Stoking the engine of application development is hard enough when everybody works in the same office. It gets amply more difficult when you divide the work among two offices — say, one in the US and another in India. What happens when you add those teams in Ukraine and China? How do you stay on top of complex projects in a global delivery model?
Digite Enterprise provides visibility into your IT investments at the same time it tracks project progress and helps you manage your resources (human and otherwise). It excels in the category of process management — particularly in the class of IT portfolio oversight.
Digite was formed in 2000 by AV Sridhar, who, according to his corporate bio, worked for 16 years at Wipro and then founded Neta, a startup focused on data mining and personalization. The earliest iteration of Digite focused on project management. With time that evolved to encompass IT portfolio management, resource management, program management, project measurement and monitoring, and even financial measurement.
The company says there are 100,000 licenses in use, primarily among large service providers such as Infosys, Wipro, BearingPoint, Deloitte and HCL Technologies. But client organizations are discovering its power too. Those include T-Mobile, Veritas and even the State of Montana, among many others.
The interface, shown in Figure 1, is broad — with a menu across the top of the screen and another along the left side, which expands or compresses, depending on what area the user is working in. The program opens with seven tabbed areas, each correlating to a different workspace.
- Home, the workspace for all users within the organization.
- My Projects, the area that allows the user to drill down on every project he or she is working on.
- Organization, where organizational activities take place.
- Community, for discussion forums.
- Financials, for IT project financial details.
- Portfolio, for portfolio management.
- Administration, for the person administering the application at the customer site.
An eighth tab appears when specified (in the figure, it’s “HR Application”) — to show workspace for the project currently being worked on by the user.
Almost every workspace has a customizable dashboard feature, which shows project progress based on whatever piece of data the user wishes to filter on.
An administrator within the user company sets up and manages roles — project-level or company-oriented — which grants or denies access to various levels and types of information maintained by the system.
The organizational structure of the program may be set up in any number of ways: geography (country or “onshore” vs. “offshore”), practice (consulting services or banking/finance/securities/insurance) or position (senior executive vs. IT people, for example).
Getting data into the system is done manually or through existing directories based on standards such as LDAP.
Where Digite Shines
What impress me about Digite are its mechanisms to automate the management of software development. The program provides functionality to allow users to stay on top of every aspect of the software lifecycle — from speccing out the requirements through change management, document management, collaboration, even the financial aspects.
A process framework allows the user to model different kinds of software development lifecycles — waterfall, extreme programming, agile methodology. The project manager defines what standard process will be followed for a given project through a universal process framework (UPF). If the user is working on a project at CMMI level 3 or above, the lifecycle and processes would be copied from the organization-level process template where, presumably, the software engineering process group would provide the defined lifecycle, processes, roles and workflow stages. This assures adherence to a given development process. Plus, the only aspects of the project that will show up are those applicable to the given work as defined by the project manager. Likewise, a developer won’t see aspects of the project that are irrelevant to his or her piece of the work.
Requirements, as Figure 1 shows, can be captured in four different stages: user requirements; then business requirements (which would be broken into the components to be built or bought); scenarios for the testing requirements; and interface requirements to tie the components together.
As software projects progress, change is inevitable. Digite tracks four aspects of this: change requests, defects (Figure 2), risks and action items. The user company can provide controlled access to the customer (whether internal or external) to allow them to monitor project progress and to report issues. Reporting issues by users can be done through an eform or via Excel spreadsheet.
Scheduling and task management covers the gamut: tight integration with Microsoft Project (if the project is scheduled within Project, Digite will suck up the details for its scheduling purposes and allow data to be exported to MS Project to keep those documents up to date), task assignment, Gantt charts, critical path analysis, progress tracking and timesheet management.
Digite provides workflow tracking. As people put in time on an issue, it tracks how much time is being spent on it. The program uses activity codes to associate projects with issues or work. When time is logged, it can be monitored through a dashboard.
The software also provides a place for the company to enter resumes — not to allow personnel to pursue different employment, but to give the organization a way to collect information about the skills of its people. When managers need to seek out expertise in a given area, Digite can answer the query.
One neat feature of the software is portfolio analysis. When a CIO is faced with a multitude of projects to fund, how should the decision be made about which ones get the greenlight? Digite allows business analysts to set up parameters to evaluate profitability of each prospective project as well as its fit to business objectives.
Likewise, a service provider could use the tool to analyze which project of several would be most profitable to pursue.
Once a project is approved, Digite tracks the “health” of it against the numbers that were originally provided. For example, how is it tracking against budget? How does the schedule look? What impact is scope creep having? (See Figure 3.) These results are based on actual data coming from the project in real time.
Reporting is currently supported by Crystal Reports, but that’s being phased out in support of BIRT, the open source Eclipse-based reporting system. Data analysis can be done on any number of cuts: by portfolio, project, program, subproject, open items, timesheet, event-based, even earned value.
How effective is the feature set offered by Digite? One company that uses the product — a major global service provider — ran two dozen different applications to manage its development projects. The deployment of Digite has enabled it to remove at least half of those. The remaining apps have been or are being integrated with Digite, which gives the customer a central view into metrics, project status and personnel availability. After all, in a twist on the old adage, if it can be measured, it can be managed.
Be forewarned however. The price of power doesn’t come cheap. Licensing typically runs from $100,000 for an out-of-the-box solution to several million dollars where a great deal of customization is required. For example, the aforementioned deployment at a major Indian service provider required six to eight months of integration work. On the other extreme, smaller implementations with far less hand-holding can be accomplished in two to three weeks. But small is relative — 200 to 500 licenses, still a rather sizable development team. The software is available as both a service and a boxed application; most companies, according to Digite, prefer the latter.
Where Digite Doesn’t Measure Up
I see no evidence that the current release provides hooks to SOA features, particularly, component libraries. In companies where reusability is a major goal, I’d think this would call for some deliberate management capabilities in such a broad-reaching product.
Also, as with all business process management solutions (which is what this one is, if you think about it), Digite relies on corporate mandate to force people into a new way of working. Project managers may loathe granting such deep visibility into the state of their projects. Also, this company may not be mature enough to help with the change management aspects of introducing new processes into development operations; you’ll have to go out of house for that kind of guidance. That said, the company says its training on the tool is fast and effective.
Last, a comment about its marketing materials. Don’t bother with the flash “demo” shown on the web site. It’s not really a product demo so much as a sales pitch that you can’t control the speed of. Likewise, the collateral could use a good copy edit.
Forcing the issue of process improvement in software development is gaining steam. For too long, software developers have ridden out on their own as renegade code cowboys who can’t be fenced in. Digite provides excellent visibility into the development process at each level of participation — executive, project manager, team lead and programmer. With process management tools such as Digite, your ability to manage complex software development projects that cross offices and borders is greatly enhanced.
The firm has offices in Mountain View, CA, Mumbai and Bangalore.