Thanks to advances in technology, the software industry is present in almost all economic and social sectors worldwide, from health and trade, to communications, education and the arts.
Software is also considered to be an eco-friendly industry, as it does not contaminate the environment and generates well-paid jobs, while market demand for programs linked to the automation and computerization of processes continues to grow, a reality Cuba is highly conscious of.
The island has many enterprises, such as Datys, Softel, Desoft, Citmatel and ETI, which have not only been expanding and developing socially useful applications over recent years, but also have the capacity and human resources to place such tools on the international market. So, if Cuba sells products like nickel, tobacco, medicines, rum and others, why can’t it also export software?
Although it sounds like a nice idea and responds to the government’s policy of substituting imports by increasing national production and developing new items for export, the truth is, that in order for the country to insert itself in software markets, its products must be quality assured.
This, according to Odannis Enamorado Pérez, software engineer and head of the National Center for Software Quality’s (Calisoft) consultancy and process evaluation department, speaking to Granma International.
“Here is where the certification models come in, which are designed to better evaluate the time and cost of a project, as well as manage risks and schedules toward improving the development process.
According to international software development statistics, almost 31% of projects worldwide are cancelled before reaching completion, while 52% end up costing double their original budget. In our country, there are also factors which hinder the expansion of the information technology industry and slip through the filter of internal structures and work systems, noted the specialist.
In other words, she explained, there are serious shortcomings in the implementation of best practices established by international models and norms. “Knowledge isn’t handled in a way that allows successful experiences to be repeated, software tests aren’t conducted during the development cycle and a high percentage of organizations lack certification validating their processes.”
As such, many of our enterprises have failed to achieve the desired impact with regard to application and service exports, she added. “If the client, who is the one purchasing the software tool, doesn’t trust the quality of the product or its development process, we are losing business opportunities.”
It is also important to clarify that we do not have our own specific set of norms which regulate the software development process for Cuban industry, instead we use internationally recognized models, the consultation and evaluation services associated with which, as well as the time and resources used, means implementing these reference standards comes at a higher cost, stated Enamorado.
“So, what Calisoft has done is to take the best practices of these internationally recognized models, combine and standardize them, and apply them to a national context. That’s how the Quality Model for the Development of Computer Applications (MCDAI) was born, which compiles this knowledge, these processes and tasks within the software development process, as well as factoring in internal controls, enterprise improvement, and the ISO 9001, of which a Cuban version has been developed.”
MCDAI AND THE ADVANTAGES OF A CUBAN-DEVELOPED MODEL
The first thing we did was study the principal quality standards used in the development of computer applications worldwide, and then we tried to create our own model bearing in mind the characteristics of our enterprises and their security requirements, explained the head of Calisoft’s consultation and process evaluation department.
It should be regarded as a guide for Cuban entities to improve their software production processes with regard to work methodologies, design, development environment and even more practical tasks like market surveys to choose providers, monitoring the fulfillment of agreements, and reducing risks associated with the project by implementing mitigation and contingency plans, she added.
“The aim of MCDAI is to make a significant impact on both the productivity and quality of products; and in so doing, allow Cuba to insert itself in the international scene, given the fact that there exists recognition of what is being done here.”
The difference between the MCDAI and other models, according to Enamorado, is that ours, as well as its computational benefits, also contributes to knowledge management. This way, knowledge of any innovation in the entity isn’t limited to just one person but is shared and recorded either digitally or in print.
Meanwhile, Enamorado stressed that such improvement processes are always slow because changing the way of doing things means incorporating new practices, which is difficult because we are also talking about changing mentalities and established habits.
Thus, the importance of the diagnostic phase, which gives us an idea of how close or far off the desired parameters we are, of what it should be. Then, depending on these results, we develop an action plan and prioritize those areas which we can directly impact, she noted.
Today, for example, we can say that MCDAI will directly impact an entity’s work schedule, that is to say, make it more realistic by factoring in the risks associated with the entity and their ability to fulfill their obligations to the client, stated the specialist.
What is more, “by undertaking evaluations early on in the process, we can avoid defects in the application or tool in time and not have to resolve them at the end - which sometimes happens - thus preventing production costs from rising.”
Meanwhile, providing managers with timely information throughout every stage of the development process, allows them to be more familiar with the benchmarks and able to designate more resources or direct actions to improve these production processes within the entity, noted Enamorado.
It is also hoped that the model will help prepare organizations and entities to be certified by both Cuban and international standards.
VALIDATION & PILOT TESTS
After holding workshops and brain-storming sessions by specialists with experience in project, risk, and purchase management, we were able to get the MCDAI approved and prefect certain areas in order for the model’s guidelines and recommendations to be more in line with the needs of Cuban industry, stated Odannis Enamorado.
Then pilot tests began. It was decided that the trails would be conducted at the National Software Enterprise (Desoft), Youth Computing and Electronics Clubs, the Construction Computing and Automation Entity (Aicros), and Transoft, affiliated with the Transport Engineering Enterprise, with an initial appraisal undertaken in each of the four, none of which met the MCDAI’s basic standards, that is to say, they failed to implement good practices, according to the director.
“In the specific case of Transoft we can say that we recently conducted a consultation process and after applying the model, the entity met the basic level and objective review for computer tool development processes.
“We want to extend the model to other centers which are part of the industry and have the potential to export their products through the end of this year and beginning of next.
“We want MCDAI to become a Cuban model for software development and have already submitted the proposal to Software and Engineering Subcommittee no.7, before passing over to the National Standardization Bureau, responsible for certifying, validating and establishing the norms,” stated Enamorado.
Although Cuban entities linked to the development of technologies must address a range of issues, the certification of a software product is key when it comes to placing such items on the market, because beyond the application itself, clients want to know that the product they are going to purchase meets certain quality, efficiency, and security standards.
Incorporating models such as the MCDAI in the production process is therefore, an important step in the right direction.