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CASE becomes ALM and consolidates

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Comment Ever since Rational got three development automation gurus in the same room to agree on UML (Unified Modelling Language) and put an end to those pointless arguments about what shape the boxes in an analysis/design model should be, what used to be called CASE (Computer Aided Software Engineering) has been on a bit of a roll.

Well, with the sort of people who believe that you can automate the process of developing computer software, anyway.

Now, perhaps driven by the need to be able to demonstrate corporate governance (and, since everything is built on automated systems these days, this has to include IT governance) to third parties such as regulators and shareholders, it is becoming mainstream, although it is usually called something different these days. The concept is also being extended to cover computer assistance for the delivery, management, and operating of automated business systems, not just software engineering.

We are thus seeing a new focus on Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) as vendors realise that only end-to-end governance with transparency to stakeholders outside of the IT group really makes any sense. And there is plenty of product/vendor consolidation as the established leaders flesh out the bits of the lifecycle they’ve neglected in the past with best of breed products.

The missing bit is often Requirements Management. After all, the saddest thing in software development is seeing someone craft a high-quality piece of software which solves the wrong problem.

So, for example, we see Compuware acquiring Steeltrace, one of the more innovative Requirements Management product vendors, which has been a Compuware partner for some time.

The important part of this is the complimentary nature of the products now in the Compuware portfolio. It already has a strong Model Driven Architecture (MDA) story, transforming “Platform Independent Models” (PIM) into code, via OptimalJ, but MDA has been weak, in the past, on the “Computationally Independent Model” (CIM) part of the story.

The CIM looks at the complete business system regardless of which bits of it you’ll automate. However, MDA explained, for example, which is co-authored by Wim Bast of Compuware, only devotes part of one page (out of 150) to the CIM. There is, in fact, a real problem with automatically transforming a CIM into a PIM because a human decision has to be made as to where the man-machine boundary is placed, which (as MDA is all about automatic transformation of the different models) may explain the limited use of the CIM so far. Now, however, Andrew Watson (technical director of the OMG) seems to see business process modelling as implementing the CIM.

Steeltrace requirements management, however, could also address this potential hole in the MDA story, by providing for a structured analysis and refinement of business requirements, some of which may never be automated.

Compuware also acquired the Changepoint product in 2004, which addresses IT Governance in general. This could also complement its latest Steeltrace acquisition. The ultimate failure in IT Governance is to waste money on a technology which doesn’t address a business requirement; resulting in a cancelled project or, worse, a dysfunctional project that is forced into production.

QACenter is yet another Compuware technology which supports automated risk-based testing – and it is well-known that early testing is cost-effective testing. With Steeltrace, testing could effectively start at the requirements stage and trace through into automated test cases run against the coded system. It could even continue into the operational use of the system, as you check that the working system continues to satisfy the business’ requirements.

To my mind, the cheapest and most effective place to remove defects is during requirements analysis. This is when unnecessary requirements can be eliminated, the business stakeholders can be questioned as to their understanding of their business processes (sometimes, what the user asks for isn’t what the user really meant to ask for) and the most cost-effective man-machine boundary can be drawn. Sometimes, a manual decision made by an experienced human being is more cost-effective than developing an automated artificial intelligence solution.

Compuware’s main task now is to meld all these different products into a coherent whole, addressing the Application Management Lifecycle in its entirety, but the signs are that it will succeed in doing this. However, Compuware certainly isn’t the only game – or the only tool consolidator – in town and the others also have their strengths.

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