A Farewell to MODAF

Ian Bailey (@MonkeyChap)

As you will no doubt be aware, MOD plans to end its support for MODAF in favour of the new version of the NATO Architecture Framework (the acronymically challenged “NAF”). MOD has been very active in the development of NAF v4, sponsoring Team Ensure (including me !) to develop the standard based on existing NAF and MODAF documentation. It now seems that NAF will be a NATO STANAG, which is good news in many ways but does mean the process is slow.

Although MODAF isn’t gone yet, I thought now would be a good time to reflect on what we did as this is probably the last IEA Conference in MODAF’s life. IEA was established with the express purpose of starting a community of MODAF users. I think we did this, and what’s more I think we went further. The IEA community goes way beyond MODAF users, but I think everyone involved has a common view that taking a holistic view to business and technology, although difficult, is worth the effort.

MODAF itself, despite having many detractors, has thrived. It may not be as well known as DoDAF, Zachman or TOGAF, but its influence has been significant. It introduced capability modelling before any of the business journals started rabbiting on about it, and long before the other architecture frameworks adopted the approach. It had a formal meta-model when none of the others did. And that meta-model, M3, has gone on to be used in UPDM (90% identical to M3) which it now seems is the US DoD’s favoured approach. MODAF spawned TRAK, which was free of the legacy user base MODAF had, and so was able to do a lot of things we’d been trying to do in MODAF for a long time. NAF, from v3 onwards has been based on MODAF, and most NAF users still use the MODAF documentation when developing their frameworks. Even DoDAF saw fit to adopt the MODAF capability and strategic views. Oh yeah, GCHQ and NATS use it too. Despite all this, MOD never really seemed to know what to do with its little success story, and MODAF really only survived because the sheer enthusiasm of its users.

MODAF had a tough birth. It came into existence with the purpose of extending the DoDAF specification to support the MOD acquisition approach. The work began just as MOD was fighting two expensive conflicts in far-flung locations. Funding was always tight, and priorities were always elsewhere. Inevitably, MODAF v1 was a compromise, but many of the problems were fixed in v1.1.

In the ten years MODAF has been around, I’ve seen MOD’s attitude to architecture change drastically. Initially, there was immense push-back from the military, and cash-strapped IPTs saw it as just another box-ticking exercise to waste their time. Some early projects spent large amounts of money, enthusiastically trying to model the world only to find the world had spun around since they started the modelling. After a number of failures, there was a time when it seemed no-one would ever consider architecture again. Throughout all this though, there was a cadre of individuals who kept it going, and by applying architecture approach sparingly and sensibly, started to make a difference. I’m pleased to say they were nearly all IEA regulars. I don’t think anyone in their right mind would try to procure a complex system today without some sort of architecture, but back in 2005 few if any were architected.

Looking to the future, I’m really pleased with NAF v4. My hopes for it being a website-based standard that could adapt quickly to changing requirements have been somewhat dashed by the requirement for a STANAG, but you can’t have it all, and the clout that a STANAG brings will more than make up for it. I’m still jealous of the freedom Nic had when he developed TRAK, and I still like the idea of an open-source framework.

MODAF was the work of many people over the years. Working with them has been thoroughly enjoyable, frequently stressful, and often humbling. There were some truly spectacular technical arguments, and some fantastically talented people involved (those two things tend to go together). Architects like an argument. People who architect architecture frameworks are able to bootstrap an argument out of thin air. I don’t ever recall a pointless argument though – every one of them was driven by a passion to build something that was right. I think NAF v4 is going to be better than MODAF ever was. They just need to do something about that acronym…

Keith Hasteley of MOD ISS will be at IEA to talk about NAF v4. I hope to see you all there.