SPC: Building Better Software

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The simple mission of the Software Productivity Consortium (SPC), an 18-year-old nonprofit group, is to help companies make better software. The idea is to transform a development shop into a factory that adheres to the Capability Maturity Model (CMM). It’s a five-level set of standards for building software as efficiently, predictably and error-free as possible.

Technology services firms, government agencies and federal contractors dominateSPC membership. Corporate America hasn’t bothered much with CMM, seeing it as a complex and exacting methodology created for the U.S. Department of Defense and used by government entities such as the Federal Aviation Administration.

But the consortium is trying hard to lure mainstream corporations. Seven are current members, including Citibank. However, Eastman Kodak, citing “limited resources,” dropped out last month.

Still, corporate technology managers should pay attention, say CMM proponents. Whether it is missiles or financial systems, the better the software behind the product, the more business you do. SPC members see themselves as part of a cooperative, pooling knowledge and being on call to help each other up the grueling CMM ladder.

There are three kinds of annual memberships. Basic Members pay $25,000, Service Members, $100,000. Both get varying degrees of access to SPC training guides, consulting services and products. Full Members can get all SPC offers—and seats on the board and on the committee that directs SPC research—for $100,000, plus a sum based on the company’s total sales. The SPC declined to reveal its fee formula, but NCR Corp., with $6 billion in sales last year, paid $200,000 for a full membership last year.

The consortium is learning to be less government-focused, says Ron Weidemann, a software quality director at NCR. At first, he says, SPC instructors focused on cutting wasted time from software development, a concern of many government agencies. But NCR wanted to know how to better deploy people with different skill sets during a development project. Instructors then shifted their approach to better suit NCR. Not all SPC work centers on the maturity model. Unisys recently used SPC to identify risks in a new object-oriented development project.

“You can think of the consortium as an R&D partner,” says Paul Kruelle, vice president of architecture, consulting and development in the U.S. federal government group at Unisys.

One plaint: the members-only Web site is dense, even though it was reorganized during the past year. One member likened it to the IRS Web site. “Unless you know the number of the form you’re looking for, you may never find it.”

Software Productivity Consortium
The SPC Building, 2214 Rock Hill Rd., Herndon, VA. 20170
(703) 742-8877

Employees: 90, up from 70 three years ago

Werner Schaer
CEO, President
Head of SPC since July 1999, Schaer had spent two decades at outsourcer Computer Sciences Corp., where he led various systems integration and global software development projects. He has a B.S. degree in electrical engineering from the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich and an MBA from Pepperdine University.

Capability Maturity Model (CMM) evaluation and training; consulting and products for improving general software development processes; other research, including ways to improve telecommuting.

Pragma Systems Corp., Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon University and TeraQuest Metrics Inc.

Reference Checks

AOL Time Warner
JoAn Ferguson
Technical Director, Systems Infrastructure
[email protected]
Project: Seeking help in managing software development. Wants to improve repeatability, time-to-market and costs for building AOL technology.

Lockheed Martin Corp.
Mike Dyer
Corporate Director of Software
(315) 793-5786
Project: Involved with SPC for 10 years; using Capability Maturity Model to build software embedded in airplanes, ships, missiles and fingerprinting systems, among other products.

NCR Corp. Teradata Research and Development
Ron Weidemann
Software Quality Director
(858) 485-3079
Project: A big CMM push under way since 1998. Half the Teradata group is at CMM Level 3, half at Level 4. Using SPC to reach Level 5 in both areas.

Unisys Corp.’s U.S. Federal Government Group
Paul Kruelle
Vice President of Architecture, Consulting and Development Practice
(703) 620-7128
Project: CMM efforts as well as general work to improve software development processes.

EDS Government Solutions
Lana Woolf
Senior VP, Enterprise Services
(703) 742-2000
Project: A member for three years, this EDS group is mining SPC for best practices in software engineering and ways to increase customer satisfaction.

Dyncorp Systems & Solutions
Pete Himmelberger
Senior VP, Chief Technology Officer
[email protected]
Project: Ongoing work in CMM; new project in improving telecommuting technology and processes.

Executives listed here are all Software Productivity Consortium members. Their willingness to talk has been confirmed by Baseline.