Monday, August 11, 2008

Recession-Proof Computing

The past three years have been very exciting at Efasoft. We've delivered value to a number of customers in a variety of industries including automotive, pharmaceutical, homeland security, wireless internet, aerospace, defense, insurance, and customer loyalty management. We've also learned a lot in the process. These projects have allowed us to strengthen our expertise in XML, Java EE, and SOA. In the aerospace vertical where we have a strong expertise, we took the initiative to propose new ideas such as using ISO Schematron to exchange and validate S1000D business rules and the AtomPub protocol and Atom syndication for the efficient exchange of up-to-date aircraft technical data between airlines and aerospace manufacturers.

Going forward, our objective will continue to be the success of our customers. We'll achieve that by researching and implementing best practices as always. We understand that technology must be aligned with strategic business goals, but should also take into consideration the context within which the business operates.

So, key questions that a lot of business leaders are now asking include:

  • How can we continue to invest in much needed strategic IT initiatives in the current economic downturn under tight budgets?
  • Given the high rate of IT project failures, how do we minimize risk?
  • Which software development methodology can help us deliver quality software on time and under budget?
  • What are the tools that we can use to help our developers in their work and keep them productive?
  • Is outsourcing and offshoring the right approach? And if we do outsource, how do we keep control, quality, and our intellectual property?

Open source software (OSS) is the answer to some of these questions. OSS lowers the total cost of ownership (TCO). By providing full access to the source code (including unit and functional tests), OSS provides transparency into enterprise software. By supporting standards and open frameworks, OSS allows organizations to avoid vendor lock-in, protect their investments, and find talent in the open job market to maintain and support their software assets in the future (in case the software vendor goes out of business).

SOA and Web 2.0 technologies allow organizations to gain a competitive advantage by supporting business process efficiency and by facilitating collaboration and online communities.

On the SOA front, OSS tools such as Apache CXF (web services framework), Apache Tucsany (SCA implementation), Intallio BPMS (BPMN), Apache Axis2, Mule ESB, Apache ODE (BPEL), and Apache ServiceMix (ESB) have demonstrated their strength in supporting SOA projects in mission critical applications in industries such as banking. Based on carefully researched SOA design principles and patterns, our SOA offering includes the following:

  • Business process analysis using BPMN
  • A model driven development (MDD) approach where appropriate
  • SOA implementation using emerging standards such as BPEL and SCA (Service Component Architecture)
  • SOA Governance using open source SOA Repositories.

On the Web 2.0 front, we really like the Liferay enterprise portal and the Alfresco document/web content management platforms particularly their built-in social networking features which enable enterprise collaboration and online communities. Document management is one area where we can leverage our expertise in XML and related technologies (XInclude, XSLT, XQuery, XForms, ISO Schematron, and S1000D) to help our customers bring their knowledge assets under control. We'll continue to support the Exist XQuery-enabled native XML database to build dynamic XML content applications. The XRX (XForms, REST, XQuery) architecture with Exist and the Orbeon XForms engine enables what we call "Web 2.0 XML authoring and Publishing". We've acquired a strong expertise in document management for maintenance and operation documentation in the aerospace industry (our traditional forte) and drug related documentation in the pharmaceutical industry.

JBoss Seam is a very compelling application development framework because it not only brings together Java EE frameworks such as Hibernate, JPA, EJB 3, Spring, JSF, Facelets, and Java portlets, but also integrates human workflow capabilities (jBPM), full-text search (Hibernate Search), a business rules engine (Drools), and an integration testing facility. We like the ability to leverage third party AJAX-enabled JSF component libraries such as ICEFaces and Apache MyFaces to quickly create rich internet applications (RIA). However, JBoss Seam is not limited to JSF and can also integrate Flex 3 front-ends.

Going forward, all these open source software will be part of our toolkit as we craft innovative software solutions for our customers.

At Efasoft, we are proponents of agile development methodologies such as Extreme Programming and Scrum. These methodologies are based on practices such as user stories, iteration (sprint) planning, pair programming, unit test first, refactoring, continuous integration, and acceptance tests. Agile programming helps create better software that is also easier to maintain. We've witnessed the success of agile first hand and believe that it can help IT organizations achieve success. For more on Efasoft's approach to quality, see my previous blog Addressing Software Quality Head-On.

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