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GM Extends Model Car Concept To Software Development

IT outsourcing providers develop faster using visualization software, says GM CTO Fred Killeen.
IT spending is but a speck in the world of problems facing General Motors, but every little cost savings helps. In IT, the company is extending the most important strategy of new car development -- product simulations and models -- to software development.

These simulations typically cut software development projects and expenses by more than 10%, GM CTO Fred Killeen said in an interview.

GM IT uses visualization software to create mock-ups of applications that is shared with business users to get their feedback prior to development. Since these simulations can be done quickly using drag-and-drop functions, and altered just as quickly based on user feedback, knocking out the final user requirements before production has been reduced, in some instances, to less than a few weeks, Killeen said.

The old way of having developers create software based on documented user requirements could sometimes take weeks or months, since the early versions of the applications -- not simulations -- weren't up to snuff for users, sending developers back to the drawing board.

For the past few years, GM has been using visualization software from a company called iRise for some of the work, and also uses some visualization tools it has developed in-house. Capgemini, one of GM's IT services providers, is heading the visualization effort for software development. Earlier this month, iRise announced, with permission from Killeen, that GM is deploying its technology throughout the company. (Killeen told InformationWeek that GM will continue to use other visualization technologies.)

Killeen noted that visualization has been used on the product side of GM for decades, dating back to when the company built clay models of cars to collaborate on features and styling before heading into production. "Just like in building vehicles, the earlier you nail down some of those perimeters, the lower the cost is for fixing and changing things later," he said.

The visualization approach works particularly well for IT work at GM, much of which is outsourced to services organizations across the globe. "It's about understanding what the user wants and expects, so you can give a much crisper expectation to a supplier to do the development," Killeen said. It also helps reduce outsourcing costs because of the faster development process, he said.

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