In-Depth

QA: Mike Devlin, IBM Rational


The biggest sea change in software in years occurred when IBM bought Rational Software at the end of 2002. ADT Editor-in-Chief Mike Bucken tracked down Mike Devlin, (right) the man charged with making the merger work, at Rational's offices in Lexington, Mass.

Q: How are things different now that Rational is a mature part of IBM?

A: What IBM is trying to build overall is what we call a software development platform, which is in some sense the same vision Rational had, just extended. By adding the WebSphere Studio component, we have the construction piece. And we are extending that to integrate with the other parts of the software group portfolio. By adding the WebSphere Studio component, it allows the developer role to include construction tools, so it wasn't just the modeling stuff for design. We have Java development and then, as part of Eclipse, there is what's going on with C++ and other types of development.

Conceptually, we're trying to allow you to do business modeling, and this is where the WebSphere Business Integrator (WBI) [comes in]. You can model your process at the business level, do the requirements analysis, the architecture and design, and the implementation and deployment. And when you deploy that, you can deal with managing change assets -- but then you want to monitor the performance. This is where the Tivoli integration comes in. To do the monitoring of what happens once you deploy the application, we needed to be able to integrate the runtime environment, and that was the WebSphere application server.

These integrations are done to open standards, so it works with WebSphere, but it [also] works with WebLogic or others. Our basic strategy is that while we provide a complete solution and a higher level of integration, it's all based on open standards/open architectures, so if you want to use three of our pieces and something from somebody else, you can choose to do that and it will work. It may not be quite as integrated if you do that. So you want to be able to monitor and then, based on the results of the monitoring, you know you can change the process, requirements or implementations.

What we'd like our customers to be able to do is rate levels of abstraction modeling. You want to push that through. It's not just that you want to do the development at the business process level, you want to monitor what's happening at the business process level. You don't just want to know that a server went down, you want to know that a business process failed. And so we're raising the level of abstraction across the whole cycle. To do all of this, we're increasing the life-cycle integration Rational has always had. We have more technologies than when we were independent. A lot of that comes from things like Eclipse. Eclipse is the foundation of all the practitioner tools and the user interface.

Q: Was Rational a part of Eclipse?

A: We contributed to components of Eclipse even before the acquisition. We were a board member for the Eclipse effort. There's some cool technology, EMF, which is the Eclipse Meta Model Facility, which allows us to build common meta models. In the old Rational Suite there was a semantic relationship between the requirements, use cases and testing tools. And we'd do that by integrating the separate tools. But now with EMF and the current integration we're doing, there's a common meta model, so they're all manipulating the same information. The tool integration is a deeper integration. It's what we call semantic integration as opposed to just the control integration or, at least for data integration, a deep semantic integration. EMF knows what a use case is, it knows what a test base is and that they may be derived from a common entity and have common attributes. It allows tight integration throughout the life cycle, all the way through deployment, monitoring that deployment and updating the whole system quickly. It also allows us to develop more optimized solutions for this runtime and to generate more of the application automatically.

Q: Does buying into this require a belief in and a buy-in to modeling and process?

A: Customers who move to iterative development have more projects early because they do early iterations that actually test the systems, so they have a little bit of breakage early, but they find the design flaws in these early integrations. So they tend to complete earlier and with higher quality.

There's a smaller set that have moved to what we call asset-based development where they're fully using the modeling and fully leveraging the middleware component. They have design patterns for their particular industry and reusable assets across their lines of business. Those guys start their projects with 80% of the components already built. It's an iterative cycle, but it's a shorter, quicker iterative cycle.

The core question to ask is: What's the real ROI? And it depends on how much of this you buy into. Those customers that don't change their process at all -- continue to do development the way they did 15 years ago -- they do get benefits. I mean, if you just automate your regression tests, things that used to take 1,000 hours can be done in one hour. So they do get some return on investment, but it's very siloed on one piece of the life cycle and they haven't fundamentally changed their business. They still get an ROI, but it's an ROI on a piece of the solution.

The message we've been delivering to customers is software development itself is a business process that can be transformed and optimized like any other business process. You have to fully move to this model to get the highest return. To do this, you have to change the way you do business. You can't think of every project as a separate project, and you can't think of all your businesses as separate businesses.

Q: And what's the pushback to the fact that you do have to change the whole operation?

A: It's cultural; you need a change agent. Often, the reason that the transition happens is that there's some changing environment that forces this. Sometimes it's just a new CIO coming in. In the last few years, a lot of this was driven by time-to-market considerations. People wanted to get this compression of the development cycle. In the last two years, it's been driven more by cost.

Q: Do Rational people go in and set up and implement the process?

A: Historically, the Rational folks did this very directly, working with the teams for all process and tooling. One of the values we're planning from IBM is that there's very deep industry knowledge in IBM. [For example,] there's the industry sector team that IBM has around the world and Business Consulting Services [BCS]. They have teams that are focused on 30 or 40 different major industries and then sub-industries. And we're often teamed with them.

Then you build the models, design patterns and stuff specific to that industry on top of some foundational patterns and take that to the customer. There are different considerations depending on whether it's financial services, aerospace, transportation or whatever. Sometimes BCS is the primary customer interface, and we're supporting them to put together a solution for that industry. So that is a change from before the acquisition. Clearly, some of our teams learned the specific industries because they were on those accounts, but it was not an organized effort in Rational, whereas in the context of IBM it is a major focus of the company.

Q: Are you finding that more people are now willing to keep going with the process?

A: We have successes and failures. Sometimes they have an initial step and then something changes and they don't maintain the momentum. But we are seeing a higher percentage of these as fundamental changes to the way we do business.

Everybody used to be siloed, and what they were worried about was building their financial or CRM application. Now what enterprises are trying to do is get horizontal integration, often with partners and customers and outside people. There are companies moving this way, and that causes these initial efforts to be more successful and for people to stay with this longer.

Sometimes we talk too much about the technology. We weren't as good at coupling it with business value propositions, whereas IBM is a lot stronger than we ever were at tying this with business value propositions. I think that's why we're seeing both a higher success rate and more persistence in the successes. It's not a technical industry. This is more business-driven.

Q: How do you look at the world competitively now?

A: We care about and respect our competitors, but unlike some companies that focus on their competitors, our goal is to set the agenda and let them react to us. We're always trying to look forward, be close to customers, set the agenda and let the other guys react. That hasn't changed.

Our business strategy is more driven by our vision of where the technology can go and what customers need. Competitors were more of a tactical issue for us. If anything, we're in a more secure position. We have a distribution channel, and we have access to a lot more technology than we had before.

Q: How does Rational fit into the IBM Software Group?

A: There are five brands, and we're one of the five. And clearly, we're focusing on the build component.

Q: Why do you think that the integration of Rational within IBM went more smoothly than observers thought it would?

A: The reason the integration went well is that IBM put together a very good process for doing integration, which included assigning a senior set of resources and an integration team to help us transition.

IBM was [also] a user of our tools, so there was a lot of commonality in approach. But in the end, I think the customers get a lot of the credit because most customers reacted very positively to this and helped us get through it. And usually the big concern when you do an acquisition is the turnover part, the product integration part, but we had been working with IBM forever on that and the customers were behind it.

Q: Where does UML fit into things? That was a big deal.

A: You know the core UML is the development strategy and what we're trying to do is to continue to build the ecosystem. Part of what we're doing is part of the Eclipse effort, which is the foundation of our tools. One of the meta models in [EMF] is the UML 2 model and we're contributing that to the open-source community. UML 2 is still a primary part of our technology and a core [part] of our strategy.

Q: How about the relationship with Microsoft?

A: We continue to support up as a Visa partner. Before the acquisition we were both promoting off of their solutions for some of these areas. They are less inclined to do that, but they're supporting us technically. We can have our products support the .NET environment. They participated in our user conference, and we participated in TechEd.

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