The business case for IDEs

When NSW rugby league and entertainment giant Panthers wanted to link its network of clubs to help it unify its member management system, it soon discovered there was nothing on the commercial software market that met its needs.

Instead, Panthers contracted the services of Melbourne-based software developer Loyalty Magic.

Chris Leach, Loyalty Magic's managing director, said its investment in IDE technology lets it turn around projects faster with a range of developer skills. "It costs me to get a programmer to program in an IDE [but] it is much quicker and easier to test," Leach said, adding that testing is easier to set up in an IDE.

"I pay less than market rates, have a faster development time, and end up with code that is easier to test."

It's the ability to get to market "quicker and with better integrity" that justifies an investment in an IDE for a company like Loyalty Magic.

"We know we are not the most expensive developer in the market but we are quick," he said.

Panthers originally had a membership management application developed for it as a single club environment, but this needed to be modernized to meet its ongoing growth to a distributed, network of clubs.

The new application, developed mostly in Visual Basic with Microsoft's Visual Studio .Net suite, works across 13 WAN-connected sites in Panther's club network. It polls the central database located at the main club and integrates with the core billing system. Checks on membership status are also made.

"In clubs there are many different categories of membership [and] the greater the membership base, the greater the tax rebates," Leach said. "New members fill out an application and we allocate a temporary card or a photo card. Members then take the card to club facilities and use it to accumulate points and spend points. It has to be 100 percent accurate all the time."

Now, any Panther's member can present their card at any club in the group without the need for a confirmation phone call. The transactions are done in real time.

"This development was a big task in the timeframe given and an integrated platform and .Net could allow us to take risks to deliver on time," he said. ".Net is a good technology for local applications."

Loyalty Magic develops its technology locally, mainly for the retail, entertainment, and gaming sector.

"Everything is built with the same IDE. When we pull in a contractor to do the work, it's easy for them to get up to speed, because it's an integrated environment and not a steep learning curve," Leach said.

Leach estimates there has been "conservatively" about a 30 to 40 percent improvement in turnover by using an IDE for "all elements of development". "Projects that once might have taken a year might take six months - like our first .Net application," he said. "We're in the process of upgrading the promotions model and hope to deliver it by the end of May."

Panther's hasn't enabled online membership management yet, but Leach said it is possible with the application framework.

When IDEs mean business

Alan Perkins, director of electronics design software developer Altium's Sydney technology centre, not only vouches for the productivity improvements with IDEs, but believes complex development would not be possible without them.

In answering how organizations justify the investment in an IDE, Perkins said: "The immediate answer is that there is a complexity threshold beyond which you just can't go without [needing] an IDE."

"We have roughly 300 projects [with] 110,000 files," he said. "You just can't navigate through that without an IDE."

Perkins, who manages a team of 30 software engineers in Sydney and a few in the US, said even with pure efficiency an IDE is very good at speeding up a developer's work.

"It's impossible to put a dollar [ROI] figure on an IDE as it allows you to do things you wouldn't otherwise be able to do," he said. "At the end of the day you can't build a sophisticated product like ours without some very good people and some good tools."

Although Perkins believes that development ROI depends on how good a developer is, a quality IDE enables a lower-quality developer to "come to the table".

"I think if you gave them a notepad to use a high quality programmer is going to get a lot more done, but the IDE helps bridge the gap between what is possible for a developer," he said.

Altium is somewhat of a local software success story; its exports make up 98 percent of the company's revenue and it has been using IDEs since it started some 20 years ago.

Most of Altium's coding is done with Borland's Delphi IDE, and Microsoft's Visual Studio is used for most of the C++ code.

"I think we are a really ruthless purchaser," Perkins said. "We have a high-quality team of programmers selected from all around the world and these guys won't just accept anything. What they want is to get the job done and if the tool doesn't do it for them, they are not happy."

Although Perkins said there is a perception that Delphi is "past it", it is still "an incredibly productive and powerful tool".

"It's also incredibly fast which means we can be agile," he said.

Borland Australia principle solutions architect Mark Foley said there are two areas where IDE technology will provide a more competitive advantage.

"One is integration with the rest of the application development lifecycle. When you look at software development, most organizations run at 40 percent rework. Most of the cause of this is around requirements management errors," he said.

"The other potential area is the paradigm shift where organizations can successfully deploy model-driven development."

Foley said it is "almost ludicrous" to say you can be as productive with a text editor as you can be with a full-featured IDE.

"We're seeing the use of text editors decline, and to be blunt, development managers aren't putting up with it anymore," he said.

When asked about measuring the ROI of an IDE investment, Foley said many organizations can't answer that question.

"How can you measure productivity? Just because I'm producing more code, it doesn't mean I'm doing a good job," he said. "Take more of a scientific approach to software development and treat it as a managed business process."

Regarding the future of Delphi, Foley said Borland views it as a strong component of its product suite.

"When you buy Delphi these days you're also getting C# and in the near future you will be able to do C++ development in the Delphi environment," he said. "So anything that happens in the .Net world will be reflected in Delphi. We're actually seeing our Delphi revenue grow."

Moving to model-based development

If IDEs help automate manual text processing, the model-based development goes one step further to abstracting development tasks, according to Compuware's Asia-Pacific senior product manager Franco Flore.

"The cost of software development is divided into 20 percent for development and 80 percent for maintenance," Flore said. "Most IDEs address the development cost but with maintenance, organizations are left to their own devices."

Flore said organizations typically model processes and then pass it to the developers, which is a manually driven approach.

"We make modelling part of the development process - model the application and then generate the code," he said. "This allows the business to drive the application forward."

Although model-driven development is an emerging market, Flore said many organizations are doing modelling in one form or another, with larger organizations, like banks, conducting it in a more formal way.

"Modelling hasn't been tied to development because of a perception that it doesn't add value but there is immediate value," he said. "Model-driven development can have a productivity gain of up to 35 percent for development and 40 percent for maintenance."

Flore said we will see a day when model-driven development is delivered over the Web to allow collaboration.

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