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Process improvement vital in software development

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The CoMMIt ‘07 Symposium, held this week, saw members of government, industry, academia and international representatives gather to discuss the importance of the CMMI (Capability Maturity Model Integration) process improvement product suite in the software development sector.

The Minister of Trade & Industry, Mandisi Mpahlwa, gave the keynote address and threw government’s support behind CMMI, saying that process improvement would be critical in assisting local software development companies in becoming more competitive internationally.
“Many companies in the USA and Europe have developed software which they have licensed to South African companies in a mutually beneficial relationship. The question is whether South Africa can in turn export locally developed software for the international market? While the software development sector has developed software in a number of niche areas, it needs to grow its influence,” he says.
According to the minister, the growth of the local software development market will depend on strong domestic demand, skills within the sector, a supportive infrastructure environment and international standards.
“As an international standard, CMMI has become accepted in many parts of the world. In the US, suppliers to the US government are required to have a CMMI rating. The question is whether CMMI has the potential to assist with the growth of the local software development sector and software development on the continent?”
Mpahlwa believes that CMMI can play this role, citing a 2004 report from the DTI’s electro-technical unit which identified CMMI was as a critical intervention for the local sector.
“South Africa’s software development sector is lagging behind other countries which are using CMMI to position themselves internationally,” he said. “We should see this as an opportunity to grow our own software development sector which currently has an estimated value of R13 billion. CMMI will be a critical success factor to increase exports and thereby assist in growing the industry. To do this, we will have to create an environment that produces CMMI rated companies,” he says.
Professor Barry Dwolatzky, CEO and Director of the Joburg Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE) at Wits University, says given that only 35% of software development projects globally are delivered on time, within budget and to specification; improving process within the lifecycle is fundamental for both development companies and organisations that commission large software applications and systems.
“CMMI was developed for the US government and industry by the Carnegie Mellon University’s Software Engineering Institute (SEI) in Pittsburgh to assist companies from a host of sectors to improve their development processes. This in turn improves the predictive power of an organisation, optimises quality, reduces costs and increases efficiency,” he says.
The five maturity levels of CMMI are: initial, repeatable, defined, managed, and optimising. CMMI assists lower level companies with issues like planning, project monitoring and control, measurement, requirements management and putting in place proper contracts with clients and suppliers.
It then moves on in the higher levels, helping companies to define policy frameworks and introduce best practise. Furthermore, it increases improves the predictive power of an organisation, optimises quality, reduces costs and increases efficiency, he says.
Mike Phillips, Program Manager of CMMI at the SEI, says CMMI level four and five companies have shown that they perform far more efficiently in development projects than the average quoted in the Standish report.
“There will always be about 30% of projects that don’t come in on time and budget, but that is generally because those projects are larger than anyone anticipated and therefore take longer and cost more.
“However, on average, level four and five companies generally achieve around 70% when it comes to meeting the initial requirements of the project,” he says.
Nidhi Srivastava, Head of Quality Function for Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) in North America, gave a breakdown of the Indian software development sector at the Symposium and TCS’s statistics as a CMMI level 5 company.
“TCS delivers on time on 96.63% of projects and has an 87% ability to meet its schedules. When it comes to meeting quality expectations, the company has an 89% hit rate, with the average project variance on budget being 3.28%,” she says.
Looking at the Indian software development industry, almost half the CMMI level 5 companies are in India, which has led to the industry mushrooming into a $47-billion industry. The industry is growing at 30% per annum, employs 1.6-million people and trains around 25 000 graduates a year, she says.
Dwolatzky says the CoMMIt ‘07 Symposium has created considerable interest within the sector and the CMMI pilot project is progressing well.
“The pilot for CMMI now includes the State IT Agency (Sita), First National Bank (FNB), Psybergate, Wits University’s Computing Services, IBM, Comsec, Blue Sphere, BSG, GMSI, Fujitsu Services and Nedbank.
“The pilot will be used to create a research report. This will then be presented to Government and our stakeholders and will suggest the way forward for rolling CMMI on a much larger scale,” he says.