Stressed out from stress testing

Computing in Web time is making IT organizations think and act more like ISVs, driving greater use of automated testing technologies.
Posted October 26, 1999

Rich Levin

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How much has the Web changed the face of enterprise application development? Let us count the ways. Start with HTML, pervasive clients, fat servers, distributed architectures, and application servers.

Move to object messaging, server-side components, decoupled frameworks, and enterprise information portals. And let's not forget the year's big buzzes: eXtensible Markup Language (XML), enterprise application integration, electronic data interchange (EDI), and global supply chain optimization.

And that's just scratching the surface. Call it what you will: e-business, e-commerce, e-service, e-tailing, e-tc.; from IT's perspective, it's all e-ssential. Indeed, to say the Web has redefined IT, and done so overnight, would not be an understatement.

Yet for all its impact, the Web's most fundamental change to the fabric and essence of enterprise development remains largely unnoticed. That change is the transformation of IT from a plodding corporate function to a fast running independent software vendor--an ISV.

"The moment you put a dynamic application on the Net, you've shifted from an IT organization that builds solutions for internal consumption, to a company that develops software for external consumers," says Larry Freed, director of the e-commerce practice at Compuware Corp., in Farmington Hills, Mich.

It's a shift that also requires adjusting application development priorities. Technologies many IT organizations have long ignored, such as automated GUI, function, and load-testing tools, suddenly acquire strategic importance.

The reason: When an application system is pointed at the Web, the world is your enterprise stage. Bugs, slow performance, or collapsing under heavy Web loads can mean the difference between brilliant success and bankrupt e-business efforts, Freed says.

Walk like an ISV

Growing numbers of IT leaders, consultants, and vendors agree with Freed's assessment: IT is taking on the attributes of ISVs. To succeed today takes more than migrating sales, marketing, purchasing, and customer services to the Net; and more than adopting new architectures and platforms to keep pace technologically.

It means, experts say, thinking and acting like an ISV, and adopting proven practices and development methodologies that have long separated successful vendors of shrink-wrapped apps from abject market failures.

In fact, IT organizations that ignore the best practices employed by leading ISVs do so at their own peril. Consider this stunning prediction issued by analysts from the Gartner Group, of Stamford, Conn., in September 1999: 75% of e-business efforts will fail. This is due in large part to lack of adherence to best development practices and methodologies.

"You need to look at some of the best development practices that [ISVs] have used for years to be sure their products make the grade," says Mickey Lutz, VP of IT at PHH Vehicle Management Services, in Hunt Valley, Md. "For most IT [shops], that usually means one thing: They have to get serious about software testing for the first time."

Lutz should know. As head of the information technology arm of Avis Rent-A-Car, his PHH group was charged with rapidly evolving Avis' UNIX-based client/server environment to the latest bleeding-edge distributed architecture.

The new requirements called for transforming Avis' legacy enterprise architecture from one that served a handful of internal agents, to a publicly accessible fleet management system that thousands of Avis clients could access live, direct from their desktop PCs.

Ambitious from the start, Avis aimed to do more than just surface marketing and reporting schemes on the Web. It would touch literally every customer, every driver, and every one of the 350,000 vehicles in the company's corporate rental fleet.

The first application targeted: A huge vehicle fleet maintenance solution, where clients could go online and manage vehicle histories, repair costs and operational expenses, driver profiles, and safety training reports, as well as analyze accident records.

It was a high-velocity U-turn for Avis. The company historically relied on its customer call centers to support client queries by telephone, with monthly reports generated by computer and delivered to fleet managers by snail mail.

"When we started this effort, we were a principal vendor, but not a principal app on the fleet manager's desktop," Lutz says. "Today when they manage their fleet, we are the principle application they use. We're no different from Microsoft [Corp.] or Sun [Microsystems Inc.] in that regard. We have become a mission-critical software provider."

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