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Software Best Practice initiative within the framework of the specific research and technological development programme in the field of Information Technologies, 1994-1998

The Software Best Practice initiative is an accompanying measure of the specific programme of RTD in the field of Information Technologies under the Fourth Framework Programme. It builds on the achievements of the pilot phase of the European Systems and Software Initiative (ESSI), which was established in 1993 under the auspices of the third phase of the ESPRIT programme. All the actions supported under the Software Best Practice initiative are based on the experience gained during the pilot phase of ESSI.

Software Best Practice refers to a group of actions being supported by the Commission to promote improvements in the software development process. These actions are aimed at applying mature, proven and appropriate methods and technologies in the software development process. In recognition of the fact that process improvements are often accompanied by considerable changes in both the skills required of the professionals involved and their way of working, the initiative also focuses on personnel and organizational issues.

The objectives of the initiative are to be realized through pursuing complementary lines of action, aimed at:

- Raising the awareness of European industry to the importance of efficient software development;
- Demonstrating, through experimentation, the benefits that can be achieved;
- Creating networks of common interest to influence suppliers;
- Raising the skill levels of software development professionals;
- Enabling the sharing of information and the exchange of experiences.

In addition to the user organizations participating directly in the initiative, it is expected that software vendors and service providers will also stand to benefit from activities under the initiative, as demand for their methodologies, tools and services is stimulated and valuable feedback is given on the strengths and weaknesses of their offerings.
To promote improvements in the software development process in industry by encouraging the take-up of well established, but insufficiently deployed, technological support, so as to achieve greater efficiency, higher quality, and greater economy.
- Stand Alone Assessments:
Aimed at companies that are only starting to improve their development process, these assessments are designed to provide organizations with a baseline for deciding on the best way forward and for measuring future progress;

- Process Improvement Experiments (PIEs):
Aimed at demonstrating software process improvement, these follow a generic model and will demonstrate the effectiveness of software process improvement experiments on an underlying baseline project that is tackling a real development need for the proposing organization;

- Dissemination Actions:
Aimed at spreading information about the effectiveness of the process improvements that have been successfully demonstrated in PIEs and elsewhere. The objective is to give users across Europe, who have common sets of interests, both knowledge of what improvements can be achieved and contact information on where to find help in achieving the improvements for themselves;

- Provision of Experience networks/ User networks:
Activities aimed at facilitating the exchange of experiences and to provide an open forum for discussion between software developers. These networks are further designed to mobilize groups of users at the European level and provide them with the critical mass necessary to influence their suppliers through the formulation and articulation of clear requirements;

- Training actions:
Broad in scope and covering training, education, and the acquisition of required skills for all groups of people who are involved in the software development process. Particular emphasis is placed on the training of trainers, who will in turn pass on their knowledge to the users. Actions are also aimed at raising the general awareness of the benefits of software best practice, for instance to senior managers.
The Commission is responsible for the implementation of the Software Best Practice initiative within the framework of the specific RTD programme in the field of Information Technologies (1994-1998).

Any organization in any industrial sector which regards the generation of software to be part of its operation may benefit from the actions covered by the initiative. Such user organizations are generally classified as being outside the software industry, for instance engineering or commercial organizations in which software has emerged as a significant component of their operation.

Calls for proposals are issued periodically on the basis of work programmes drawn up by the Commission. Briefing packs, providing detailed information on how to prepare a proposal, are published in tandem with the calls.

Actions under the Software Best Practice initiative are funded from the budget allocated under the Fourth Framework Programme to the specific programme on Information Technologies. In general, the Commission reimburses 100% of the incremental marginal costs associated with an activity under the initiative. In this context, incremental marginal costs refer to the actual costs which the contractor incurs in the execution of the project.

Stand Alone Assessments are co-funded by the assessed organization and the Commission. The Community's financial contribution does not exceed 50% of the incremental marginal costs and is subject to a ceiling of ECU 20,000.

Process Improvement Experiments (PIEs), which demonstrate the benefits of software process improvements on a real underlying project through controlled experiments, form the bulk of the Software Best Practice initiative. Proposing organizations are expected to have already assessed their current situation and have an outline plan of the improvements to be made. They must further show that the experiment undertaken is capable of being subsequently replicated throughout the organization.

A typical PIE is allocated a budget of between ECU 100,000 and ECU 500,000 and lasts no more than 18 months. Funding is available for the additional marginal costs incurred in carrying out the actions. However, no funding is available for the underlying development costs.