The cost of quality development

commentary Local developers will benefit from CMMI accreditation but the expense is prohibitive. Perhaps it is time for state governments to give a helping hand.



commentary Local developers will benefit from CMMI accreditation but the expense is prohibitive. Perhaps it is time for state governments to give a helping hand.

The Australian technology sector might be recovering from its slump of the past few years, but the software industry faces an ongoing challenge to demonstrate its international competitiveness as global sourcing becomes a corporate reality. Increasingly, offshore suppliers are relying on software quality accreditations such as CMMI to demonstrate their capabilities and help them win customers from all over the world.

CMMI stands for "Capability Maturity Model Integration". It was originally developed as CMM by the Carnegie Mellon Software Engineering Institute to enable the US Department of Defence to assess the capabilities of its software vendors. Since then, it has developed into a powerful tool to help software organisations assess and manage their process improvement activities.

According to Carnegie Mellon, CMMI best practices enable organisations to:

    More explicitly link management and engineering activities to business objectives
  • Expand the scope of and visibility into the product life cycle and engineering activities to ensure that the product or service meets customer expectations
  • Incorporate lessons learned from additional areas of best practice (eg, measurement, risk management, and supplier management)
  • Implement more robust high-maturity practices
  • Address additional organisational functions critical to its products and services
  • More fully comply with relevant ISO standards
Australian software developers wanting to compete on the world stage must now consider whether to pursue a similar level of accreditation.

In the United States, CMMI has been adopted by the US Government, industry, and academia, and is now the de facto industry standard. It is used as a benchmark to enable organisations to measure their development as a software organisation against others in their industry and enables customers to make similar comparisons. Some companies in offshoring locations such as India have embraced CMMI as it enables them to demonstrate their commitment to predictability of quality and meeting customer timelines. This gives these companies a competitive advantage over companies that cannot demonstrate this commitment.

There is mounting evidence of the adoption of CMMI or similar regimes in other nations around the world. In Australia, CMMI is in use at the Defence Material Organisation as well as at large Australian companies such as Telstra, ANZ, and IBM GSA.

Employee-intensive companies, like software developers, pay a disproportionate amount of payroll tax when compared to more capital-intensive organisations, like mining or manufacturing firms.
Preliminary evidence suggests Australian SMEs that have attained CMMI Level 1 and are working towards Level 2 have enjoyed dramatic productivity improvements within their own organisation and deliver a more competitive service.

However, accreditation can cost tens of thousands of dollars or more, which creates a dilemma for the many Australian software developers which fall into the category of SMEs.

This appears to be an area where government assistance is appropriate and Victoria is leading the way with an outstanding scheme that helps fund the cost of CMMI accreditation for SMEs.

Clearly, Victoria has set its sights on being Australia's leading state for software company head offices and the other states need to pay attention or they will miss out on opportunities.

One possibility that occurs to me is that State Governments might consider giving back a portion of the payroll tax paid by Australian software companies to help them fund the cost of quality accreditation.

I believe employee-intensive companies, like software developers, pay a disproportionate amount of payroll tax when compared to more capital-intensive organisations, like mining or manufacturing firms.

Since a CMMI or similar accreditation will help SMEs improve the quality of products and services as well as overall competitiveness, any initiative to encourage SMEs to attain quality accreditation will directly benefit our domestic ICT sector.

Edward Mandla is National President of the Australian Computer Society (ACS, www.acs.org.au). The ACS attracts a membership (over 16,000) from all levels of the IT industry and provides a wide range of services. The Society can be contacted on 02 9299 3666, or e-mail nfo@acs.org.au.

This article was first published in Technology & Business magazine.
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