Openness is key to successful application lifecycle management

Application lifecycle management approaches can help IT directors keep a handle on their software projects, but don't get locked in by suppliers

In today's fast-moving and highly regulated business environment, the role of the CIO increasingly cuts across a wide range of business priorities and initiatives.

This broadening remit can make it difficult to set clear priorities and gauge the effectiveness of a CIO. To maintain their focus and deliver the goals of the organisation, CIOs must have the authority to set and manage the processes that lie behind the operations of their firm.

They also need the freedom to choose the right tools and technologies for the job in hand, and the ability to track the processes they are responsible for. One area where these issues frequently come to a head is software delivery.

Many IT organisations spend millions of pounds on software development tools over the years. Executives spend their time searching for best-of-breed packages within their budget that will help their project to be completed on time and deliver the desired goals.

The result of this is that IT suppliers have on hand a bucket load of attractively priced development lifecycle tools. But these often do not fit the specific requirements of a project.

This trend has done nothing to improve the perception that software delivery is a complicated undertaking that inevitably leads to cost overruns and schedule slippages. Application lifecycle management has long been trumpeted as the miracle cure for this problem.

Mixed results

Unfortunately, the truth is that application lifecycle management has had mixed results in transforming the business value of software delivery processes. To understand why, one needs to take a close look at the way that many suppliers have approached application lifecycle management: aggressively promoting restrictive, end-to-end offerings that aim to lock customers into proprietary IT platforms.

For the customer, the resulting choices are often far from ideal. One choice is to manage the delivery process using different tools for different roles and platforms, resulting in CIOs having little control or tracking ability.

The other option is to rip and replace existing tools with a monolithic platform, and for CIOs put their trust - and professional reputation - in the hands of a supplier with an agenda that may not reflect their own.

Given these realities, it is not surprising that early attempts at application lifecycle management often delivered limited improvements to the development lifecycle process.

A successful application delivery process depends on visibility across tools and processes and the ability to measure results across the entire lifecycle. When application lifecycle management approaches succeed in these areas, they work well. When visibility and measurability is limited to certain phases or tools, results slip.

In addressing the complexity of the role of the CIO in business, the first generation of application lifecycle management approaches missed the mark.

Importance of openness

Should the concept of application lifecycle management be scrapped altogether? No. The core concepts that animated the application lifecycle management movement remain sound. One of these core concepts it that of openness. An application lifecycle management platform that aims to restrict the capabilities of the development team is destined to fail.

When the developer has choice over tools and technologies - and the ability to leverage the knowledge, skills and capabilities not just within their team but across the industry - the software delivery process will be truly transformed. Application lifecycle management can live up to its potential, but only when the open and diverse nature of today's enterprise information systems is taken on board.

What is encouraging is that companies such as Borland are moving towards this open approach to application lifecycle management. The industry is finally seeing interested parties taking the higher road that will eventually bring value to all. For instance, Borland's Open application lifecycle management approach promises the openness, visibility and measurability that is central to successful project delivery.

Borland's application lifecycle management is not one that requires the organisation to rip and replace across the vertical slices of software delivery lifecycles. It is a way to connect, manage and measure all the activities and assets across the application lifecycle. It is a holistic approach to software development, aligning business objects with development activities to deliver maximum value.

● Bob Doyle is a former CIO of Alliance Food Services

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