Strategic CIO // IT Strategy
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11/2/2009
11:39 PM
Chris Murphy
Chris Murphy
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Global CIO: Capgemini Takes On The Plague Of Bad Requirements

It's embracing visualization from iRise as part of a move to get requirements right early

It would be the dirty little secret of outsourcing software development, but it’s never been much of a secret. Bad requirements and rework are a pox on the industry.

The problem centers on requirements—the detailed instructions that companies give to outsourced developers describing what they want. When client and outsourcer together don’t get requirements right, something devilishly hard for even the best IT shops, software gets written that doesn’t do exactly what a company wants, so it cycles back for rework.

Capgemini is doing something unusual when it comes to requirements—acknowledging a problem, and promising to do something fairly bold to get them right. “We find where the breakdowns occur is very, very early on, really at the earliest stage—when business people think about the systems and define their requirements, and in how they are interpreted by the technology people who ultimately build the system,” says Lanny Cohen, CEO of Capgemini U.S.

That’s a big part of why Capgemini is embracing visualization across the company, in a new deal with visualization software vendor iRise. Visualization involves making a simulation of a software interface before any code’s written, essentially letting end users test drive it and talk about what they don’t like. Capgemini is standardizing on iRise software, the first major IT services company to embrace the venture-backed company’s software. Capgemini has been using iRise in select engagements for five years, and it will phase its use into new areas. The plan, Cohen says, is “we will be using visualization as a part of all our delivery going forward.“

For iRise, nailing the Capgemini deal is an important moment. Outsourcing has been a dour chapter in the company’s otherwise rousing startup story. iRise has the marquee customers, companies such as UPS and General Motors where visualization has become part of the culture when it comes to how IT and business units work together to build systems.

Yet if visualization is such a sure-fire way for improving requirements, for getting business goals and IT systems in step, why hasn’t it become an everyday part of the outsourcing industry, where the pain of bad requirements and miscommunication is well known?

Corey Glickman, who leads Capgemini’s rapid design and visualization practice, says a lot of IT shops and outsourcers have just accepted 30% or more rework on big software projects. “But the world is changing, and that way just isn’t good enough anymore,” says Glickman. “What we’re seeing is with progressive CIOs, they’re saying it’s not just about the IT side, you have to show the business ROI, and they’re looking for methodologies for that.”

Also, visualization isn’t free. It may actually slow down an app dev cycle on the front end, since the interface simulations encourage a lot of back and forth conversations. And it will certainly add the cost of iRise visualization software and a fair amount of training, particularly for business analysts to learn to use the tools. Some IT departments may resist, too, fearing it weakens their power and gives business users an upper hand, Cohen says.

Glickman argues the time and money for visualization pay off, and can speed up the total project by 20%, because it helps force hard conversations about whether the project will deliver information in a way that provides profitable results. New capability in the iRise software allows simulations to accept widgets, Glickman says, which let simulations use live, real-time data. “The front end [of an app dev process] is now about ‘Am I selling more product? Am I opening up new markets?’” says Glickman.

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Cohen paints a tough IT services market today, and continuing: tight capital spending, high hurdle rates for return on investment, and far fewer big projects. He considers visualization part of Capgemini’s broader strategy to deliver projects faster with lower risk, such as refining techniques to reuse design templates, or to spur user adoption once a system’s finished.

Visualization won’t revolutionize an industry if iRise’s the only player, and Glickman says there are others indirectly competing. He expects Adobe to do more in the market next year, along with mashup software providers such as Serena. Microsoft will likely do more, he predicts, as there’s a lot of agile development being done with its tools.

But Glickman’s drawn to iRise for its capabilities but also for its ambition, which he has seen over the past five years go beyond selling its tools to trying to drive adoption of visualization broadly. iRise’s vision is that, within the next decade, all software gets visualized before it’s coded—just like new models of a car or airplane get electronic mockups first.

Global CIO small globe Chris Murphy is editor at InformationWeek.

To find out more about Chris Murphy, please visit his page.

For more Global CIO perspectives, check out Global CIO.

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