other areas. Even more important is the need for good interactive queries. Not just single point data retrievals, but multi-axis summaries which can easily be drilled into for more detail. How about graphs which are interactive so that they too can be queried - I really want to know what is making that bar of the chart so big. This is the generation where paper and softcopy reports largely give way to interactive queries. Why? Because they are more flexible - you choose what you want to see on the fly. You change data as you identify the need, for example, to raise the priority of a problem. Instead of coming away from your Change Control Board (CCB) meetings with a set of actions, implement the actions at the CCB and interactively show the results. Use interactive metrics to learn about your project behaviour, to identify your process problems and successes, or just to satisfy your interests.
Interactive query will not catch on unless you have point-and-click performance. Technology advances must be incorporated into a 3G tool so that the computer is waiting for the user, not vice versa. Otherwise, the benefits of the tool will accrue only to the very patient, and perhaps not for long. This applies to both native interfaces and web interfaces.
Data navigation capabilties, such as source trees, work breakdown structure trees, etc. are a minimum level of data access capability that must be provided, along with the means to navigate traceability information in an easy manner.
The big element of useability in the user interface must be object-oriented. You have a report - click on an object to change it, to promote it, to check it out, etc. Basic GUI style guidelines which did not exist in the 1G and 2G tools, have already gone through several iterations in the past few years. These must be harnessed into the CM tool, but even more so, the CM tool must present new ways of navigating data history, traceability information, and metrics.
The Fourth Generation CM Tool
Early adoptors of Fourth Generation (4G) CM tools will be those who are dealing with long term projects. It's to your advantage to understand now what a 4G system will do for you. Here's why.
- It's beneficial to know where the industry is going before establishing your corporate architecture. Perhaps you're looking at going with a market leader; maybe you're looking at an Open Source solution. Understanding 4G technology will help you to identify your longer term ongoing costs - costs which 4G CM technology will likely slash.
- Although there are no commercial 4G systems today, many of the 4G capabilities can be found across today's commercial CM landscape. Some examples: a few newer tools (and some not so new) have very small footprints - without sacrificing functionality; IBM's ClearCase has long supported a view of revisions integrated with the file system; Neuma's CM+ already supports "Fully Synchronous MultiSite" and "Checkpoint/Recovery" capabilities.
- At least one tool vendor is expected to release a 4G version of it's CM tool as early as next year!
If nothing else, early feature availability, and perhaps an early 4G tool, will help do two things: educate the market place; and help form requirements for CM process definition and tool acquisition.
3G CM tools significantly cut the cost of CM when compared to 2G tools. 4G tools do the same, just differently. Although there's more mileage to be found by 4G systems in improving useability and reducing administration and infrastructure requirements, much of the cost savings will come from expanding the scope of functionality.