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Closing the Gap

Second Trend: Increased Growth and Sophistication of the UML Notation

Millar, who has used UML case tools since 1997, said the second trend in his "quiet transformation" -- in addition to closing the gap -- is the increasing use and sophistication of Model Driven Development, most commonly using the UML notation.

"When OMG introduced UML ten years ago, industry skeptics dismissed it as nothing more than a marginally-useful 'Visio on steroids,' " said Millar. "But in 2007 history has proven them wrong. IBM sources currently estimate UML adoption at 42 percent."

Millar pointed out that while UML was initially considered "somewhat exotic," in the past two or three years it is increasingly accepted as the industry standard by CIO's, enterprise architects and other software leaders. Millar said the UML notation is about to become even more powerful. The Object Management Group (OMG), which sets industry standards, is in the process merging the notation used in UML with the traditional notion of workflow called Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN).

This merging of UML and Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN) provides a new standard for orchestrating business process workflows across a re-usable services architecture. "Enterprise architects will be able to orchestrate business-process changes across a Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) using web services delivery language to execute well designed service components," said Millar.

As further evidence that UML modeling now exceeds the expectations of early critics, Millar points to Microsoft's decision two years ago to integrate SPARX Systems' and support SPARX's integration of Enterprise Architect software (a full-lifecycle UML modelling suite) into its Visual Studio Team System (VSTS) and the underlying Team Foundation Server (TFS) environment. (The SPARX tools have similar capacity for integration with Oracle, Eclipse/Java/J2EE, IBM WebSphere, and testing tools like HP Quality Center.)

Microsoft has since joined the Object Management Group and have announced that the upcoming VSTS 2010 Architecture will enable both technical and nontechnical users to create and use UML models for collaborating and defining business and system functionality in graphic formats.

"This kind of two-way integration actually changes the software development process," said Millar. "Microsoft and SPARX have knocked down the firewall that used to separate the software engineer from the world of the business systems analyst.

"We're finding when business analysts and requirements people avoid silos and work collaboratively with the design architects, software engineers and testers -- we see software code re-work decline by 30 to 50 per cent," he said.

Jacobson cites a case study that makes a similar point in his February 2007 Americas Newsletter. "A highly mature US Insurance provider uses the Jacobson Essential Unified Process to dramatically increase software development agility and capacity with a whooping 30 per cent productivity improvement."

Millar agrees -- and he characterizes this degree of improvement as "astonishing." "What we're experiencing here is much more profound than simply 'tweaking' the process," said Millar. "This changes our mindset -- when you add all of these process changes together we have fundamentally changed how IT workers collaborate.

"Improving the process and adopting current best-of-breed tools actually changes the software business case," he said. "This brings about a vast improvement in both software quality and return-on-investment (ROI)."

Millar -- who mentors and consults with clients on the use of case tools and process -- said the next generation tools he currently uses have evolved from single-purpose UML tools into what he calls "cleverly-designed Swiss Army knives."

"The newer tools allow team-wide model sharing with complete traceability across all work items including business process models, software requirements, analysis, design, code and testing artifacts. "These modeling tools are capable of anchoring an iterative and agile process," he said. "But all this capability is relatively new. Neither the process -- as it is possible today -- nor the tools even existed just four years ago."

Millar said the ROI on current-generation UML tools has also improved because of a dramatically lower per-seat cost -- in some cases less than one-tenth the cost of first generation UML tools

The lower price-point and increased functionality of these newer products not only changes the ROI calculus -- but it also deliberately turns the "guru-based" deployment model on its head. Instead of equipping a small corps of modelling experts within a larger team, the new pricing model is designed to put UML tools (and working access to the resulting models) on the desktop of every single person involved in the software development lifecycle. One of the many benefits of this change is that it facilitates greater collaboration.

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