National welfare agency Centrelink has initiated quality level agreements (QLA) for its in-house developed software resulting in better visibility of work done by service providers.
Centrelink had a need to add capacity for its Java development projects as there is a lot of migration from existing applications to Java.
It still uses the legacy Model 204 database management system on the mainframe and is restricted to finding people who can code for the platform, whereas Java skills are more available.
Another driver for increased Java development is the migration off Sun's retired Forte environment to J2EE. This involves a number of small projects of between three to six months, including the development time.
All development is done on-site using Centrelink tools in conjunction with outsourcing partners.
Speaking at Gartner's application development summit in Sydney, Centrelink application architect Jason Finlen said there is a lot of fear about outsourcing when all people talk about are the horror stories.
"Our neighbours in Canberra always talk about the horror stories, so the challenge was to get projects done on time with a high-quality result," Finlen said, adding there was little room for scope creep because of the limited number of requirements.
With the outsource vendors well established and there being "no real way to distinguish one vendor from another", Centrelink established the QLA because it wanted projects to be delivered at an appropriate level of quality.
"The QLA provides a framework for ongoing discussions for issues affecting the project," Finlen said. "Some vendors resisted the goals of the QLA but the real question was whether we could measure the results of the QLA. Projects that resisted the QLA were less visible."
Finlen said the QLA resulted in the best results for quality and on-time delivery, and more open dialogue about issues. Also, the management dashboard gave "x ray vision" into the projects.
"The real lesson for us was the higher quality software costs less for us and the vendor," he said. "The quality of software doesn't have to suffer to meet deliverables. Don't expect everything to be perfect up front but it improves over time."
Finlen, who has spent 10 years across every part of Centrelink's software development lifecycle, has developed a real passion for continuous integration and a regular QA cycle but conceded "we have to do a better job of that".
Centrelink uses testing tools from software vendor Agitar, but Finlen said it didn't specify to the vendors they had to use Agitar, except for the management dashboard.
Agitar director of engineering Jeff Frederick said the company has been working with Centrelink for about two years and the forces of quality and on-time delivery are not antagonistic, but they are complementary.