it all together in one report and see everything that will be impacted by the change,” Graham says.
Improved Ability to Estimate Application-Change Impacts on Business Processes
As Wellmark builds models over time, the EA staff will keep improving its ability to estimate the impact of changes requested by the business. The team will also have a better handle on costs because it will know what is affected by the change and where. The staff will be able to make more informed decisions and prioritize more effectively because it will know what will be impacted.

“Previously, when we assessed a change, we did not know the impact, so we estimated the cost,” Graham says. “When we build out the models, we will have a better idea of what’s going to be impacted and a better idea of cost and timing.”

Wellmark will be able to see the current and future state of the business when looking to make modifications and changes. Users will be able to see the changes graphically by viewing models that allow them to absorb information that is presented according to the perspective and ‘Viewpoint’ as defined by the Zachman Framework.

“We will be able to generate the right perspective based on the audience we are interacting with,” Graham says. “The models will allow us to create visuals appropriate for the CEO and senior management as well as technical staff. It will be much easier to convey a lot of information.”

Graham says that Wellmark could not have advanced the EA program without PowerDesigners’ capability to extend models and give them the Wellmark spin. “Other modeling tools force you into a paradigm where they have a standard for how you have to create models,” Graham says. “That approach always has a fixed look and feel, which did not work well for us. The ability to easily extend PowerDesigner in our own way is a huge benefit.”

Saves Hundreds of Development Hours
PowerDesigner has helped the Wellmark EA team demonstrate the value of the architecture project and how well it’s working. “With PowerDesigner as our data modeling tool, we stay consistent in meeting our standards, such as how we create indexes and how we name indexes and keys,” Graham says. “Scripting saves us hundreds of hours as we create data models and tables, and generating scripts saves us hundreds of hours of tedious work.”

In the future, when Wellmark no longer has to re-create logical entities, logical application pieces and business rules, PowerDesigner will help tie all these components together. Wellmark can then manage business processes, architectural changes and the impact of code changes even more efficiently. “If we understand how changes will impact us, and if we find the impact faster as well as understand how it will grow, we can then spend our time planning for what the change is going to be. We don’t have to waste time looking through Visio diagrams and scanning code to determine what changes.”

The more models that Wellmark creates, the more efficiently and faster the EA staff will complete tasks—with fewer resources and the knowledge of what the impacts will be instead of just trying things and seeing what will break. “This is particularly helpful during times when staff turns over,” Graham says. “We have all the modeling stored in one central place. There’s a huge advantage in this.”

Mandatory Tool for Building Enterprise Architectures
In looking back on the progress the Wellmark EA project has achieved thus far, Graham concludes, “It would be difficult to build a true enterprise architecture without PowerDesigner. The ability to model to find the impact of changes is a game-changer for us, and PowerDesigner helps by giving us the ability to customize the modeler to the way we work. A tool like PowerDesigner that we can customize to the way we work also helps the staff become more willing to use the tool, creating even more efficiencies.”


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