What the Next Standard of CM Will Look Like

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In his CM: the Next Generation series, Joe Farah gives us a glimpse into the trends that CM experts will need to tackle and master based upon industry trends and future technology challenges.

Summary:
When will the ultimate software configuration management (CM) standard emerge? Although Joe Farah suspects that it may never happen, he recommends the next standard: one that will be very well defined, highly flexible, and will cater to agile development, automation, CMMI, and more.

Software standards have two main purposes:  They help systems work with one another by ensuring consistent interfaces and data exchange mechanisms.  They also help to define the use of best practices in a process or series of processes.

As a byproduct, software standards reduce costs, by allowing a set of pre-trained personnel to be available on the job market.  They provide reduced risk exposure as personnel responsible for processes and for developing standard interfaces/data exchange, are more easily replaced with less risk of knowledge loss.  This is because the requirements identified by the standards are well defined.  This, in turn, generally means that there are test suites, test plans, and measurements available to monitor processes, and to test out new components.  Standards are much more rigorous on the hardware side of things than on the software side.  If the hardware pieces don't fit together, neither does the solution.  So, too, with communication and network protocols, which are very standards oriented, whether for voice, data or converged communications.

Software has many defined standards, but for the most part, the standards focus on process more than data and interfaces, with a few notable exceptions:  ODBC for data exchange, compiler languages for consistency of programming, libraries and linkers for compatibility with operating systems/host platforms, and so forth.

When it comes down to software configuration management, standards are often relegated to some fairly high-level best practices: you must be able to reproduce a build; you must be able to demonstrate that the product covers the requirements; you must be able to support the product for N years. In my November, 2007 article I listed a number of CM best practices.  Many of these can hardly be called standard practices, though, or even part of a larger standard. 

There are a number of CM "standards" (guidelines or directives) that are sometimes specific to a certain organization.  There are also related process/quality standards which cover CM to some extent.  These have been extremely useful to the SCM community over time.  They have established some basic CM requirements and  have helped form CM processes.  However, they are often "soft standards" or project/program-specific detailed standards.

They do not allow, for example, the transfer of information from one SCM tool/process set to another.  Imagine a database standard that did not allow the information in repositories to be transferred from one DB vendor's tools to another.  The reports, scripts, process enforcement, etc. of databases may not be transferable (as the standards for these are less developed).  At least the data can be transferred from one database to another and standard tools can be created which operate across databases of various vendors.  Not so with SCM tools.  There are some tools that treat both problems and features the same.  Some do not require change packages, while

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About the author

Joe Farah's picture Joe Farah

Joe Farah is the President and CEO of Neuma Technology and is a regular contributor to the CM Journal. Prior to co-founding Neuma in 1990 and directing the development of CM+, Joe was Director of Software Architecture and Technology at Mitel, and in the 1970s a Development Manager at Nortel (Bell-Northern Research) where he developed the Program Library System (PLS) still heavily in use by Nortel's largest projects. A software developer since the late 1960s, Joe holds a B.A.Sc. degree in Engineering Science from the University of Toronto. You can contact Joe at farah@neuma.com

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