SCM Predictions from the 1990's: Are We There Yet (2006)?

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Summary:
Making predictions is fraught with danger and the last thing forecasters need is somebody to actually compare their predictions with reality. In SCM there were key attempts to project the future of the discipline and the tools that support it. As a dozen years have elapsed since these predictions were made, it is time to assess their accuracy and determine where SCM has been and where it still needs to go.

Making predictions is fraught with danger and the last thing forecasters need is somebody to actually compare their predictions with reality. In SCM there were key attempts to project the future of the discipline and the tools that support it in the early 1990's. As a dozen years have elapsed since these predictions were made, it is time to assess their accuracy and determine where SCM has been and where it still needs to go.

Of course, we all have opinions on where SCM may be heading, but rarely do we get around to writing them down or accessing their accuracy at some point in the future. So I shall review the early work on SCM conducted at the Software Engineering Institute (SEI) with due respect. Twelve years later these papers present a future we have in many ways already lived, but the aim is not to use twenty-twenty hindsight to be critical of any deficiencies. SCM continues its evolution and some challenges identified in those early days still have to be confronted, let alone overcome. So beyond what came to pass and what did not, we may want to look back at these early works to determine what unanswered questions remain and if any unrealized futures are worthy of our renewed commitment.

Challenges & Predictions

The early nineties was a time when there was significant interest in SCM. The acceptance of commercial SCM solutions was growing and most of today's tools stem from research and development undertaken around that critical period. 

The problems with software development were being recognized and addressed. And best of all organizations were for the first time investing heavily in tools to support their development projects. We were still in the midst of the Computer Aided Software Engineering (CASE) revolution and there were great expectations that software itself could come to the aid of the so-called "software crisis". The industry was relatively pleased with itself and numerous techniques and methodologies abounded. It was thought to be simply a matter of adopting some combination of these to solve the problems the software industry were experiencing.

The Software Engineering Institute (SEI) was becoming influential in 1990 when it undertook a significant study of software engineering environments and SCM, even as it was promoting the Software Capability Maturity Model (CMM). In this paper we will review two key papers of that period and attempt to determine the accuracy of their predictions.

Susan Dart at the SEI undertook a survey of SCM concepts [1] to be found in the different tools and environments available at the time. The "spectrum of CM concepts" she produced captured the different approaches that the various vendors had taken to tackling SCM issues and provided a baseline (sorry, couldn't resist) by which to compare and contrast the different market offerings.

Although Dart's brief section on the future of CM systems poses many questions about the direction of the field, we can discern a number of key predictions in her summary. Therefore the first set of very high-level predictions attributable to Dart and the SEI team are as follows:

  • That the CM concepts spectrum would evolve into a fundamental set of CM services that all CM system will eventually attain.
  • That there are political and technical issues and concerns that will affect the future of SCM tools. Today we would more appropriately interpret the political issues as the market and commercial forces that shape the SCM landscape. A key example Dart gives of a political issue is whether CASE environments include or exclude CM capabilities - which translates to whether independent CM tools can exist

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About the author

Louis Taborda's picture Louis Taborda

Louis is the managing consultant and founder of the Alinement Network, operating out of Sydney, Australia. He has been chief technologist formulating the ALM vision for a leading tool vendor and works across the project lifecycle to streamline processes and bridge the business - technology divide. With over twenty-five years of software and systems experience he recently completed a PhD that applied Configuration Management (CM) and agile principles to managing change and architectural complexity. This work provides the foundation for the release-centric lifecycle described in his book, Enterprise Release Management: Agile Delivery of a Strategic Change Portfolio, published in late 2012 - see enterpriserelease.com

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