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IBM Rational Software Development Conference 2008: A Recap

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IBM promotes collaboration within and between teams as critical to successful application development in enterprises.


Over 3,500 IBM customers and partners convinced themselves that Walt Disney World might be a good place to spend a week for the 2008 version of the IBM Rational Software Development Conference. Rational is IBM's suite of collaborative software development solutions for enterprises. The conference offered 300 sessions in 14 tracks as well as an executive summit focusing on generating greater value and performance from software.


Attendance rose significantly from 2,800 in 2007, representing 27 percent growth. IBM's focus for software development is the team, and its messages and solutions reflect that focus. In a world where failure is more common than success and where organizations remain unsatisfied with internal application development results, enterprises continue to work toward managing risk. Organizations change rapidly, and such change drives changes to software used to provide services. IBM played to its customers, most of whom are developers or development managers, by calling them "heroes" for what they try to accomplish in such a challenging environment. As a keynote speaker, actor and Priceline icon William Shatner made analogies between making movies and software, offering that movies fail even more often than software projects. IBM's overriding theme for the conference was that Rational users could "save the day" for their organizations, preventing security breeches, application defects, and other scary outcomes.


Central to the Rational suite is technology that IBM cleverly calls Jazz. IBM introduced Jazz a year ago at this conference, touting the Jazz Project as an open community to improve team agility and collaboration. Unlike open-source communities, however, Jazz products are commercial. Jazz provides a platform for more open and ongoing interaction between IBM and its customers as it develops commercial software. In addition, by the end of the year, IBM and its partners are supposed to release 20 products tied into the collaboration capabilities of Jazz.


Rational is a longtime player in the development tools market; Paul Levy and Mike Devlin founded the company in 1981. Originally, Rational was a provider of Ada language tools to the U.S. Department of Defense and its contractors. Rational eventually became a vendor of development tools for the entire lifecycle and in the 1990s made many acquisitions of tools for analysis/design, requirements management, software configuration management, and testing. Rational developed the Unified Modeling Language (UML) as a combination of object-oriented analysis and design methods. UML is now a standard overseen by the Object Management Group (OMG).


More recently, Rational developed Rational Unified Process (RUP), a process framework that provides organizations with guidelines for best practices in several domains, including iterative/architecture-centric development, use-case design, testing, and real-time development. Rational moved away from highly structured methodology and process, having found better acceptance for less structured and more flexible approaches, commonly called "agile."


In December of 2002, IBM acquired Rational at the cost of approximately $2.1 billion in cash. At the time, Rational products were not completely integrated and IBM was challenged to also integrate as appropriate with other IBM software. IBM has progressed on these integration efforts while adding many new pieces through acquisition, including Telelogic this time last year. However, customers tell IBM that in general the IBM Rational solutions are too complex and costly to deploy, in part because of integration challenges with both IBM and other software.


While last year's conference included a fair dose of mea culpa, this year IBM Rational General Manager Danny Sabbah cited improved metrics in several categories since the last conference. Rational's strategy that addresses both customer perceptions as well as enterprise mission challenges is to support the approach to enable enterprises to "ship early, ship often, and listen to customers." The focus is agility and modularity, with a strong push to leverage communities. IBM does this through the Jazz project, using an agile model.


Tens of thousands of IBM consultants work with its clients, as IBM believes that a tight connection between people and technology solves enterprise problems. Technology itself does not complete the job. The IBM business model takes advantage of this symbiotic (and sometimes painful) relationship by working with organizations to meet their requirements. Therefore, IBM consultants use the Rational suite extensively in client engagements and purportedly provide extensive feedback into Rational's development process. While this symbiosis mirrors the needs of many customers, it can also highlight some conflicts between services and software--both inside IBM and in enterprises. Enterprises need to carefully evaluate offerings from any software development vendor to be sure they meet business requirements.


At the conference, IBM's Steve Mills, Senior Vice President and Group Executive IBM Software Group, discussed how IBM uses Rational tools within IBM. He said that IBM holds the world's largest portfolio of software products. Some 33,000 people in 80 locations around the world work in software development at IBM. Mills said that IBM's philosophy for development entails four governance principles: lightweight central mechanisms, tools not rules, support for communities, and centralized development services. The company focuses on the business stakeholders with an agile approach with emphasis on component reuse facilitated by community source management. IBM also drives the concept of "integrated build, run, and manage" across its development projects. The result of this approach is supposed to be improved time to value for customers.


IBM said it is incorporating social networking and Web 2.0 practices into the new versions of its platform. IBM Rational Team Concert (RTC) now offers more collaboration capabilities, targeting real-time interactions of distributed software teams. In addition¸ RTC integrates build management, version control, and work item capabilities. RTC also includes automated data gathering that can reduce documentation and provide real-time project health information.


For departmental and SMB customers with small development teams of up to 50 developers per server, IBM offers the IBM Rational Team Concert Express Edition. RTC Standard Edition adds custom processes, shows the health of projects in real-time, and supports up to 250 users per server. RTC Enterprise Edition will become available in 2009 to support any size team with extensive source code control/configuration management as well as work item management.


Also notable is what IBM calls Open Services for Lifecycle Collaboration, an initiative for collaborating on software development using a common architecture. This open architecture, says IBM, should improve the interoperability of development resources. IBM Rational business partners, who now number more than 1,000, can also take advantage of the free IBM Rational Ensemble, a collection of education and services for IBM Jazz-based technology.


With its 2008 Rational User Conference, IBM Rational highlighted how it continues to evolve its software development offerings to support smaller teams and agile processes. However, it remains true that the success of collaboration and reuse initiatives now central to the IBM Rational position hinges much more on the attitudes and behavior of people than on tools and processes. Fortunately for IBM and its customers, IBM Rational still has many offerings in its suite that support traditional development approaches. Finding the balance between the old and new approaches to software development is a tricky line to walk not only for IBM, but for its enterprise customers as well. Organizations should definitely experiment with agile approaches if they have not already and should look at IBM tools as well as others that might meet requirements from vendors including Borland, Compuware, Microsoft, and Serena.

Ron Exler

Ron Exler is a senior product manager at Arbitron, the media ratings company. Previously, he was an independent analyst and consultant. He was formerly Vice President and Research Fellow for Robert Frances Group (RFG), a provider of advisory services for information technology (IT) executives and vendors. Mr. Exler has worked with executives from some of the world's largest enterprises, so he understands how business executives make decisions. He also writes a blog (http://www.thegeofactor.com/) and was named one of the top English-language analyst bloggers by Technobabble 2.0. Mr. Exler has had more than 125 articles and technical papers published.


Prior to RFG, Mr. Exler worked for several enterprise software companies, including Landmark Systems (now ASG) and Intersolv (now Serena Software). He held positions in marketing, product management, research, sales support, software development, and training. He has an M.S. from the University of Wisconsin, Madison and also earned a B.S. from Oregon State University.



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