Application development in South Africa is taking a step forward in terms of efficiency and productivity with the announcement of the formation of a joint venture to create “High-Maturity Software Development” (Hi-Mat) Units.

Under the leadership of the Joburg Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE) at Wits University and sponsored by the Department of Trade and Industry, the Hi-Mat project will create 1 000 new software development jobs over the next three years.

The brainchild of Prof Barry Dwolatzky, director of the JCSE, the Hi-Mat project is also being run in parallel with a Wits/UCT research project.

Dwolatzky explains that the Hi-Mat unit is a software development team of between 10 and 25 people, “capable of delivering quality software projects in a predictable and repeatable way”.

Dwolatzky says the aim is to ensure that the performance of the Hi-Mat units in terms of cost, schedule and defect rate will place them on a par with the best development teams in the world. This will be done by drawing on internationally accepted best practices in software engineering and ensuring that the team conforms to them.

The way the model works is that Dwolatzky and the sponsoring companies, currently Nedbank and BBD, will select a number of unemployed or under-employed graduates and train them in the appropriate development techniques while placing them in a Hi-Mat unit within a company. The reason for hosting the independent units in a company is to ensure the developers are part of a corporate development environment with access to the normal non-development functions such as HR and payroll.

“These companies already have a pipeline of development projects that the teams can get involved with, plus they have people with specific domain knowledge to assist in delivering what various customers require,” adds Dwolatzky. “Trained in the Team Software Process (TSP), the units will be able to deliver quality projects within 10% of the agreed schedule, within 5% of the approved budget and having 10 times fewer defects than the accepted industry benchmark of two defects per 1 000 lines of code (KLOC).

“In other words Hi-Mat units will be significantly better in terms of quality and predictability than any existing software development team in South Africa and on a par with the best in the world.”

The first Hi-Mat team is being hosted within BBD. Dwolatzky is negotiating with other companies to launch another team in Johannesburg, one in Cape Town and a fourth in Durban this year. Once these teams have been through a proof of concept period and have proved they can deliver as promised, the project will be expanded and more teams will be formed across the country.

“We have an ambitious plan of having 40 to 50 units in operation in three-years,” adds Dwolatzky. “The goal is to create 1 000 jobs and not just reassign people already in the development world.”

“With many years of experience in the local software engineering market, BBD recognises the lack of skills in the industry,” says BBD’s CEO, Peter Searle. “Software engineering in South Africa will benefit in the long run as the successful completion of the Hi-Mat pilot would set the stage for creating standards in process improvement and promote the concept of quality software delivery. This 1 000-job strategy gives BBD an opportunity to give back to the industry and advance the quality of South Africa’s software engineers.”