Study finds poor communication is wasting developers' time

Inneffective communications are hindering the management of application developers' time, including bug fixing work, the Dynamic...

Inneffective communications are hindering the management of application developers' time, including bug fixing work, the Dynamic Markets study revealed.

The method of solving a problem depends on the type of bug, but Cherie Taylor, managing director at Dynamic Markets, said a weakness among the businesses surveyed was the length of time they took to communicate problems to their IT departments.

And communications problems persisted once the problem had been logged with the IT department, the survey found.

The average proportion of time spent actually fixing, rather than communicating a problem was 36%. Some 40% of technical support and application developers questioned spent less than 25% of their time fixing a problem. The remainder of their time was spent reproducing the problem on test systems and communicating it to other team members and people in the company, the survey found.

Worryingly, more than 20% of IT managers surveyed said they were unsure what percentage of their application development teams' time was being spent on supporting live applications.

In fact, IT directors in manufacturing companies thought their application developers spent the least amount of their time solving live application problems - they actually spent more time on this than other areas.

The findings reflect research due to be published by Butler Group in November. Michael Azoff, senior research analyst at Butler Group, said, "Eighty per cent of software costs occur in the production stage."

He said a lot of time and effort was being expended fixing bugs once the software was in production. Often the lead developers in an organisation are called in when a serious bug is encountered.

A report published by US government organisation the National Institute of Standards and Technology in May 2002 found that the annual cost to the US economy of an inadequate infrastructure for software testing was an estimated £12.2bn to £32.8bn.

The Butler research also identified several other problem areas, including application performance degradation, bandwidth issues and capacity planning. Azoff said, "Businesses can lower support costs and reduce downtime by running applications better."

He urged IT directors to focus on service level agreements. "Monitoring of service is not very frequent, and so companies are not really benefiting [from SLAs]. It is important to have tools in place to do optimisations."

Azoff said support costs were also increasing because of the complexity of modern applications. He recommended that users assess technologies such as the Java Management Extensions specification, which provides a way to build service monitoring into applications.

Using the application to check itself - autonomic computing - is one of the goals the IT industry is striving towards. The Dynamic Markets survey found that users in financial institutes were ahead of the curve with 46% of financial services users saying they used an application's own code to solve problems.

The survey also found that 38% of technical support and application development staff sift through code, line by line, to track problems. Only 10% said they use specialist problem isolation tools.

Oren Modai, vice-president of European operations at Identify Software, said, "Application problem resolution is very difficult because it takes time to find where the problem occurs." If a user can speed up the time taken to identify where the bug has occurred, in theory, the cost of support should come down.

Modai said, "Problem resolution centres on recreating and communicating the problem." According to the Dynamic Markets research, this is an area where application developers spent the majority of their time.

Identity Software has developed a "black box recorder" for application software, which monitors the code, allowing software developers to see what has happened when a problem occurs.

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