Ovum view: The future of software development

Agile programming is clearly part of the future, IT professionals at Computer Weekly's 500 Club heard last month, though there was tacit agreement among the speakers that agile the verb was key here, and not agile the noun

Agile programming is clearly part of the future, IT professionals at Computer Weekly's 500 Club heard last month, though there was tacit agreement among the speakers that agile the verb was key here, and not agile the noun. 

In Ovum’s opinion, the continuation of what agile has started has to be about engagement with the business, and Gus Power, chief technology officer at Energized Work, touched on this, arguing that business processes are the new front line for developers.  

Agile and professionalism in the industry

Power said that agile is a poisoned marketing term, and the other speakers nodded in agreement. This may be taking things too far, and I would like to see more pride in what agile/agile has achieved, but the message that certifications and rote-by-book are merely the start of learning agile and the key is its practice is well meant.

There have certainly been certification wars in the agile community, and being certified as a scrum master after sitting through a series of presentations in a 500-filled hall is hardly what the movement is about, but in truth the software community has never been obsessive about pieces of paper – skills and references/recommendations count for far more.

This debate on certification touches on an important issue in software development – attempts to turn developers into professional software engineers, and even systems engineers. The IT industry and computer science as taught in universities are far apart, and there is a lack of a professional track that mechanical or electrical engineers enjoy. 

The CW500 Club event

Computer Weekly’s CW500 club event on 27 June 2012 in London was on the topic of the future of software development. The three speakers were Gus Power (Energized Work), Jagdeep Singh (Financial Times), and Dave Heath (Laterooms.com)

This is partly due to IT being such a young industry and still going through so many learning curves; there is no body of practices that all can agree software engineers should learn and be accountable for, which means they can be sued if they fail – not a comfortable idea given the prevalence of software bugs. 

I do believe that agile and lean thinking will be part of some future body of knowledge that is an agreed foundation for software development.

The next hurdle for IT is business transformation

The (near) future of software development may perhaps be witnessed as the unfolding of current impediments and attempts to overcome them. The biggest one is undoubtedly the problem of communication between the main business and its IT department – the crossing of this bridge is an old issue and surely the time is ripe to rethink the whole problem. 

We would like to think of IT projects as business projects with IT content – and to achieve that, the business needs to change. There is only so much that IT can transform itself, and unless the rest of the business changes then a new mode of running the business will never take place. 

The business world is already taking note of new approaches to innovation and rapid iterations that fine-tune marketing and sales operations to meet customer demand. For web-based businesses where IT is at the heart of the business this is easy to adopt – agile and lean practices are used to transform the whole business operation, and rethinking business processes is at the root of this.

Unlike traditional business process management, which was a tools-based solution seeking a reason for existence (fine as long as you knew what you wanted to change and why you were changing it), agile business transformation is very clear about what the changes should be, and being evidence-based is grounded on what succeeds – and now we can bring in agile business process management (BPM). This is a huge topic that I believe has much to offer, and I’m pleased to see Power voiced similar sentiments.

The software community has never been obsessive about [qualifications] – skills and references/ recommendations count more

Michael Azoff, principal analyst, Ovum

The sociability of geeks and collaboration

A final word on this topic, which recurs whenever agile is discussed, and this is about the "techie" type of person who waxes lyrical on development topics but is tongue-tied on anything else, likes to work alone and during unsocial hours. Agile is changing this demographic in that developers are expected to be communicative and ready to collaborate, and to generally be more social, including working normal hours – pair programming is a fine example of this.

Power did draw a word of caution that you do not want to exclude the old techie type of person through self-selection of team members, when these people can add value, and we should be more accepting of diverse types of people.

Collaboration did crop up as an area where taken too far it becomes a distraction, and interestingly Singh mentioned how at the Financial Times there are "no talking" periods agreed when developers are allowed to work without distraction.

Michael Azoff is principal analyst, software solutions group, at analyst group Ovum.


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