Infinium Manages Change With Help from Aldon
As any IT manager in a large company can testify, various end-user departments often have complex and conflicting demands for what they want from their applications. Imagine having 1,800 customers constantly telling you what they want 40 different applications to provide and you get the idea of what it's like to be a major software vendor. Add in the fact that not only do the applications need to run on AS/400s, but on Windows NT servers as well. Plus, there's the vendor's own internal business applications to worry about.
Such is the normal day-to-day challenge at Infinium Software Inc. (Hyannis, Mass.), a supplier of AS/400 and Windows NT ERP business applications that cover human resources, payroll, financial management and materials management applications.
To start, Infinium's development efforts require plenty of hardware. "We have three [AS/400s] dedicated exclusively to product development and maintenance," says Paul Mockabee, director of development for AS/400 products at Infinium. Adding to the complexity of Infinium's environment is the fact that two of these machines are located at Infinium's corporate headquarters in Hyannis, with the third in New Delhi, India. Infinium employs approximately 50 AS/400 programmers in Massachusetts, California, Oregon and the United Kingdom. All personnel and systems are linked over a wide area network (WAN).
For three different development areas, Infinium employs three different toolsets. On the AS/400 Mockabee uses Aldon/CMS from Aldon Computer Group (Oakland, Calif.) and Windows NT applications are managed with Microsoft's Visual Source Safe. A third configuration management tool is used for managing internal corporate applications--many of which are written in Lotus Domino.
Commercial product development at Infinium is organized around a three-tier model of development, testing and production, Mockabee says. With almost 40 products divided among three product lines, Mockabee is able to dedicate each product line to a single development machine. "For any given product, I have a maintenance process going on at the same time I have a new release under development," he says.
With different versions and updates flying back and forth between development sites, only automated change management tools can keep things straight, Mockabee says. "A developer inadvertently promoting a functional enhancement into what is defined as a maintenance release could have disastrous consequences. Without the right tools in place, it would be difficult to keep people from stepping on each other's work."
That's why tools such as Aldon/CMS are "necessary once you get to any team size of critical mass, and are coordinating changes amongst multiple programmers," Mockabee says. This need is especially acute with remote development operations, where programmers are working around the clock and don't necessarily interact with one another.
Along with Aldon/CMS, Infinium also runs operations with in-house tools, such as an application for tracking customer requirements and enhancements, a separate process from tracking and managing the source code for the applications. Another custom-built tool serves as a problem management system for tracking customer-reported defects. This system can track problems "from the time the customer calls us, to the time we actually deliver solutions to them," Mockabee adds.
Fortunately, in this complex change management environment, Mockabee has one less thing to worry about than most other software houses. Infinium has had Year 2000-ready software available since its inception in the early 1980s. "One of the reasons why the company was originally called Software 2000 was that the products were originally designed and implemented with the Year 2000 in mind," Mockabee says.