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ALM Trends: Vendors and Customers Seek ROI

Think globally, act locally. The popular political catchphrase can easily apply to the evolving application lifecycle management (ALM) space, as vendors shift strategies to ease adoption, improve ROI and target specific pain points in the software development lifecycle (SDLC).

"Pragmatism has come in, in a big way," said Bola Rotibi, principal analyst for UK-based research firm MWD Advisors, in describing the evolving ALM space. "This is pragmatic on many levels, in terms of a pragmatic approach to tooling, a pragmatic approach to processes and a pragmatic approach to how you migrate to where you want to be with different programming strategies."

Rotibi said that many dev shops have struggled with big-ticket ALM deployments, which often target large swaths of the development lifecycle.

"ALM itself has kind of suffered from a negative connotation because of this big meal ticket [approach]," Rotibi said. "People spent a lot of money, they bought a lot of tools."

While the focus on end-to-end value and coherent frameworks remain, ALM customers are increasingly looking for ways to target a specific pain point and build out from there. Dave West, analyst for Forrester Research believes the economic downturn has played a role, driving interest in low-cost and open source tooling, even as dev managers seek immediate ROI.

"Build, for instance, is a great area to focus on to get a good return," West explained. "This is instead of the larger change initiatives that focus on requirements, design, etc."

West also singled out the growing focus on agile practices in ALM packages, what Forrester Research calls the "Agile Application Development Management Tools wave."

"This wave has shown us how the products are changing in support of agile, but also something more than that," West said. "We are seeing more integrations, more focus on planning, reporting and analytics. The line between Project Management and SDLC is blurring."

Case in point is the February purchase by ALM provider CollabNet of Danbue, a provider of Scrum-focused agile project management solutions and services. Bill Portelli, chief executive officer of CollabNet, said the acquisition will enable CollabNet to provide technology and management solutions for agile dev shops.

"From a tooling perspective, we have these very open set of APIs through a common connector framework to allow people to plug and play and exchange data. So now we are providing agile project management, or Scrum management, to allow teams to access this rich set of data no matter how it is approached," Portelli said.

Other examples include extended support for Scrum in Microsoft Team Foundation Server 2010, and improved agile planning and support in both IBM Rational's Team Concert and in HP Quality Center's Agile Accelerator.

Global Thinking
Even as dev shops move to target specific pain points and reap quick returns on investment, ALM vendors are crafting more globally coherent platforms. Micro Focus last year acquired ALM maker Borland and Compuware's quality tools business, enabling the firm to reach beyond its core competency in legacy application improvement. The Open ALM framework acquired in the Borland purchase, for instance, enables interoperation with third-party tooling. And Rotibi noted that IBM's once-muddled strategy around Rational Software has snapped into focus with the maturation of the Jazz collaboration platform.

"The premise of Jazz is great. It's very, very good and it's very strong," Rotibi explained. "Now when you look at Jazz in the context of the wider IBM software group, it's the base that is running across the whole of the software group."

West said that ALM software is being extended to address more complex problems and to merge operations within the software lifecycle. Companies, he said, are demanding "better integration between the process of software and the product lifecycle." He singled out examples like integration into service decks, including operations and support, and into CRM as indicative of a trend toward ALM being part of more complete and complex lifecycles.

Vendors are also blending project management into their ALM offerings. West said he expects distinct project management tools and ALM to be replaced by a merged approach. That development, he explained, will allow "planning and reporting to be undertaken within the context of the application lifecycle."

In fact, ALM is merging with a host of disciplines and approaches. "We are now talking about that convergence story. That is where the lifecycle management story will end up, converging all of them," Rotibi said, adding: "One of the things that will be paramount in all of that is they will talk about governance and management of the lifecycle."

ALM Advice
Rotibi urged development managers to think before they leap. She said the biggest mistake many companies make is deploying an ALM solution before knowing the exact challenge they are hoping to solve. She said dev organizations need to establish clarity.

"Make sure you measure things. Too often we blunder in the dark," Rotibi said. "If most people went through that exercise, they would be fairly certain where they would want to go."

She also said that efforts to enable collaboration are rife with dangers, in large part because tooling and processes can not overcome the personal dynamics that often shape interaction in large companies.

"If your organization has a culture where they don't trust each other, collaboration won't help much," Rotibi said, adding, "If your teams don't talk, you have to make them talk."

"People look for quick answers in quick ways. To be honest with you, the solution can be quick, but you need legwork and you need the hard work."

About the Author

Michael Desmond is an editor and writer for 1105 Media's Enterprise Computing Group.

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