Metapattern: Context and Time in Information Models

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9780201704570: Metapattern: Context and Time in Information Models
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Metapattern is a revolutionary software analysis tool that makes possible models of unprecedented precision -- and breakthrough levels of software reuse. In this book, Pieter Wisse -- the creator of Metapattern -- offers the first comprehensive introduction to this new technique. Wisse begins with an informal case study illuminating the basics of metapattern, using it to model a simple event, and demonstrating its power. He offers a detailed introduction to the concepts underlying metapattern, including time-stamping and context orientation. Next, he compares metapattern with purely object-oriented approaches in solving a series of complex information modeling problems -- showing why it can often achieve richer, more useful results. Metapattern then walks step-by-step through modeling a full-scale financial accounting application, offering diverse IT organizations practical guidance for implementing the technique -- and for using it to enhance application integration, enterprise-wide. For all software architects, object-oriented developers, managers, and team leaders seeking to achieve greater reuse in their software systems.

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From the Inside Flap:

Focused Analysis Tool

Metapattern is an exciting new approach to conceptual information modeling. It is a technique for meta-information analysis and modeling that emphasizes reusability. With the metapattern, analysis is recognized as a critical activity in its own right during information system development. The metapattern is not a method for technical design or software engineering; it is a highly focused analysis tool. But precisely because it provides powerful support for analysis, the metapattern helps focus all other development and management activities during the complete life cycle of systems. Overall success results from the great precision now available in modeling, particularly through the combination of a finely grained concept of time stamping and a recursive, simple but formal concept of context.

The metapattern views conceptual information models as analysis patterns. It is particularly valuable for aligning complex and variable requirements, even across a multitude of organizations with different processes. The concepts of context and time are critically important in these models, allowing for their adjustment (or readjustment) to time-induced and/or situational changes that the model must account for in order to maintain its integrity. Models scale to meet all such variety.

A professional analyst using the metapattern leads the way in the development of the much-needed flexible, adaptable systems that reflect the nature of the next information age. An entirely new breed of design patterns and software components may be derived from the metapattern and the concrete analysis patterns it helps specify. Any information system implementing analysis patterns that have been developed with the metapattern can enjoy a greatly extended life cycle. A special contribution to longevity is that, with the right definition of meta-information, different information systems, including legacy systems, may be provided with unambiguous interfaces over time. They may thus act, and continue to do so, in concord. Practical Orientation

This book, written by its original designer, explains the metapattern. Included are many practical examples--that is, a large number of specific analysis patterns--covering a wide range of applications. More than 170 figures capture the main ideas, with the accompanying text sketching background, considerations, and details.

Although the metapattern is basically simple, particularly once the variety offered by contexts is fully understood, its current novelty may present you with some quite natural problems. How do you become familiar with the metapattern and its use without unnecessary effort? The distribution of any innovation is characterized by such communication dilemmas. In this case, some understanding of the metapattern's general theory is a precondition to fully understanding its practical applications. On the other hand, through the exposition of specific practical applications, the understanding of the theory is greatly enhanced.

The Introduction following this Preface is designed to help you get underway. By the time you arrive at Part I, you will be equipped with a preliminary interpretation scheme that you can develop gradually as you progress.

In textbook fashion, the book begins with a theoretical explanation of the metapattern's most fundamental characteristics. This theoretical part has been kept to the absolute minimum. Practical applications are discussed as soon as possible. Where relevant, such applications provide recognizable opportunities from your daily practice, thereby extending treatment of the theory of the metapattern.

As another service to the reader, the metapattern is applied to practical problems and/or to existing patterns as their proposed solutions. Few books have been written on conceptual information modeling. Nonetheless, important problems and patterns have already been documented elsewhere. Their authors have used familiar approaches; that is, entity-attribute-relationship (EAR) modeling and modeling with object orientation (OO). Comparisons of results should assist you in understanding what is fundamentally different about the metapattern. And where the metapattern covers new ground, at least the points of departure are known (and, as existing literature is explicitly referred to, verifiable). The Book and Its Parts

The metapattern is described herein in five parts, each focused on explaining a specific hypothesis.

In Part I, Design of the Metapattern, the main concepts and structure are explained in five chapters. We explain the primary concepts of context (Chapter 1) and intext (Chapter 2) first. Together, they form the building blocks of all specific analysis models and, when reusable, analysis patterns. Next, we apply these two fundamental concepts to type (Chapter 3), time (Chapter 4), and compositions (Chapter 5). These additional three concepts are also fundamental, but to a lesser extent than context and intext. The hypothesis underlying Part I is that the recognition of multiple contexts results in a powerful approach to conceptual information modeling. By paying consistent attention to the aspect of time, we augment the approach even further.

Part II, Conceptual Solutions, compares the metapattern with traditional object orientation. An excellent source of challenging problems for discussion is Advanced Object-Oriented Analysis & Design Using UML. In that collection, J. J. Odell has published a series of his columns containing clear presentations of OO's most pressing conceptual problems. The four chapters of Part II restate Odell's important problem definitions and provide short descriptions of his solutions, followed by one or more alternatives according to the metapattern. It leads to the conclusion that the metapattern is richer than purely object-oriented approaches to information modeling. Part II argues for this hypothesis by consistently providing elegant context-oriented solutions for various outstanding problems in OO conceptual modeling.

Part III, Pattern Analysis and Design, has reuse as its main theme. Awareness is growing that conceptual information models can also be reusable. Opportunities can be turned into real profit when the modeler has reuse in mind during the first stages of modeling. A reusable information model is synonymous with a pattern. Literature is now becoming available about such concrete patterns (Data Model Patterns by D. C. Hay, Analysis Patterns by M. Fowler, and Business Process Engineering by A.W. Scheer). Part III takes a representative selection of patterns as described and prescribed by these authors. Where applicable, we add suggestions for accommodations, and given a reasonable opportunity, we often present completely different patterns to indicate new directions for information systems. Each of these books is reviewed in two chapters; thus, Part III consists of six chapters. The guiding hypothesis of Part III is that the metapattern offers a frame of reference for understanding and analyzing a variety of specific patterns.

In Part IV, A Case of Financial Accounting, the author presents in two chapters his original work on analysis patterns for financial accounting systems. Chapter 16 is a summary and Chapter 17 an extension of the generic information models from his earlier book Aspecten en Fasen, published in Dutch. The hypothesis of Part IV is that the metapattern is eminently suitable for designing innovative patterns for financial accounting systems.

Part V, Metapattern and Pluriformity, provides powerful modeling heuristics. The contents of the previous parts are drawn together in a single, last chapter. What often seems a contradiction should be taken by the professional modeler as an opportunity. Of course, information systems must fit their environment and help it develop. For the exposition in this book, the relevant information environment is a complex organization, meaning that information systems must agree with the pluriformity, plurality, and variety of organizations. But doesn't this raise a contradiction with application of patterns; that is, with reuse of information models? The hypothesis for Part V, in fact, for the whole book, strongly suggests that the metapattern helps increase uniformity in the structure for information systems, while simultaneously enabling the systems' pluriform behavior. The key to those advantages lies with using parameters for contexts. As this book makes abundantly clear, it is made possible through the definition of context as a formal variable within information sets, instead of seeing context, often implicitly and therefore unrecognized, as an informal presupposition that is kept outside. Audiences

The book is mainly targeted at professionals involved with conceptual information modeling. It also aims at those aspiring to enter the modeling profession and to their teachers.

The subdivision into parts makes it possible for each audience to organize the reading experience differently; it attempts to collect, in one book, information for both practical and theoretical (academic) purposes. The practically oriented reader may later want to turn his or her attention to the more theoretical parts to enhance understanding of the metapattern. Academically inclined readers are invited to study the more practical parts, since that is where proof of the metapattern really lies.

Scientists can make a fundamental study of the metapattern on the basis of Parts I and II. The explanation is not exhaustive, but has enough of a formal character to support research into the claims about the metapattern. Part V offers a wider meaning of the concept of infrastructure for information (and information systems). Paradoxically, this increased uniformity in infrastructural terms has positive effects for pluriformity of organizational processes.

Parts III and IV are intended for conceptual modelers of information systems who seek specific conceptual (information) patterns. The examples do not pretend to absolute validity. The entire book puts emphasis on the metapattern; that is, on the modeling approach and not so much on the results; specific patterns must often be tailor-made. Part I, and to a lesser extent Part II, provide professionals with a succinct reference to aspects of the metapattern approach to information modeling.

Part V offers important guidelines for policy makers. The metapattern allows for increased integration of different aspects of information processing. This coordination mechanism acts in parallel with the opportunity for distributing other aspects, thereby favoring autonomy. Based on increases in both standardization and flexibility, a more powerful balance and management mix for information systems in particular and organizational processes in general result.

The entire book serves users of KnitbITs as an introduction. This tool construction technology from Information Dynamics, an independent company based in the Netherlands that is involved in the research and development of complex information systems, incorporates the metapattern philosophy. It enables flexible development of specific tools; that is, applications. KnitbITs users, therefore, are mainly developers of information systems. From this book they can gain a general understanding of the conceptual origin of the standardized features regarding context, time, and validity.

As the final audience, I want to mention anyone who understands that the last word about conceptual information modeling has not been said, written, or modeled. The metapattern attempts to proceed by a vital step, thereby expressing both a small and large ambition. Acknowledgments

IBM Netherlands and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs each contracted Information Dynamics to design and develop prototypes based on early precursors of the metapattern and KnitbITs. Pieter Dekker, Jan Koster (both from IBM), Wim van de Lubbe and Hans Muller (both of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) represented these organizations. In my capacity as president of Information Dynamics, I am grateful to them for the business opportunities they offered. Personally, I want to thank them for the space they allowed for intellectual development.

My thanks also go to Jan van Heijst, at the time consulting with the Task Force Foreign Residents of the Police Organization in the Netherlands, for his spirited encouragement. I have made a special friend whose life courage and sense of humor (are they essentially the same quality?) I greatly admire. He inspired the informal case study presented in the Introduction.

To Martin Dooms I do not have to explain the reasons for my gratitude.

The important, innovative work on KnitbITs has so far been done by Information Dynamics' employees Ivar de Jong (earlier) and Martijn Houtman (now). Their suggestions for improved software constructions have also fundamentally contributed to the approach to conceptual information modeling called the metapattern. I value their excellent work, for which I gladly express my gratitude.

A remark made by Henk Gazendam, professor of information systems at the University of Twente, Netherlands, about one of my other texts led me to the idea to frame my approach to conceptual information modeling in the patterns movement. He also mentioned A.W. Scheer to me, thereby pointing to his work, and through a specific book's title led me to consider D. C. Hay's work. The work of both of these authors is discussed in Part III.

The authors of the books reviewed here deserve special mention. Odell, Scheer, Hay, and Fowler have made important ideas publicly accessible so that others may build on them. I recommend that every serious modeler study their work. They have provided me with the needed background to expound the metapattern in ways that make it easier to understand for many readers. Through them I also gained inspiration to develop alternative models and patterns. Whatever criticism I direct at their work is meant respectfully. I express the hope that they, and others, will feel encouraged to continue constructive discussion to advance conceptual information modeling.

Jim Odell kindly referred me to Addison-Wesley for publication. He also read an earlier version of Parts I and II of my manuscript. Contrary to his (too) modest suggestion, I maintained Chapters 7 through 9, since I have received favorable reactions to sketching the metapattern against the background of his work. I decided not to forgo the highly valued pedagogical opportunity of an extensive discussion of Odell's book.

Through Odell's introduction, I also corresponded by e-mail with Haim Kilov. Kilov kindly drew my attention to the Reference Model for Open Distributed Processing (RM-ODP). I am glad for the opportunity to compare the metapattern with RM-ODP (see Appendix B).

Paul Becker, my acquisitions editor at Addison-Wesley, and Ross Venables, assistant editor, have guided me pleasantly and professionally through the process of preparing the manuscript for publication. Ross let me feel that, however long a publishing decision might take, it would be positive. I have greatly benefited from the reviews Paul solicited. I respect the reviewers' anonymity. It makes me all the more gratefu...

From the Back Cover:

Metapattern is a powerful cutting-edge approach to large-scale information analysis and modeling. This highly focused analysis tool emphasizes reusability and--unlike other modeling approaches--structurally incorporates the elements of both time and multiple contexts. As a result, systems developed using the metapattern approach exhibit the adaptability and extended life cycle critical to the survival of systems in the upcoming information age. The metapattern is also valuable for aligning complex and variable requirements, even across a multitude of organizations with different processes.

Written by its originator, Metapattern: Context and Time in Information Models introduces the technology and eases the learning curve with clear explanations, practical examples, and numerous illustrations. This book explains the fundamental metapattern concepts of context and intext, along with type, time, and compositions. In particular, it discusses how the recognition of multiple contexts results in a powerful approach to conceptual information modeling. A large-scale case study also demonstrates how the metapattern approach can be applied to a financial accounting system and other real-world applications.

To help readers build on familiar territory, Metapattern compares the metapattern approach with object-oriented analysis and modeling, offering metapattern alternatives that demonstrate its richness in providing context-oriented solutions. In addition, the author reviews major established design patterns in data modeling, analysis, and business process engineering, and shows how the metapattern provides a frame of reference for understanding, accommodating, and transcending these patterns. He also provides powerful modeling heuristics that take into account plurality through the definition of context, and by doing so, bring consistency and uniformity to information systems.

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