App Development Has a Serious Side

SAIC turns to IBM's Rational Unit to support U.S. Defense information agency.

When it comes to developing applications for the government, the return on investment can sometimes be life or death.

Such was the sobering task facing application developer and systems integrator Science Applications International, or SAIC, as it went to upgrade the IBM Rational development tools used to support one of its most sensitive clients, the U.S. Defense Information Systems Agency, or DISA. A seamless transition and a flawless outcome are paramount when dealing with the combat support agency responsible for defense-related networking serving U.S. troops on the front lines as well as the president, the secretary of defense and the Pentagon.

"You want to make sure the developers who are working on things that could save someone on the battlefield have the tools and capabilities they need when they need them," said Cynthia Carr, configuration management manager at SAIC, in Falls Church, Va. "This is serious business."

Indeed, software development in the government sector is not for the faint of heart. Pitfalls and obstacles abound when building applications that must stand up to ever-shifting regulatory compliance issues and still deliver improved processes and measurable ROI. Add defense and national security concerns, and the challenges only mount.

Yet, its in this developers cauldron of public-sector applications that SAIC chooses to focus in a continuing trial by fire. The $7.8 billion San Diego-based company works primarily for national and homeland security agencies as well as organizations focused on energy, the environment, space, telecommunications and health care.

"It could be tanks, missile systems, or, as in SAICs case, back-end IT applications," said Swati Moran, aerospace and defense marketing manager for IBM Rational software, in McLean, Va. "The challenges are similar. When you deal with defense, you deal with significant compliance and governance needs. Every software processes issue is mission-critical."

SAIC has been working with DISA since March 2006 on ACTDs (Advanced Concept Technology Demonstrations), through which developers augment and combine off-the-shelf technologies to improve safety, security and communications for Americas war fighters, Carr said. The contract runs through September.

At DISA, SAICs engineers were convinced that the government agency needed to bolster communication and collaboration among developers and improve the overall development process with an upgrade to DISAs existing IBM Rational software tool suite.

"DISA had purchased the whole Rational suite but were really only using ClearCase," Carr said. "We knew the developers could do more whiz-bang things if they used the full capabilities of the tool set. The new versions support more development platforms such as Eclipse, which were using on all of our programs. They can move effortlessly between programs, and that enhances the design system."

To ensure the full platform upgrade to Version 6 went smoothly and with a minimum of downtime, SAIC turned to an integration partner the company felt knew the Rational platform best—IBMs own Rational Services group—to manage the project, Carr said.

"We wanted to make sure that because programs were up and running that we didnt bring down the old versions that were in use," she said. "We needed IBM to help us with the integration. We needed their technical expertise to get us to the level that we are now."

IBMs Rational Services team began the project by analyzing SAICs DISA systems to identify areas for process improvement. The team then upgraded DISAs IBM Rational ClearCase, IBM Rational ClearQuest and IBM RequisitePro tools to the newest versions. The upgrading and integration of RequisitePro paid immediate dividends by improving developers ability to communicate project goals, enhance collaborative development, reduce project risk and increase the quality of applications before deployment, SAIC officials said.

In addition, the IBM services team installed IBM Rational TestManager software to provide a central console for test activity management, execution and reporting, with graphic and text reports capturing crucial aspects of application quality and testing. The software gives both the systems integrator and the client a better overall view of all projects and procedures, said SAIC officials.

SAIC also urged DISA to take advantage of the upgrade as a chance to streamline help desk procedures and identify any unknown weak spots in the system. To that end, IBM and SAIC developed a help desk schema to document system changes and to prevent duplicated efforts from multiple employees. According to SAIC officials, the new help desk schema has increased employee productivity by 15 percent per week.

As part of that effort, the IBM team created a new defect- and enhancement-tracking process, built on Rational ClearQuest, to automate and enforce development processes as well as provide deeper insight and more predictability and control across the software-development life cycle. The IBM team paid specific attention to ensuring that the Rational ClearCase tool was seamlessly integrated with Rational ClearQuest to provide a complete software configuration management system, Moran said.

"The change schema in the help desk and the ability to report problems with software bugs or tools speeds the resolution of problems, and it keeps folks working and keeps their productivity high," Carr said. "When you cant produce work orders in this way, people are sitting around doing nothing waiting for a response or walking around trying to resolve an issue with someone else who may not even be in the same building."

DISAs Rational ClearCase software is running on Unix servers from Sun Microsystems and Hewlett-Packard on Suns Solaris operating system. The Rational ClearQuest, RequisitePro and TestManager tools are running on a Microsoft Windows-based platform, officials said.

Since the IBM team integrated all Rational software tools in the DISA deployment, the organization for the first time has been able to fully leverage all the tools features and realize the maximum benefit of the integrated platform, increasing the suites business value, Carr said. The implementation itself really evolved over the course of the project, she said. "What was needed right away was to bring ClearQuest on board to give them the change management system they were asking for. And if were going to do that, why not bring them up on everything."

According to IBMs Moran, the goal of such projects is to blur the lines not only among segments of development within agencies such as DISA but also to tear down the walls between the agency and contractors such as SAIC.

"If you have the silo approach, nothing is tracked, changes arent recorded and applications often fail," Moran said. "The nature of distributed teams like these is that, ultimately, they need to share the risk of what the agency is trying to build. Collaboration is key." Going forward, SAIC is working to transition the development platform over to DISA. The systems integrator is already recommending a second upgrade to Version 7 of the Rational tools once a handful of ongoing critical development projects are completed.


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