Software 'economics' not yet a Rational science

The measurement of software development costs is still far from being a science, admits Rational Software executive Phillipe Krutchen.

The measurement of software development costs is still far from being a science, admits Rational Software executive Phillipe Krutchen.

Krutchen, visiting New Zealand last week, delivered a talk to local software developers and businesses on “software economics”.

By modelling factors like the size of the team and the duration allowed for the project, Rational, a development tools company, has at least “put some numbers on what people understood intuitively” about software economics, he says.

But there are still "hazardous things" going on in software development, which compromise the predictability of its cost. “I’d say we can get within 30% accuracy 75% of the time. But that’s better than ten years ago, when we were just guessing.”

Rational can offer advice on the process, and Kruchten says its existing development tools will clearly play a role in such measurement. But Rational has not yet contemplated a specific suite of tools for cost evaluation. “That sounds like it could be a good idea,” he says.

At a sensitive time in New Zealand for overruns on large-scale government software development like Incis and Landonline, Kruchten offers evidence that the situation is getting better in spite of increased complexity of software. A study by consultants Standish four years ago found 84% of all IT projects missed their deadline. A study this year showed that proportion is down to 76%, he says.

Kruchten, now a Rational "fellow”, was formerly the company’s director of process development. In this role he drove the development of the Rational Unified Process – the scheme tying together the company’s previously separate tools and techniques into a framework with an overarching textual methodology.

Kruchten and general manager Roger Oberg were also in New Zealand to visit customers and prospects and to launch officially Rational Suite 2001. As well as new versions of existing software development tools, this includes new products: Clear Case LT, to assist change management for small development teams; a Test Manager; and Quality Architect - a tool to measure and instil high quality early in the development process – as well a specific versions of Rational tools and techniques to operate with .Net and other elements of the Microsoft web environment.

The rise of e-commerce has dramatically "stressed" software development, says Oberg. Development timescales have become compressed, there are more technically unskilled people involved in development of websites than in more traditional computing. And companies are exposing their business to the public, who are unforgiving of any lapses in reliability of service.

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