How Visualization Changes App Dev At UPS

It helps IT teams spot missed business requirements sooner.
Most business software gets written wrong the first time. Usually by a little, sometimes by a mile, but almost always because of the difficulty of capturing every requirement up front.

That held true at UPS, despite close ties between business units and IT teams. "Business users really don't know what they want until they see it," says Bruce Besserer, UPS's systems manager for enterprise data architecture. "That's really the crux of the problem."

UPS's solution, championed by CIO David Barnes, includes using simulations that show how a person can interact with an application before even prototype code gets written, using visualization software from iRise.

Avoiding the costs of missed requirements and rework is one major advantage of visualization; speed's another. IRise simulations let business users test-drive a proposed application, and IT teams can iterate changes more quickly than with a prototype. Barnes says they've had morning meetings to discuss changes to a new application, took a lunch break, and a business analyst had a reworked simulation by the time everyone returned.

UPS is the kind of place where people measure everything, and one development group tracked iRise use for 21 projects. In 15, they caught a missing requirement before developers started writing code.

A lot of companies see visualization as only for custom development, but iRise CEO Emmet Keeffe says it pays off when adding modules to Oracle and SAP ERP, or in consolidating packaged applications. Keeffe also predicts visualization will have big appeal to companies moving more strategic development work to offshore outsourcers in hopes of lowering costs. Companies have long struggled to get requirements precisely right for their outsourcers.

IRise isn't plug-and-play. UPS treated it as a strategy change, and it put more than 200 business analysts through three days of training, plus two days on a live project side by side with a trainer. It created a SharePoint community to swap tips and strategies. Keeffe says an iRise project needs the kind of CIO-level support Barnes gave it, so the company changes its development process rather than just bolt on iRise technology. Cost also may be an impediment, as companies instead try to get results by refining existing approaches. IRise declined to disclose pricing other than its $7,000 entry-level option for a single user.

Besserer has one other warning for would-be users: Developers shouldn't get carried away polishing a model. "Just like you can overengineer code, you can overengineer a simulation," he says. For UPS, though, simulations have become ingrained in most development efforts because it spurs innovation. "Fast innovation," Barnes adds.

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UPS: Positioned For The Long Haul

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