Posted by: gihe123 | March 9, 2011

Information silos

At a recent meeting with a large defence contractor, I was struck by how, despite everyone’s best intentions, critical information can become fragmented and uncontrolled over time because of a lack of joined-up tools. As you’d expect, this company had an extremely strong process for managing changes to documents, software artefacts and related project information. Everything was coded, categorized and counter-signed. The assets were either stored in protected network folders or in a commercial CMDB.

Our discussion turned to configuration and change management of software artefacts. Software changes were approved via a web-based change management system and recorded against the CR number. So far, so good. But as we delved deeper, it transpired that the requirements they were working from were recorded in another system and there was no traceability from those requirements to the developed code, nor to the tests that were performed against that code.

We then talked about how the code was developed. Some code was developed in-house and some delivered as archived files by offshore third-parties. I wondered whether these external deliverables were documented and recorded against the change record. Were they independently tested by the third-party before they were applied to the in-house testing branch? Which versions were applied? Could they recreate earlier builds if there was a failure?

Yes, they said. The external developers’ contributions were all recorded in an Excel spreadsheet. The file was password protected and only one person in the department knew the password…

Sadly, this is not a unique case. Companies large and small, even those with strict change processes, will all create “information silos” as departments grow and projects develop over time. The ubiquitous Office software allows, nay encourages, employees to set up their own databases and spreadsheets. Individual development teams will download a free version-control system from the internet because “it’s just quicker than using the in-house tool”. And gradually, almost imperceptibly, important information becomes decentralized and disconnected.

Information works best when it’s connected to other information (just ask Tim Berners-Lee). The World Wide Web is over twenty years old now, and shows no signs of slowing down as our hunger for connected information increases.
By the same token, connecting and centralizing the visibility of relevant information within a development project can have huge benefits, especially in the areas of compliance and quality improvement. At the very least, it just makes everyone feel better about what they’re doing.

Software such as Rational Team Concert is helping customers regain control over information silos by fostering collaboration and sharing. It’s not just a tool for developing code – it’s a portal to a community platform that connects people to the information they need to be effective.

Find out more about RTC and the Jazz platform at http://jazz.net/about/

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