by Esther Schindler

IBM’s Rational Quality Management Portfolio Promises to Reduce IT Risk and Developer Frustration

Nov 26, 20085 mins

IT managers under the gun to trim their budgets may be attracted to IBM's promise that its new software quality tools can cut costs for both development time and labor. But software developers and SQA professionals are more likely to respond to other advantages.

IBM on Tuesday announced a new suite of software quality tools, the Rational Quality Management Portfolio. The company promises the new tools will improve the software development process and, in particular, ease collaboration between business leaders and IT professionals. IBM is highlighting to managers the software testing suite’s ability to reduce risk, save money and, as Scott Hebner, IBM vice president of Offering Management at IBM Rational Software explains, ensure that software is aligned with the business needs. “Rational Quality Manager is a hub to unify IT professionals with stakeholders in the organization,” Hebner says.

That’s the manager angle. It’s a perfectly reasonable one and certainly relevant, given how many IT projects fail. (Hebner cites one statistic from The Standish Group saying 41 percent of projects don’t meet their goals; you can pick your own bad-news bummer number.)

But IBM could as easily have pitched this at software developers and quality assurance professionals by emphasizing how the Rational Quality Management Portfolio can reduce day-to-day annoyances in the software development process. When I asked Hebner, “How would you describe the software to a bunch of techies over a beer?” he responded with zero hesitation, “How frustrated do you get when people are on different wavelengths?”

So let’s take a look at the software from both angles. This is only one of several products IBM is releasing that is built on the company’s Jazz platform, an effort by IBM Rational to simplify collaboration across the software delivery lifecycle by promoting interoperability of tools and sharing of data. IBM is also refreshing its related software testing tools, including IBM Rational Application Performance Analyzer, IBM Rational Functional Tester, IBM Rational Quality Manager Express, IBM Rational Performance Tester, IBM Rational Service Tester for SOA Quality, IBM Rational Test RealTime, IBM Rational AppScan Tester Edition, IBM Rational RequisitePro and IBM Rational Measured Capability Improvement Framework Assessments.

Also being introduced this week is IBM Rational Test Lab Manager, a Web-based tool to automate the testing process and ensure company lab resources are used effectively and efficiently. According to IBM, organizations spend nearly 40 percent of their time configuring computers to make them ready for software testing.

Hebner describes the tool suite as a collaborative hub that can help companies automate the business processes in software quality management. It does so with collaboration tools, ensuring all relevant members of the workforce are in-sync and have access to data in real-time, using a Web-based centralized test management environment. “It automates configuration and communication so you do the right tests,” Hebner explains.

So what’s that mean to you? For IT executives, the big concerns are reducing labor cost and inefficiencies, and ensuring that the software meets quality requirements. Hebner points out that managers also want a better understanding of their key quality metrics. “You want a better sense of where you’re investing your resources,” he says. (Tip for developers who intend to bang their fists on the boss’ desk to insist on acquiring software quality tools: Push those risk-management buttons.)

Software quality professionals and developers may see different benefits. Hebner drew a clear (and too real) picture: “Things were supposed to be ready yesterday, but they weren’t done in time and someone left out an important requirement. Now it’ll take you days to configure the test lab,” he says. That frustration has a cost both to the team and to one’s personal desire to Have a Life. “And hey, if I knew they wouldn’t be ready in time, I could have gotten to Happy Hour an hour earlier,” Hebner adds. (All beer discussions in this article are, of course, entirely virtual. Make mine an IPA.)

For software quality professionals, the major benefit that IBM is promising is a process improvement. The new tool can help them get involved earlier in the software development lifecycle, so that quality isn’t bolted on. “It’s workflow based,” explains Hebner, “based on up-to-date info. That means better handoffs; you won’t waste time because someone didn’t read his e-mail or he didn’t have an updated spreadsheet.”

A CIO who wants to sell her development staff on using these tools (not that I expect any developer would object) should speak their language. Recognize that programmers care more about saving their own and their team time than saving the company money (even when these turn out to be the same thing). The new Rational tool can help developers and QA professionals better define their role, and help them know who to work with on a project, says Hebner, since the software lets them interact with the right team members. It can also help them automate their work, at least the boring parts.

But collaboration is the key techie benefit. “You don’t have to configure a test lab for something nobody told you about,” says Hebner. “You don’t have to waste your time.” All this is familiar to IT executives in terms of policy governance. But you might want to choose your terms carefully. Says Hebner, “The word ‘governance’ makes practitioners freak out a little bit.” On the other hand, you can talk about “standards” to geeks all day long, and they like it.

The Rational Quality Management Portfolio is available today.