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Many medium-sized and large companies have IT systems that already have a certain history. Corporate applications that have grown over decades present decision-makers with major challenges. What is modern and future-proof today may be obsolete and a hindrance tomorrow. It would therefore be necessary to be able to further develop applications in a suitable manner – in the sense of sustainable application development. This is exactly the field in which the modernization experts at PITSS are researching and developing. They revolutionize application development by building on tool-based methods and transferring the values of legacy applications into a modern IT world. This innovative thinking and action has now been recognized as a BMBF funded project.
Mr. Gaede, you are being funded by the BMBF with your research project „Soft Proc, development of methods for retrograde process analysis from a running application“. Can you briefly explain what this is all about?
Software developments fail, are delayed and waste vast sums of money. One of the main reasons is controllability, which is usually due to a lack of documentation of the implemented software. And this is demonstrably the biggest problem in all development or modernization projects. Because only those who understand and penetrate the software can also work with it in a meaningful way. Well-documented software saves enormous costs, avoids errors and allows an easy start for new colleagues or new development partners. We all know that in practice applications or requirements are usually developed under time pressure and documentation is skimped on. As soon as the applications have to be adapted or extended, this sparse documentation does not help anymore, it rather creates further irritations. As a consequence, the costs and times explode, as does the entire project. Often, for the love of their own IT staff alone, companies allow themselves to become involved in the barely controllable until projects fail. Or they accept perceived cheaper alternatives, such as nearshore or offshore development, which merely postpone the problems.
Therefore, with SoftProc we develop a product that analyzes an implemented application with everything that makes it up, from program code to productive processes, and puts it together into a comprehensible picture. A kind of real-time documentation that is fed with the current program statuses and with productive data from the running applications. This new knowledge makes decisions possible again and implementations simple and reliable.
And there is nothing like that yet?
No. There are analysis tools that deal with source code and code quality, but none of them looks at the complete application right down to the real processes. This is a very crucial point, because only the knowledge of how the users deal with the application tells how the program code really works. There is no longer a dependency on former developers; people learn and understand the software by using it.
A huge buzz word of today’s IT is „process mining“, which uses so-called log files, i.e. log data, to interpret a real process. What works well for standard products turns out to be hardly solvable for individual applications. Therefore, we rely on this novel approach, which captures all components of an application, analyzes them and presents them in a comprehensible way – SoftProc.
What kind of product will emerge as a result?
In the next two years, we will present products to the market – also as a cloud solution, by the way – that analyze applications and present the information obtained in an appealing way. One focus of our research will be the visualization of different information from the application, which will be geared to the viewer’s particular questions, such as code quality, object usages, function chains, workflows, test coverage or performance aspects. These new products will enable companies to make the right decisions quickly and reliably and to carry out development projects quickly, purposefully and successfully.
For which companies, people, situations and requirements is this software developed?
Our software is aimed at all companies and industries that develop their own IT systems. The benefits increase with the size, i.e. the complexity of the application, as large applications are naturally the most difficult to penetrate.
The products provide managers up to CIOs, CTOs, CDOs, etc., with a reliable basis for decision-making based on their own systems, without the need for deep IT knowledge. In the same way, the products are aimed at architects and developers who want to plan with the help of information and work in a goal-oriented manner.
In today’s world, we are exposed to high pressure and are subject to many influences, frequently changing market conditions, corporate strategies, business relationships, regulations, etc. make it necessary to quickly grasp and implement. Companies are expanding, merging, opening up new business areas and pouring all this into software, linking systems, building interfaces or expanding the existing. This interaction of business and IT processes, always documented at the latest state of the art, creates an optimum of effort and costs with the highest quality.
Which research partners are you accompanied by and what role do they play?
Prof. Dr. Manfred Reichert, head of the DBIS chair – Institute for Databases and Information Systems – at the University of Ulm, is at our side for scientific expertise. He researches and teaches with his team in the field of „Development of Innovative Technologies for Business Process Management“. Prof. Reichert is one of the pioneers in the field of agile process management technologies. He has published numerous publications on this topic, has received several awards and enjoys an international reputation as a thought leader. This expertise is already available to our customers during the ongoing support project in order to incorporate their valuable experience as well as expectations into the product development at an early stage.
What drove you to this research project?
Even at a young age, I was enthusiastic about mapping analog actions and workflows in a wide variety of programming languages. As a mechanical engineer, I was fascinated by the increasing degree of automation that was being sought in manufacturing methods and production processes. The focus has always been on controllability – in the form of documentation – the reusability of process steps as well as simple procedures, because they determine the degree of automation.
This is how the incentive or vision arose to develop products that could accompany the enormously rapid change in IT with a high degree of automation, in order to master the challenges of modernization and digitization.
Being sponsored by the federal government is a great honor. What significance does this have for you and your company?
Being among the top 50 selected from more than 6000 highly innovative project approaches makes us proud, of course. But more than that, it is an appreciation for the great commitment of all PITSS employees over many years and for our tool-based approaches to automating and optimizing software development. At this point, my special thanks go to the inspiring and highly motivated PITSS team, the companions, families and friends, as well as our many customers in over 40 countries worldwide, who made this recognition possible. For years we have been competing in our projects with IT service providers and deserving software departments that stick to the traditional, personnel- and cost-intensive – but also error-prone – course. Even if the fear of the new, the unknown still prevails here, we perceive that more and more companies are looking for innovative, viable ways within the scope of their ideas and possibilities. The enormous importance that a product like SoftProc can have for IT in companies was recognized by the academic expert committee and honored with the funding project. Here our thanks go to the Federal Republic of Germany in the form of the BMBF, for supporting innovation, our thoughts and approaches. For us, it means that we can further expand our research & development and practical testing in these areas of cutting-edge software development.
What significance do research projects like yours have for our economy?
The thinking in Germany is more restrained and conservative. It feels like we are resting on the laurels of our car manufacturers and mechanical engineers. When it comes to IT, after SAP or a unicorn like Celonis, it’s pretty thin on the ground as far as the world of our future robots and artificial intelligence are concerned, as well as the endeavor to network everything analog in the digital. Once upon a time, our mineral resources and raw materials, in the land of poets and thinkers, were the researchers and inventors. To innovate means to promote ideas wherever they arise. Once again, our thanks go to the BMBF with its SME program, which supports small and medium-sized companies in particular, as it is here that a far higher level of innovation is usually waiting, in the minds of each individual. Compared to the leading IT nations, we are nevertheless far behind. In order to change this situation, we need a change in our thinking and a far greater awareness of the social obligations of our large corporations, which are usually also the result of a vision, as well as a greater willingness to invest on the part of banks and investors.
With our ideas and the project SoftProc we consequently pursue our vision that the strongly growing software, in quantity and complexity, can only be managed by people, if they are supported by intelligent products. Because companies as well as our economy will be forced to implement their IT projects much faster and more agile to find their place in a global digital world.
Entrepreneurs, CIOs, CTOs, CDOs, IT managers, risk managers, administrators and even developers are surely listening up now. When can we expect to see the software? And how and when can people get in touch with you to find out more or even test the prototype?
SoftProc will run over the next two years, a resulting product can be expected at the end of the project. However, there will always be product stages to try out and test before that. Interested parties, as well as doubters, are already invited to contact us today to learn more about the topic or to actively accompany the project.