Software searches Air Force documents for new meaning

Federal intelligence analysts could soon be using an advertising and marketing tool to catch terrorists before they strike.

Software process, re-use, and applications are key to transforming the military and aerospace sectors

By Michelle Dickey

The military and defense aerospace sectors are looking for innovative technology not only to help them achieve an internal transformation, but also to develop complex applications for many combat platforms.

Reaching these goals will require these defense organizations to focus their efforts on three main areas:

  • documenting the transformation of their software assets and instituting process improvements in their development environments;
  • implementing large-scale enterprise software re-use programs; and
  • producing top quality, powerful functionality to augment the power and reach of existing military and defense aerospace applications.

The discipline of enterprise change management — otherwise known as ECM — can help make achieving these goals possible. ECM provides the functions of version, process, change, build, and release management.

Advanced ECM solutions accommodate a wide range of platforms and integrate seamlessly with many development environments and tools in project management, testing, requirements analysis, and design.

ECM tools provide developers with a single point of control, from which they can coordinate their changes either on Web, distributed, or mainframe environments. This helps users establish a flexible infrastructure to manage the progression of all changes to applications and documentation across the lifecycle.

ECM technology and the audit trail it provides make it possible for military and defense aerospace organizations to document all aspects of the evolution of their applications. Such an approach is necessary for all military and defense aerospace organizations because they must be able to prove to the U.S. defense agencies and others that they are fulfilling their requirements for achieving effective transformation.

ECM solutions make it possible for military and defense aerospace enterprises to demonstrate this compliance in a matter of minutes and hours, as opposed to days and weeks. The reason: users can instantly show the status of their software initiatives and all the changes they made. This can reduce or eliminate the need to rely on a paper-based trail, which can be difficult to access as records may be located in various remote locations across the country.

Systems integrators must view documenting the transformation of software assets not as one task but in the context of the whole. Military and defense aerospace organizations will find it easy to showcase the transformation of their enterprises if they are able to demonstrate how they are evolving their software assets to meet the expanded needs of defense agencies and customers worldwide.

Software regulates almost all facets of operations inside military and defense aerospace organizations, so software changes contribute directly to the transformation of these organizations. Consequently, the audit trail function of ECM can be a competitive advantage.

Similarly, the process management functionality of ECM enables military and defense aerospace organizations to improve their processes continuously. ECM helps the enterprise comply with the Software Engineering Institute (SEI) Capability Maturity Model (CMM), which provides a road map for organizations to follow to achieve process improvements.

In the first stage defined as CMM level one, the enterprise adopts basic software management practices, which can be automated or paper-based. Management decisions are typically project-centric.

At CMM level two, the organization starts to implement the activities for all its development efforts in the same manner. All reporting and auditing tasks follow the same pattern. This standardization approach provides common processes and reporting standards, centralized and cost-effective training, and easy project start-up with interchangeable teams.

In CMM level three, the organization starts to standardize automated ECM tools to manage software assets from one point of control. This approach enables the military and defense aerospace organization to focus on its processes, common reporting mechanisms, and shared vocabulary. It is during this phase that many organizations will explore opportunities for re-using their software assets.

At CMM level four, the organization focuses on process improvements. The enterprise also takes new steps to enhance resource utilization, fallback operations, and disaster recovery. This approach seeks to optimize efficiencies in all facets of development.

When organizations reach CMM level five, they begin statistical control of their artifacts. With this, they can better measure cycle times, defect rates, productivity improvements, and rework costs.

ECM is vital to transform the military and defense aerospace industry because organizations can use this approach to automate and enforce common processes — no longer in a project-centric fashion, but at the enterprise level. Such an approach can help these enterprises manage the evolution of their assets across projects, gather metrics to improve their processes, speed development, and eliminate redundant tasks.

But what are the signs that military and defense aerospace organizations may need to consider improving their processes? Here are some valuable pointers:

  • the enterprise faces many challenges in delivering applications to internal and external customers on time and on budget;
  • software development efforts often lag behind the mission of the enterprise, and are not predictable or repeatable;
  • project managers have little visibility into the status of software assets because software development is conducted ad hoc;
  • the teams are continuously starting, stopping, and restarting their activities, so projects are either delayed or cancelled for lack of results;
  • developers are making ad hoc software modifications and overwriting each other's code, thereby causing costly rework and delays;
  • team members are left to their own devices to define their work habits and their tasks;
  • the short-term objectives of the project override the long-term goals of the enterprise; and
  • the organization counts on the heroics of few individuals to save the day rather than on the concerted efforts of the team because there is no ECM tool in place to orchestrate the development efforts and to ensure effective team collaboration and proper communication.

When these types of scenarios occur frequently, the military and defense aerospace organization needs to take the next step, which is to determine which processes are redundant and should be eliminated and which processes should be kept and improved. Automating with an ECM tool can enable development team members to orchestrate their roles and responsibilities across the software life cycle.

The ECM tool will act as a repository for the software assets and the processes of the organization, and will prevent unauthorized access to these assets and processes. This will protect the integrity of the applications while enabling the military and defense aerospace organization to improve and automate its software development processes continuously, which in turn can help the military and defense aerospace organizations to modernize and transform their operations.

However, continuous process improvement in and by itself will not empower the military and defense aerospace enterprises to succeed at transformation. Rather, these organizations must also find ways to standardize their software re-use efforts at the enterprise level.

The reason: this approach will empower these organizations to develop new functionality for military and defense aerospace applications more efficiently than they do today, while at the same time leveraging their software assets on several different computing platforms.

Today, many defense sites in the country operate programs where they achieve 75 to 90 percent software re-use rates. One area that can be improved, however, is the re-use rates for internal software components at the project level or at the enterprise level.

How can military and defense aerospace organizations accelerate their internal software re-use programs? Here are some useful tips to get started.

First, management may want to task a centralized group with gathering input from the development environments, selecting common internal components, and creating a database of these components. The role of this group will be to conduct maintenance and some development work on these components.

Secondly, once this is achieved, management would do well to mandate quality control on each component. This is an essential step to take to encourage other groups in the organization to re-use the components in developing new functionality for military and defense aerospace applications.

Third, adequate staffing and resources must back up the management's directive for re-usable internal components, otherwise it will be difficult to implement large-scale re-usable components programs.

Finally, organizations must create, maintain, test, update, and house a library — or several libraries — of re-usable components or several libraries of these components in the ECM solution. And, organizations must encourage development staff to search these libraries for existing re-usable components before attempting to develop new components.

In examining their options, military and defense aerospace agencies should determine if it makes sense for them to establish some common library of software re-usable components that their subcontractors could use in developing applications to meet contractual agreements. In addition, organizations also should consider developing libraries of re-usable components that their subsidiaries could tap into to build new functionality for existing applications. In both of these cases, ECM could play a major role.

The Yankee Group reports that ECM technology provides users with: 16 percent reduction in development time; 19 percent increase in programmer productivity; 18 percent reduction in hard programming costs; 28 percent increase increased uptime and reliability; 26 percent increase throughput of new functionality; 23 percent reduction in time to market for new applications; and 15 percent reduction of backlog.

For these reasons, military and defense aerospace electronics organizations which embrace a standardized ECM approach can be a step closer to transforming their organizations and adapting them for the expanding needs of the nation in homeland security.

Michelle Dickey (Mdickey@serena.com) is leading the federal group at Serena Software Inc. in San Mateo, Calif.

More in Test