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Bull goes industrial with software factory

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French IT giant Bull plans to turn software development into an industrial process with its software factory announced earlier this month.

The factory approach combines Bull's Novaforge development toolkit with its network of service centres to create a framework for distributed development.

"We want to achieve three tasks with the software factory. We want to equip our service centres with low-cost tools, unify the way we work across the Internet and provide development facilities for our customers," explains Jean-Pierre Barbéris, general manager for Bull Services and Solutions.

There is, of course, nothing new in trying to apply manufacturing techniques to software development. Indeed, the central thrust of improvements in the way software is created has embraced engineering concepts since the 1960s with first modular, then structured and object-oriented programming. Real improvements have been marginal, however, and software developers continue to wrestle with the tough problem of how to build good software which users want.

But Bull claims that the combination of open code developed collaboratively and tried and tested project management offers the best answer to date.

Barbéris says the trick is to put the pieces together in the right way: "You can download all of the pieces from the internet but we have aggregated them and made them into a commodity. If you need to outsource a service, you need the capabilities and tools in this form - a little like gas or electricity."

He goes on to say that the tools and techniques to be used in the software factory have been refined over the last six or seven years in a series of high-profile projects including collaborative development for IBM's AIX operating system.

"The AIX development project is a worldwide distributed development to integrate various communications sockets and IP communications into AIX. We will be working on this with IBM until 2009."

Bull has also used the factory concept for two successful French government development projects - one to create electronic forms for citizen services such as tax returns and another to build a human resources management system for the French navy. All of the projects have used dispersed development teams based in Bull offices around the world and coordinated through the web.

"We have run several successful projects since 2000 using this approach and now we are taking it to our customers," says Barbéris.

The software factory is the first element in a broader strategy which Bull plans to roll out through 2007 under the umbrella of the 7i programme.

Barbéris says the programme aims to give customers good quality IT systems at low cost by applying Bull's software development experience: "Most customers are in a hurry to get the proper systems out there and want to see how they can speed up the process. The software factory is the first of seven initiatives to help them achieve this. Later initiatives will build on this to harness innovation, aid decision making, capitalise on knowledge, and so on." ®

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