Rational Software Conference 2009 last week was supposed to be “as real as it gets,” but in the light of day proved a bit anticlimactic. A year after ushering in Jazz, a major new generation of products, Rational has not yet made the compelling business case for it. The hole at the middle of the doughnut remains not the “what” but the “why.” Rational uses the calling cry of Collaborative ALM to promote Jazz, but that is more like a call for repairing your software process as opposed to improving your core business. Collaborative might be a good term to trot out in front of the CxO, but not without a business case justifying why software development should become more collaborative.
The crux of the problem is that although Rational has omitted the term Development from its annual confab, it still speaks the language of a development tools company.
With Jazz products barely a year old if that, you wouldn’t expect there to be much of Jazz installed base yet. But in isolated conversations (our sample was hardly scientific), we heard most customers telling us that Jazz to them was just another new technology requiring new server applications, which at $25,000 - $35,000 and up are not an insignificant expense; they couldn’t understand the need of adding something like Requirements Composer, which makes it easier for business users to describe their requirements, if they already had RequisitePro for requirements management. They hear that future versions of Rational’s legacy products are going to be Jazz-based (their data stores will be migrated to the Jazz repository), but that is about as exciting to them as the prospect of another SAP version upgrade. All pain for little understood gain.
There are clear advantages to the new Jazz products, but Rational has not yet made the business case. Rational Insight, built on Cognos BI technology, provides KPIs that in many cases are over the heads of development managers. Jazz products such as Requirements Composer could theoretically stand on its own for lightweight software development processes if IBM sprinkled in the traceability that still requires RequisitePro. The new Measured Capability Improvement Framework (MCIF) productizes the gap analysis assessments that Rational has performed over the years for its clients regarding software processes, with addition of prescriptive measures that could make such assessment actionable.
But who in Rational is going to sell it? There is a small program management consulting group that could make a credible push, but the vast majority of Rational’s sales teams are still geared towards shorter-fuse tactical tools sales. Yet beyond the tendency of sales teams to focus on products like Build Forge (one of its better acquisitions), the company has not developed the national consulting organization it needs to do solution sells. That should have cleared the way for IBM’s Global Business Services to create a focused Jazz practice, but so far GBS’s Jazz activity is mostly ad hoc, engagement-driven. In some cases, Rational has been its own worst enemy as it talks strategic solutions at the top, while having mindlessly culled some of its most experienced process expertise for software development during last winter’s IBM Resource Action.
Besides telling Rational to do selective rehires, we’d suggest a cross-industry effort to raise the consciousness of this profession. It needs a precursor to MCIF because the market is just not ready for it yet, outside of the development shops that have awareness of frameworks like CMMi. This is missionary stuff, as organizations (and potential partners) like the International Association of Business Analysts (IIBA) are barely established (a precedent might be organizations like Catalyze that has heavy sponsorship from iRise). A logical partner might be the program management profession, which is tasked with helping CIOs effectively target their limited software development resources.
Other highlights of the conference included Rational’s long-awaited disclosure of its cloud strategy, and plans for leveraging the Telelogic acquisition to drive its push into “Smarter Products.” According to our recent research for Ovum, the cloud is transforming the software development tools business, with dozens of vendors already having made plays for offering various ALM tools as services. Before this, IBM Rational made some baby steps, such as offering hosted versions of its AppScan web security tests. It is opening technology previews or private cloud instances that could be hosted inside the firewall or virtually using preconfigured Amazon Machine Images of Rational tooling on Amazon’s EC2 raw cloud. Next year Rational will unveil public cloud offerings.
Rational’s cloud strategy is part of a broader-based strategy for IBM Software Group, which in the long run could use the cloud as the chance to, in effect, “mash up” various tools across brands to respond to specific customer pain points, such as application quality throughout the entire lifecycle including production (e.g., Requirements Composer, Quality Manager, some automated testing tools, and Tivoli ITCAM, for instance). Ironically, the use case “mashups” that are offered by Rational as cloud-based services might provide the very business use cases that are currently missing from its Jazz rollout.
But IBM Rational still has lots of pieces to put together first, like for starters figuring out how to charge. In our Ovum research we found that core precepts of SaaS including multi-tenancy and subscription pricing may not always apply to ALM.
Finally there’s the “Smarter Products” push, which is Rational’s Telelogic-based rationale to IBM’s Smarter Planet campaign. It reflects the fact that the software content in durable goods is increasing to the point where it is no longer just a control module that is bolted on; increasingly, software is defining the product. Rational’s foot in the door is that many engineered-product companies (like in aerospace) are already heavy users of Telelogic DOORS, which is well set up for tracking requirements of very complex systems, and potentially, “systems of systems” where you have a meta-control layer that governs multiple smart products or processes performed by smart products.
The devil is in the details as Rational/Telelogic has not yet established the kinds of strategic partnerships with PLM companies like Siemens, PTC or Dassault for joint product integration and go-to-market initiatives for converging application lifecycle management with its counterpart in the for managing the lifecycle of engineered products (Dassault would be a likely place to start as IBM has had a longstanding reselling arrangement) . Roles, responsibilities, and workflows have yet to be developed or templated, bestowing on the whole initiative to reality that for now every solution is a one-off. The organizations that Rational and the PLM companies are targeting are heavily silo’ed. Smarter Products as a strategy offers inviting long term growth possibilities for IBM Rational, but at the same time, requires lots of spadework first.