Proper apps definition prevents future headaches

Many companies tend to overlook need to define requirements for developing, deploying and maintaining apps, which often result in buggy or exploitable software, says Micro Focus CEO who urges stakeholders to regard process more seriously.
Written by Kevin Kwang, Contributor

As the time-to-market for an application to be developed and deployed continues to shorten, IT managers and developers tend to bypass the requirements definition component in the app process. This oversight usually leads to buggy or malware-exploitable apps, noted an industry veteran.

Nigel Clifford, CEO of app deployment and modernization vendor, Micro Focus, said companies and the media tend to look at a specific issue in the app deployment lifecycle and identify it as the source of problem in apps that are buggy or have loopholes that cybercriminals can exploit.

Oftentimes, though, app issues arise because the various stakeholders within the company did not sit down together and conduct a thorough requirements definition exercise for the planned business app, explained Clifford, who was in Singapore recently to meet up with the company's channel partners.

In an interview with ZDNet Asia, he noted that while the technology behind creating an app is "interesting" and constantly evolving, it is more important to use the technology to enable business stakeholders to "understand the app".

This involves identifying the databases and resources needed to provision for the app, as well as information the app will be accessing and functions the app is meant to serve, he said.

"Many times, app projects are interlinked with other projects and it is important to understand the environment that the app will be deployed in," he explained. "With requirements definition as the starting point, there is accountability throughout the development process and a checklist to refer to once the app is created."

Returning to double-digit growth
Elaborating on Micro Focus's growth strategy, Clifford--who took up the company's reins last May--said the company is looking to "return to double-digit growth" in the medium-term. According to a Financial Times report in June 2010, Micro Focus was running at a 5 percent growth trajectory but this figure is a fall from its usual double-digit expansion rate.

To boost its growth, Clifford said he is looking to strengthen the company's "three legs": app testing, mainframe application development via the Cobol platform, as well as modernizing and migration of mainframe apps to other "commoditized hardware platforms".

He pointed out that Micro Focus also added to its Cobol  toolkit the ability for developers to code and deploy their apps for mainframes and other x86-based platforms. The launch of Visual Cobol R3 last week extended the toolkit to new platforms such as Java Virtual Machine (JVM), Eclipse and Microsoft Azure without the need for any platform-specific work, the company stated.

Clifford said: "We intend to retain our leadership of the Cobol market, which grew by 3 to 4 percent in the last six months."

The company is also looking to grow "organically" through acquisitions, the CEO revealed, noting that any addition to the company is "unlikely to be dramatically left-field" and will complement the three key business areas he outlined.

U.K.-based Micro Focus in 2009 bought Borland and Compuware to boost its offerings for software development and deployment.

While bigger competitors such as Hewlett-Packard and IBM are entering the app testing space, Clifford remained upbeat over his company's long-term future.

Delineating differences between Micro Focus and its rivals, he said in terms of customers, Big Blue plays in the niche industrial business verticals. He added that both HP and IBM cater more to enterprises and lack the scale to reach smaller-sized businesses. Clifford also said that HP's Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) suite, which was launched last December, is not as tightly integrated and nimble as Micro Focus' offering.

"Our product portfolio, keen pricing with timely delivery, as well as scalability to meet the needs of both enterprises and smaller businesses, will all help to bring us back into double-digit growth," he said.

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