What is our primary use case?
We do a lot of system interface analysis. We have about 40 systems that we rolled up and manage at the CIO level, in the office where I work. We do system analysis: system coordination, systems that are being retired, systems that are merging together, systems that are consuming other capabilities resulting in an older system being shut down. We organize, manage, and administer the funding that flows to those 40 different systems. We use the tool to model and analyze the decisions we make about those 40 systems. Those kinds of decisions are helped with the analysis we do and the modeling that we do.
We also have an associated group that works on the workflow process side. I helped them convert a lot of their old Visio work to erwin EA. That took a lot of man-hours.
We use it as a hosted solution. erwin hosts the servers that provide the product.
How has it helped my organization?
With Visio, you simply get a picture, a diagram. It doesn't have any intelligence behind it and you can't really do any collaboration. The collaboration that we do use with erwin EA is like a check-in/check-out-type of functionality where, if I'm working on a diagram, my colleague can only see the diagram but he can't change it. He's locked out while I'm working on it.
Because work is in a single, hosted location, everyone is hitting the same image. That's helped us a lot in being able to share work and exchange ideas and thoughts. We can make changes and still have it all in one central repository. That's helped us a lot because we're a geographically distributed group of people.
Before erwin, we would have had to send giant files back and forth. We had to send PDFs and printed copies of things. To work in Visio you really have to exchange files: You update a file, send it to a person, have them look at it, mark it up, scan it, and PDF it back to you. It was not very good.
What is most valuable?
For me, the most valuable features are the system analytics and system capabilities, the modeling, and being able to diagram-out system interfaces.
And in equal measure, on the process side, the workflow side gives us the ability to configure a group of workflow models and drill down into supporting documentation. And on that side of the business, they also use erwin Evolve a lot, the web deployment publishing capability. They're very heavily dependent on that. I like that as well, but I'm not nearly as dependent on it. Our audience just doesn't consume the output in that way very much. But I think it's a fantastic way to publish what you do in the tool.
Its flexibility and scalability to support all stakeholders in making informed decisions are powerful capabilities. I can send images in the PDF form, along with the relationships and the associations that are a very important part of what we do. It can show what is affected and what is impacted by a certain change in one area of the system architecture or enterprise architecture. I can very quickly draw those issues and topics to the fore.
Our client likes to see things on PowerPoint slides, so we often have to publish things out to an image, and put that in a PowerPoint. erwin EA has that functionality.
I've tried to socialize and evangelize the Evolve web deployment, so that our client would understand how easily they could interface with it. But given the defense-related and government-related environment that we're in, that isn't always something that they take advantage of.
Also, the fact that admin tasks are performed by desktop applications has been done fairly well in the solution. I'm able to turn people on and off within it. We've had people come and go from our environment. I'm able to configure them, set them up, get them using it, and get them on their feet fairly easily.
What needs improvement?
The solution's integration capabilities with other tools in our system has not been all that well done. We have people who use ARIS, who use System Architect and, of course, Visio. erwin has very limited ways to import and export from those kinds of tools. It's not a very easy thing to do. It hasn't blocked anything that we've tried to accomplish, but I can tell you that we are about to begin discussions with the larger defense-functional areas about coming to a common tool. A lot of people use the System Architect already. Deployment of that seems to be more widely accepted. They pay a lot of attention to industry reviews. erwin is in the lower-left quadrant, as being a niche player, although I don't think of erwin as a niche player. But it isn't easy to use erwin EA to interact with other tools, in my experience.
In addition, a little feature that would be helpful to me, although it is incredibly down-in-the-weeds, tool-specific, would be the ability to more easily copy the style of one object to another object of the same type. Right now, there's a way of doing that, but to me it's more complicated than it should be. And it's more complicated than other tools I have used. If I have a system object, I would like to be able to configure it in bold print and specify the size and colors, etc. And I would like to copy that same style to any other system objects so that they look the same. There is just not an easy way to do that in erwin. I brought it up with erwin early on but I don't know where they went with it. They showed me how to do it and the way it currently works but it just seemed so much more difficult than a simple couple of clicks: a "Copy Style" type of thing.
For how long have I used the solution?
I've been using it for just about three years.
What do I think about the stability of the solution?
It's a very stable product in terms of its performance. There are little design elements that I should list for them as suggestions at some point. But once we got it stabilized and learned the tricks of the trade and how to use it properly, there were no problems with stability.
What do I think about the scalability of the solution?
It has easily scaled to what we want. If you buy a license, you get full access. You can have as many users as you wish. I have no issues or concerns with scalability.
How are customer service and technical support?
In terms of support, I couldn't be happier with Grace, erwin's support rep who provides us with fantastic support. We had great support from their field consultant, Brian Bush, as well. He was a superstar getting us all trained and he's been very helpful to me over the three years when I've needed some help on certain ideas.
When the surveys come out, I give Grace five stars. She's been very good, and so is Brian.
That's their standard tech support. It was nothing that we had to pay anything for. I got my questions answered when stuck or lost or there something that I didn't know how to get around.
I give the support five out of five stars. They've been really helpful.
Which solution did I use previously and why did I switch?
We used ProVision. We switched to erwin because The Department of Defense wanted us to switch to it. They wanted something with better support of The Department of Defense architecture framework. ProVision did not have that. Erwin has very capable and validated support of the DoDAF.
How was the initial setup?
We had a consultant who did the setup for us. It was completely on their shoulders to get us up and configured. We simply have a desktop tool, a remote access link, that gets us to the server. We log on and we're off and running. It's been working very well. It wasn't complicated at all because I didn't have to get involved with the installation and the setup at the server-side. We pay a fee for that service so we don't have to have anyone on our side who knows all about the server setup.
Deployment, including training, took a week. We trained in about four days and then went back to our workstations and off we went.
The strategy was to have our groups, one in DC, one in West Virginia, and the one where I work in Columbus, Ohio be able to work collectively and collaboratively. That's what we are able to do. That was one of the big criteria.
What's my experience with pricing, setup cost, and licensing?
The cost is something like $15,000, per license. But I haven't looked at those numbers in three years. It was over $100,000 to initially set everything up and get it all configured.
In addition to the standard fees there's the hosting cost. That's something like $1,000 a month.
Which other solutions did I evaluate?
We tried many options. We had a whole project of analysis of different tools and Erwin checked all the boxes. We looked at something called In2itive. That and System Architect were among top alternatives. We just found erwin to be the most suitable. It won out in several ways, but we thought that the web deployment — the Evolve capability — also looked really strong. We felt that worked well.
Every one of these solutions has an edge or a boundary to its capabilities. There are little things, quirks, that I would like to see erwin do differently. But every one of these tools has something that people either embrace or wish was easier to do. None of them is a dream to use. You have to know what you're doing and be able to get around the limitations.
What other advice do I have?
Start with the basics and get a fundamental understanding of how the suite is configured. There is a modeling suite, an object analysis suite — the object window — and the analytical tools.
I love the web deployment, the Evolve capability. That is really nicely done. The ability to collaborate across geographically distributed installations seems to be working well for us. I wish it had more API-type interface exchanges with other tools that made it much easier to transfer things to and from something like System Architect, and not to have to go through a lot of man-hours to recreate what we needed to recreate. But otherwise, it has done the job for us and continues to do so.
We have five users, with three of them being power users. And for the maintenance and administration of the tool, it's me and another gentleman in West Virginia who mostly deal with things like that. We don't have any plans to extend usage beyond those people. If anything goes wacky on the server, we just get erwin people involved.
I give it a seven out of 10 because there are that I'd love to see it do more easily.