If you have a group of programmers, their managers and your customers, each with their own way of tracking where a project is up to and whether milestones have been met — chances are you need software to enforce efficient processes and reporting. This is where application lifecycle management (ALM) products fill their niche.
Builder AU talked to three organisations about their experience with ALM products. Infosys is an international provider of consulting and IT services. IP Australia is the Australian Government agency responsible for administering patents, trade marks, designs and plant breeder's rights. Transpacific Industries provides integrated industrial cleaning and total waste management to customers across Australia and New Zealand.
Why do you use an ALM suite?
"I hate going over budget, I hate being late," says Keith Dallinger, group IT manager at Transpacific. His staff are responsible for an in-house logistics management application that combines dispatching, scheduling, GPS tracking, invoicing and more. No off-the-shelf package had the required facilities, so Transpacific built a Web application that would do the job and integrate with the company's accounting system.
Transpacific uses a range of technologies including ColdFusion, Java, PHP and .NET, and Dallinger selected Borland's ALM suite because it comfortably handles them all.
"Some of the others we tested didn't work so smoothly across all out Web technologies," he says.
"IP Australia uses an ALM suite to achieve better product and enterprise management of our application development, maintenance and support activities as well as solve a number of problems that have arisen from too much of a project-only focus in some developments," says Mark Champion, director of information management strategy and governance within IP Australia's business and information management solutions group.
IP Australia mainly uses elements of Borland's ALM suite, including Caliber RM, StarTeam and Together, plus components from Rational (eg, Functional Tester) and Holocentric Modeler (for business process modelling).
"We are currently examining tools in the portfolio management and requirements elicitation fields and in the future will look at other ALM products, with a preference for integrated tools from our existing ALM suite," says Champion.Infosys senior solutions manager Anand Santhanam says ALM allows his colleagues to "collaborate better globally on most aspects of development, maintenance and management of lifecycle of applications."
"We find the IBM Rational toolset to be one of the leading solutions available in the industry today," he adds.
What problems does an ALM suite solve?
Both Champion and Santhanam point to the way ALM provides traceability throughout the lifecycle as one of its major benefits, whether that's the linkage between business requirements and component design, or the visibility of changes made over time.
IP Australia also benefits from having a single repository of product information, from requirements and design to code and test; the ability to incorporate models as an ongoing part of the product rather than ad-hoc unrelated working items; and from the standardisation of application development processes, practices and tools, explains Champion.
ALM also makes it easier for Infosys to break a project into logical units that can be distributed around the world without compromising the overall integrity, says Santhanam, as well as improving reporting to customers.
Transpacific's primary ALM focus is on functional and useability testing to ensure the application meets the business's requirements. "I've been very focused on delivering a quality product to the business within budget," says Dallinger, explaining that ALM helps his team deliver quality software that meets business needs in a timely manner.
How were those problems solved prior to ALM?
"Mostly these problems have not been solved in the past," says Champion.
Santhanam isn't quite so pessimistic, pointing instead to the ad hoc, non-systematic and costly processes needed to transfer lifecycle information between system development tools.
Dallinger too was concerned about the cost of using manual processes for testing, documentation and related functions, but he also notes that they also provide greater opportunities for things to go wrong than with a standardised and automated approach.
What are the benefits for managers?
Managers benefit from ALM as it provides them with confidence that they are deploying quality products that meet business needs and are usable, says Dallinger.
Standardised methods allow better estimation and planning, while integrated tools and processes provide better collection of metric information and therefore greater visibility of development activity, says Champion. Better traceability allows for improved impact analysis and issue management.
"[ALM] improves process efficiency, traceability and productivity of developers, and provides more flexibility in doing work collaboratively in a global delivery model," says Santhanam.
What are the benefits for developers?
Dallinger sees a very straightforward benefit for developers: it frees them from clerical processes and gives them more time to actually develop software — a position that Champion echoes.
The adoption of a standardised toolset also reduces the demands on developers, a point raised by Champion and Santhanam. Those tools may also be more sophisticated and provide more advanced user interfaces than their non-ALM equivalents.
"Better traceability allows developers to better understand the 'why' behind changes, and decreases how often they get blind-sided by unseen user expectations, boundary conditions or obscure business logic," says Champion, while "access to a knowledge base of product information lets them find the information they need when they need it."
And when the coding and testing is complete, ALM reduces the risk of human error and costly re-work in areas such as configuration management, suggests Santhanam.
What is the cost and infrastructure involved?
Our users were very cagey on the question of cost.
"Based on very conservative estimates, our total ALM improvement initiative will see a net reduction in total development cost — based on equivalent throughput — within two years," says Champion. Infrastructure requirements are "roughly comparable" to those of the existing development tools.
The software "wasn't that expensive", says Dallinger and the hardware requirements could be accommodated within Transpacific's existing servers.
"[It] depends on a lot of aspects, [so] this is a difficult question to answer," says Santhanam.
What are the shortcomings of ALM software?
"I would have to say that integration is the single biggest shortcoming of ALM software at the moment," says Champion. "Ironically, integration is also one of the main reasons we use an ALM suite."
Integration is improving, he says, but vendors tend to extend their suites by acquiring products, and "it usually take a couple of releases to get them working well together as a part of the suite."
Integration between an outsourcer and its client can also be an issue. "Sometimes if the customer's system environment has different toolsets, it becomes harder to integrate and import-export the information," says Santhanam.
Another problem he identifies is that the software doesn't manage itself and therefore "needs dedicated administration for effective use."
Dallinger is very positive: "it does what we want it to do," he says. However, he's not resting on his laurels and is still looking to improve and extend his team's use of ALM in order to more quickly meet business needs as they arise.