IBM Rational head: We're transforming

IBM's Danny Sabbah discusses the future of Rational.

When Danny Sabbah became general manager of IBM's Rational division in 2005, he set out to make changes in the organization. Sabbah said Friday that this transformation is well under way.

"I think you will see a lot more reality to that vision in the second half of 2008," he said. "By 2009, you won't recognize Rational."

A key Rational project is Jazz. "What we're doing now is starting to create the IDE [integrated development environment] of the year 2010," Sabbah said. One of the first Jazz products is Rational Team Concert, a real-time collaboration portal, which is now in beta.

The Jazz project symbolizes the shift in focus at Rational, Sabbah said. At different points, the company focused on developing "best of breed" developer tools, and then on process and methodology, he said. Jazz doesn't negate that work, but aims to "treat the application life cycle as an entity in and of itself," Sabbah said. "It's a very different perspective from, 'How am I the best coder, or the best tester, or change management expert.'"

"I talk about Rational being the ERP [enterprise resource planning] vendor for the business process of software development," he added.

Overall, Sabbah's leadership of Rational has indeed invoked change, said analyst Judith Hurwitz, a longtime IBM watcher.

"Historically, they've had a lot of tools that didn't really work together all that well," she said of the company, which IBM bought in 2003. "From the outside, it looks like they're building much more of a platform than a series of disconnected tools."

IBM bought Watchfire, a Web application security company, earlier this year. Sabbah said IBM is going to use Watchfire's technology to embed the notion of security early in the software development process. "The way you encourage developers to understand those types of rules is to inject those design patterns into their tools," he said.

As Rational undergoes change, competitor Microsoft has in turn been evolving its own development products, such as the Visual Studio IDE.

Sabbah said IBM will make sure Rational continues to play well with its rival because of the mixed environments many IBM customers have. Either IBM or its partners will create Jazz plug-ins for the Visual Studio stack, he said.

However, Sabbah is unimpressed by Microsoft's roadmap for application development beyond Visual Studio 2008. The project, codenamed "Oslo," is based around using model-driven design to build and manage composite applications. But the vision is still hazy, as Microsoft has set no release dates.

"I have a hard time dealing with announcements from Microsoft that are nothing but paper," Sabbah said. "I can write vision documents too. It's just hard to make judgments on things that aren't real. ... All I can tell you is, the stuff we're doing with Jazz, it's running code."

Sabbah also said he has little use for a recent trend: Tools and platforms that supposedly make it easy for business users to do some development.

"I don't believe any of that stuff," he said. "I've never met a business user that can use any type of professional development tool. Period." Business users are better off working within more familiar environments, such as spreadsheets and word processing programs, he said.

IBM is instead working on how to better connect coders with the needs of business. "The whole idea is to improve the communication between the developers and the business analysts who are trying to convey the requirements," he said.

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