Enhancement of ‘Upstream’ Software Development Methods

BU’s software engineering research has focused on the improvement of software development methods with a particular emphasis on the ‘upstream’ or requirements phases. The benefits include improved development processes as well as considerable financial savings. The research has been used locally in projects with medium sized enterprises (SME’s) and in collaboration with international partners including National ICT Australia (NICTA) to enhance business and IT alignment (Australia and Japan); the European Commission funded VIsualise all moDel drivEn programming (VIDE) project to impact commercial tools (France and Germany); and with Bosch Automotive (Germany) to enhance model driven development.

Research

BU research in software engineering methods has focussed on what are typically regarded as requirements phases. The consistent theme within this work has been the need to provide models or approaches, which are accessible to users, whilst also allowing rigour of analysis.

These ideas have been manifested in a variety of our modelling approaches. From 1997-2000 research focused on process models that were mapped to formal and enactable notations, to enhance understanding of client business processes. This work evolved to provide Business and IT alignment methods. These concepts were then incorporated into model driven approaches and tools through BU’s involvement with the European funded VIDE project.

Latterly, researchers have continued to enhance software engineering methods using process approaches within the requirements phase of model driven methods. This has provided improved merging for distributed model driven development through a PhD funded by Bosch, (completed in 2012) and application of software engineering expertise to enhance methods for SMEs (e.g.Morning Data).

Specific ‘upstream’ software engineering research, which has been applied to these projects is as follows

  • Accessibility of Process Models and Process Modelling Tools
  • Business and IT Alignment
  • Enhancing Model Driven Methods and Tools

In parallel, researchers have addressed other practical development issues, notably work at Bosch on how merging of models can be enhanced within the context of distributed software development (P6), again suggesting mechanisms and providing prototype tools.

The VIDE project (VIsualise all moDel drivEn programming)

BU’s research in enhancing software engineering methods has been applied in a range of contexts across the world through involvement with the VIDE project. Specifically the following BU research has been implemented:

  • The process and specification of tools.
  • General requirements and Business and IT and Alignment.

Paris-based software tools vendor Softeam used code generation capabilities introduced during VIDE to add capability to their tool ‘Objecteering’. They have now created a new modelling tool, Modelio, which uses the results of the VIDE project in its development. Modelio has many advantages over the tool that it replaces, including the superior usability that was an anticipated impact of the VIDE work. The analysis on VIDE’s impact on Softeam concludes: “It is expected that the number of code generator licenses will increase between 1% and 8% in 2009”.

Greece-based major enterprise resource planning (ERP) producer Altec used the VIDE toolkit as an add-on to their existing ONAR tool-set (Ontologies based ENterprise Application IntegRation). Altec’s sales forecast for the relevant revenue streams in a 5-year period were calculated with a 14% annual growth.

The Business and IT Alignment methods, which fed into VIDE, were directly rolled out via NICTA consultancy work in Australia and Japan. These alignment methods were used extensively by NICTA for internal projects and for consultancy and were used by a wide range of commercial organisations within Australia and Japan.  A clear indicator of the success of these approaches was the significant financial savings that were claimed as a result of their use.

Software engineering with small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs)

Researchers have worked on six knowledge transfer partnerships (KTP) to conduct requirements engineering for software systems organisations. A specific example is the KTP with Morning Data Ltd, which took place between 2009 and 2012.

Morning Data Ltd is a leading supplier of world-class software and service solutions for the global insurance industry. The project centred on software maintenance and evolution with an emphasis on introducing rigorous software engineering methods.

Through this project the BU research team used their ‘upstream’ expertise to discover and document requirements, ensuring that the new generation of product aligned with Morning Data’s business strategy and would meet the needs of their clients.

The company identified the project as having been of vital strategic importance and quantified financial gains, stating in their report to the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) that: “Through the meetings with the University we learnt and adopted a new development process and methodology which allowed us to drastically improve the quality of the software we were producing.” They also stated a direct projected increase in turnover of £200K and an increase in pre-tax profit from £36k to £175k.

In a public blog, the Development Director at Morning Data states: “Over the duration of the project we have learnt so much and introduced so many valuable new tools to our development team – we simply would not be working the way we are now without having had the involvement and the knowledge of the staff at BU.”

This measurable financial gain demonstrated through the Morning Data project is an example of how BU’s research into process modelling; business and IT alignment and enhancing model driven methods can be applied to deliver substantial financial savings.