Serena: taking ALF to the customer

ALF is designed to provide a "bus" to pass information in common format between applications handling different stages of the development process

Serena Software has advanced its Application Lifecycle Framework (ALF) to full production status and it has been taken up by a number of vendors and high-powered end-user companies in the US.

According to Serena CEO Mark Woodward, New Zealand’s State Services Commission is looking at how ALF can complement its own e-Government Interoperability Framework (eGIF). However, SSC spokesman Jason Ryan, says he cannot track down anyone who knows anything about this.

ALF is designed to provide a “bus” to pass information in common format between applications handling different stages of the development process. Ideally, of course, Serena would like all its customers to use its software for all phases of the process, says Woodward. But the reality is that everyone has their individual preferences and their history in their organisation. ALF aims to allow these mixed application environments to pass information around smoothly, while avoiding vendor lock-in.

ALF is being developed under the IBM-sponsored Eclipse open source programme. However, by mid-next year, Serena will provide “a productised version of ALF” as the latest iteration of its own TeamTrack product. This, as the name implies, tracks processes being handled cooperatively by teams and is used, mainly, for change management and issues management.

ALF has been adopted by Compuware and “about 20” other vendors, Woodward says, as well as client companies, such as the banks UBS and Citigroup.

Serena itself continues to build applications on top of ALF, the latest being Dimensions 10, which is described as a “change governance solution” for applications lifecycle management.

Change management is a familiar concept but change governance allows change to be managed within the context of overarching aims for the organisation. Change management is often treated as a matter of “hygiene”, the systematic but reactive handling of changes made necessary by the development of events. Change governance approaches change in a more directed and proactive way, Woodward says.

Woodward is also outspoken on the issue of modern corporate management. Meeting analysts’ expectations around quarterly reporting is a ridiculous way to run a company, he says.

“In the US, it’s all about 90-day profits, based on earnings expectations set by analysts outside the company,” he says. “That’s why we took Serena private in March, so we could become a solutions provider.”

He says profit on the company’s software is very high but margins are low when it comes to consulting revenue. “We don’t look to make a lot on services, but our customers often need them.” By going private, Serena can offer those services without having to focus on maxium profits to meet analysts’ expectations, he says.

“IT governance is not a well-understood term,” he says. “Change management is about managing changes to code. We looked for a term to best describe the solution we provide. How do you manage all the requests to IT for change, capture all the requests, then define the business process to be used?

He describes as “ridiculous” companies having dozens of processes across silos. “If you don’t have a broad enterprise view you don’t understand what’s going on.

“Industry leaders today think about management of change as a competitive advantage.”

Woodward is aiming at US$500 million (NZ$762 million) in revenues over the next three-to-five years. “Size is important in the software business. As a private company no one can take us out, which allows us to focus on our customers. We did a survey two years ago that showed the number one customer concern was getting a better way of managing requirements.”

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