SmartAdvice: Five Main IT Categories To Evaluate In Companies You Might Buy

There are some basic IT functions, from tech plans to an inventory of products, to consider when your company is deciding whether to buy another, <B>The Advisory Council</B> says. Also, weigh the cost of backing information up against the cost of lost business in deciding on a data backup plan; and look at your company's software-development processes when deciding whether to move immediately to the new CMMI.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

November 23, 2004

5 Min Read

Question C: With Capability Maturity Model on the way out, what do we need to know about CMMI?

Our advice: CMMI, short for "Capability Maturity Model Integration," is the latest in a line of frameworks published by the Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon University that are aimed at evaluating and improving the processes used to develop products and services. Its predecessor, CMM for software, debuted in 1990 and has become the de facto standard for measuring and improving the software-development process. CMMI is slated to supplant CMM; the Software Engineering Institute ended CMM training in 2003 and is letting all CMM-assessor licenses lapse as of the end of 2005.

CMMI is an integrated suite of products consisting of a framework, several implementation models, an assessment method, and training materials. It consolidates, extends, and reconciles differences between three pre-existing Software Engineering Institute models--the CMM for software, the Systems Engineering Capability Model, and the Integrated Product Development Capability Maturity Model.

CMMI versus CMM
CMMI is similar to CMM, but with two important differences. Where CMM had a single approach to improving process maturity, CMMI offers two approaches or representations. Where CMM was concerned with 18 key process areas, CMMI addresses 22.

CMM is characterized by its five successively higher levels of process maturity (Initial, Repeatable, Managed, Defined, and Optimizing). To attain a level, all of the requisite key process areas must be in place, even if some of those areas are of lesser importance to a particular organization.

To offer more flexibility, CMMI provides two ways to approach process improvement. Organizations can choose to follow either the "staged" or "continuous" representation. The staged representation is basically the same as CMM's "stairstep" approach, with some changes and additions to the associated key process areas. The other representation, called "continuous," focuses on process areas rather than the attainment of organizational maturity levels. It defines four categories of process areas--Process Management, Project Management, Engineering, and Support--and six capability levels applicable to those areas. Organizations choose where they want to focus their improvement efforts, the degree to which they want to make improvements, and then aim for the corresponding capability level. In both the staged and continuous approaches, the assessment criteria for each key process area are the same.

Key Process Areas
CMMI has a greater number of key process areas than CMM (22 versus 18), and differentiates between basic and advanced ones. Several of the CMM key process areas were restructured or combined, and new areas (risk management, integration, verification, and validation) added, making it somewhat difficult to map old and new key process areas one-for-one. In addition, CMMI's key process areas are distributed differently among the four higher maturity levels.

Making The Transition
Organizations in the midst of a CMM assessment must decide when and how they will transition to CMMI. CMM will continue to be a viable standard for the near future, so organizations close to completing a CMM assessment should continue on that path rather than incur the costs and delay of switching midstream to CMMI. Once an organization has attained its CMM assessment, it can plan to add CMMI's new key process areas and adjust existing ones, and then seek a CMMI assessment if the cost and benefits can be justified.

For organizations that have completed a CMM assessment, the decision on when and if to switch to CMMI is a practical one. CMMI is more complex and broad than CMM, and its associated assessment process is more time consuming, rigorous, and costly, which may deter many internal IT organizations. Considering that the goal of CMMI is to improve the software-development process, rather than to attain a specific certification level, internal IT organizations that are satisfied with the state of their development processes have little incentive to move to CMMI in the short term.

-- Ian Hayes

Stephen Rood, TAC Expert, has more than 24 years experience in the IT field specializing in developing and implementing strategic technology plans for organizations as well as senior project management and help-desk operations review. His consulting experience has included designing and implementing a state-of-the-art emergency 911 call center for the city of Newark, N.J., managing technology refreshes for a major nonprofit entertainment organization as well as a large, regional food broker, and he also worked at Coopers & Lybrand, General Foods, and Survey Research. He is the author of the book "Computer Hardware Maintenance: An IS/IT Manager's Guide" that presents a model for hardware maintenance cost containment.

Beth Cohen, TAC Thought Leader, has more than 20 years of experience building strong IT-delivery organizations from user and vendor perspectives. Having worked as a technologist for BBN, the company that literally invented the Internet, she not only knows where technology is today but where it's heading in the future.

Ian Hayes, TAC Thought Leader, has more than 26 years experience in improving the business returns generated by IT investments. He helps companies focus on value-creating projects and services by better targeting IT investments, improving the effectiveness of IT execution, optimizing the sourcing of IT activities and establishing measurement programs that tie IT performance to business value delivered. He is the author of three IT books, most recently "Just Enough Wireless Computing," and hundreds of articles, a popular speaker at conferences, and his clients include many of the world's top corporations.

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