If you need a quick fix, call a hacker: Business users' computing needs can change fast. Software producers may soon be forced into short cuts to keep up, writes Darrel Ince
Monday 28 June 1993
Another example is a company faced with a new marketing strategy from a rival that threatens to make massive inroads into sales. A response, supported by the company's IT system, must be made soon. Rank Xerox, for example, is attempting, in a relatively short time, to jump ahead of rivals in office equipment manufacture by making closer links between the customer and its sales, service and administration divisions. This sort of reorganisation always entails substantial modifications to IT systems.
The culture in both British and American software development companies is to have a carefully staged process whereby requirements analysis is followed by system design, detailed design, programming and testing. Each stage normally generates quite a large quantity of documents: requirements specifications, feasibility studies, test plans, quality plans, test procedures and so on. Unfortunately, the demands being placed on IT systems are such that a working system or a major modification is often required within a period which would normally be a fraction of the time used for a conventionally developed system.
I recently organised a workshop for senior IT staff about what research needs to be carried out in IT over the next decade to solve the problems they are encountering. One of the principal messages from that workshop was that a main reason for lack of confidence in computing departments and outside suppliers was that they were seen as a brake on innovation. That software producers who used current development methods could not respond quickly enough to users' demands.
This is a message the Department of Trade and Industry has been hearing over the past two years. In response, it has decided to mount a special initiative to promote the development of research that would enable users, often via their IT departments, to modify their systems rapidly.
However, a number of groups could be adversely affected by this change in emphasis. First are those that advocate a careful approach to development of software, involving planning, requirements analysis, design, implementation and testing. This includes vendors of methodologies and proponents of total software quality assurance who are seeking to enclose their software projects within quality systems that insist on a large amount of documentation being produced.
The second group that would be affected are academics. For the past 10 years software engineering courses have stressed that software production is like any other engineering process and needs a carefully staged model of development. Many academics have ignored the fact that the techniques they have been teaching have not addressed the business objectives of the customer; that while the methods that are taught enable systems to meet technical requirements, they often lead to systems that fail because they do not respond to business requirements.
Software developers could rightly protest that they are now receiving contradictory messages from customers: of getting a system correct and at the same time getting it delivered or modified quickly. An understandable response from them would be to say that you can achieve one or the other - but not both. Fortunately, new software development techniques that have been piloted in the United States and the UK by companies such as Oracle and Yourdon are beginning to address this dichotomy.
These methods are based on a concept known as evolutionary development. With evolutionary development a customer communicates his or her requirements to a developer who quickly produces a prototype that can then be shown to the customer. Normally, this prototype is produced using a technology that results in quick delivery at the cost of poor response time.
A process then occurs whereby the user repeatedly suggests modifications, which are then incorporated into the prototype until, eventually, he or she is happy with the product. Normally, what has been produced is a system that fits well with the business objectives of a company but is deficient in some way: it may contain a number of annoying little errors, or it may be inefficient in terms of response time or memory requirements.
However, in a quick-moving business environment, where millions of pounds are often at stake, an upgraded hardware purchase can usually take care of the second problem, while the prospect of gaining a large market advantage over a competitor often drastically reduces the irritation that occurs with minor errors and response-time problems. Once the prototype system has been developed, the software delivery team can eliminate the errors, document the system according to the best dictates of quality and deliver a better version of the system to the user. This improved version can then be used as the basis for further changes.
Without this tidying up a system will become more and more baroque in its structure, to the point where even hackers would take a long time to modify it. What is surprising about the demands now being made by users is that they mark the probable rehabilitation of the hacker and potential formation of a strange alliance between two diametrically opposed cultures. Industry analysts are now coming to the conclusion that both conventional software developers and hackers will be needed in the future: the hacker for quick delivery or quick modification and conventional development staff to tidy up the mess that has been made.
The implications in terms of skills, job satisfaction and effect on the quality systems software developers use is massive.
The author is professor of computer science at the Open University.
- 1 Bill Clinton portrait features Monica Lewinsky reference, artist admits
- 2 Delhi bus rapist blames dead victim for attack because 'girls are responsible for rape'
- 3 PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
- 4 Have sex with your iPad thanks to the new sex toy no-one asked for
- 5 Average penis size revealed: Scientists attempt to find what is 'normal' to reassure concerned men
Bill Clinton portrait features Monica Lewinsky reference, artist admits
Delhi bus rapist blames dead victim for attack because 'girls are responsible for rape'
The 'sex selfie stick' lets you FaceTime the inside of a vagina
Kanye West gives guest lecture at Oxford University: 'If I, Kanye West, can remove my ego, I think there's hope for everyone'
'This is what Islam tells us to do': A rare glimpse inside a Saudi Arabian prison – where Isis terrorists are showered with perks and privileges
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Trainee Case Handler/Probate ...
£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This precious metal refining co...
£20000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Conveyancing Fee Earne...
£40000 - £70000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...