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Do Web services create expenses or assets?

The software being developed today will be around for a very long time, thanks to Web services. Consequently, developers would be well advised to begin taking a longer view -- as much as 15 years out -- while IT managers should begin to distinguish between software that is an expense and software that is an asset.

That's the way Flashline CEO and founder Charles Stack sees it. Stack was in Santa Clara, Calif., last week for the Software Development West 2003 Conference & Expo, where he participated in a panel discussion on the impact of reuse on commercial software development. The panel included Dr. Martin Griss, author, reuse expert and member of the Flashline Software Development Productivity Council; and Sam Patterson, CEO of ComponentSource. David Quigley, executive director of the Component Vendor Consortium, served as moderator.

"Fifteen years is a long time in the software world," Flashline's Stack told Programmers Report during a pre-panel interview. "But Web services are going to extend the life of software applications because of the way they abstract the platform. If you wrap your legacy apps in Web services, you can leave them there for a very long time."

Cleveland-based Flashline makes tools that enable, promote and measure software component reuse. The company's flagship product, CMEE, is designed to enable corporations to manage and reuse software components throughout the enterprise.

Component reuse is one of the keys to extending the life of applications and for coping with a Web-based architecture, Stack said, but he decided recently that the widely used term "reuse" was "too constricting" to convey the scope of the concept. His company now refers to "asset-based software engineering." Stack's position on treating software as a strategic asset is based upon his experiences working with large organizations to improve productivity through the reuse of software assets, including components, Web services, frameworks and models.

"There are two kinds of software in an enterprise," Stack said, "expenses and assets." IT managers will eventually inventory what they have, figure out which is which and then invest in the assets.

How do you tell the difference between expenses and assets?

"In a company like Wal-Mart," Stack explained, "the IT infrastructure for their supply chain is intended to give them a competitive advantage; so they will want to manage it to a particular degree of quality and effectiveness. That's clearly an asset. But an application such as word processing, as an extreme example, would be an expense. No company in the world except Microsoft would view word processing as a competitive advantage. Reduce cost and expenses, and outsource them, and invest and cultivate things on the asset side."

None of which will be easy, given the pressures that still prevail in enterprise software development organizations, which Stack referred to as a "triangle of pain."

"If you're doing software development in a big company," he said, "you're first facing a massive increase in complexity. Things are so much more complex than they used to be; the size of the programs, the user interfaces, the platforms, the interrelationships among applications -- it's enormous! Then there's this need for business congruence. When software just ran accounting in the back office, nobody cared. But now that software permeates virtually every aspect of every business, there's a big demand for CIOs to be closely aligned with business initiatives. Finally, underlying all of this is what I call a gnawing unease. A recent study held that only 16% of all [software development] projects come in on time and on budget. We really have to look at ourselves in the mirror here and say, we could be doing a lot better job."

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About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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