Is there any way to avoid this kind of disruption to the business altogether? Participants in the ARCHWARE project believe so. They are working on methods to make software 'evolvable', and thus able to accommodate the changing needs of organisations and applications.
Focus on the software architecture
ARCHWARE is an ongoing IST project due to finish at the end of 2004. But what is so new about the project's work? "We are attempting to define a formal architectural specification language that can be applied to different domains," says project coordinator Ferdinando Gallo of Consorzio Pisa Ricerche (CPR) in Pisa. "The idea is to support the implementation of systems that are able to evolve throughout their lifecycle."
The project focus, he says, is on the architectural description language, or ADL, for such software, an area that is on the cutting edge of software research. In the ARCHWARE approach, a process is itself regarded as a 'software' architecture, in which the open source ARCHWARE ADL is used to model and encode the relevant software process activities. These processes can then be made 'evolvable' to meet the needs of the organisation involved.
The key benefits of evolvable systems, he says, include "reduced development and maintenance costs, especially in the compliance of systems with evolving user requirements." Such advantages can be critical to software such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems, where it is critical that organisations are not hampered in the development of their business by any lack of flexibility in the software system.
Opting for open source
"One of our priorities in these projects is to think about exploitation and how you get a return on your investment," says Gallo. "Open source is a nice business model, because rather than selling the product, you sell knowledge about the product. You build a new software paradigm and become an expert on that paradigm. Others come and create further value by building on that foundation. In the process, they help with the evolution of the software."
Using open source has other advantages, he maintains. It is the best way to rapidly establish a new user base, and is also a model that is appropriate for the academic sector, because the universities involved are free to use the results in their teaching activities. And of course the industrial partners use them to improve their own software engineering systems.
Consorzio Pisa Ricerche /Meta
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Source: Based on information from ARCHWARE