Why Software Configuration Management is Essential for a Small Business

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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:
Exactly how big should an organization be before CM must take an active part in the development team? The answer is simple: CM, when properly adopted, gives an advantage to the small business that is necessary for it to compete. It doesn't really matter the size your company, you still have to successfully develop, build, distribute, and track your software.

Exactly how big is an organization supposed to be before CM must take an active part in the development team? The answer is simple. CM, properly adopted, gives an advantage to small businesses that is necessary for it to compete. The company size doesn’t matter, as you still have to successfully develop, build, distribute, and track your software. The fact that you're in a small business means you have fewer resources to do so.  This is why CM is so crucial to small business.

The key here is to start with next generation tools and processes, because these require far fewer resources than earlier generations.  In a small business, there isn’t time to perform data base management and administration.  You barely have time for backups.  Once the customer count exceeds one, you can't afford to manually put together customer progress documents.  Even if your customer count is less than or equal to one, the key is automation.

The Underlying Essentials
Unless you've been in a small development environment, it may not be obvious how big an impact a small thing like doing backups, or researching a CM tool has on your schedules and resources.  Because of this, it's important to focus on minimizing costs from the beginning

If you start by looking for the best tool, as long as it's free, you may be in for a resource hit.  Freeware solutions are definitely improving, but you're likely not going to find something that will allow you end-to-end life cyle management with easy customization and a low level of administration, even if it is easy to use.  Many CM vendors will cater to small business, perhaps offering a few licenses at no charge, or for a nominal fee to cover some costs.

Either way, the key is not how much you're paying, but rather how much you're saving.  This is where Next Generation comes in.  There are a number of essential capabilities in Next Generation CM tools that are very appealing to small, resource stretched companies, not to mention the big guys.  A small business doesn't have the time to spend on administration, process development - it needs to get going quickly while operating lean.  At the same time, it needs not just to do what their larger competitors can do, but to excel over them.  Below I've listed ten areas of CM where good tools and processes can help.:

1. Rapid deployment:  If the CM tool cannot be installed in a few minutes, a small business is likely to give up on it.  That's actually not a bad strategy either, because if it can't be installed quickly and easily, it probably will require a lot of administration.  There are several tools out there that can be rapidly installed.

2. Easy data loading:  It's not good enough to be able to play with the CM tool.  If you can't get your data in there quickly, there's a big danger that it'll never make it in.  Some tools are very good at automating the loading in of software, while others are not. But a good next generation tool will also help you to load in your existing problem database (probably a spreadsheet), your project plans and activities (if they exist), your documentation, test cases, and whatever other components you have in your small business development shop.  And if you don't have these components, a next generation tool should make it easy for you to start tracking these without absorbing a "cost of doing business".

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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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