Quick take: Will Borland find a good home with Microfocus?

Having written quite recently on Borland, I felt obliged to comment on its recently planned acquisition by Microfocus. While the press release talks about ‘market opportunity’ and the like, its also important to think in terms of what it means for software tools customers. A couple of starters-for-10:

1. Borland, having sold off its developer tools division to Embarcadero and kept its application lifecycle tools, has just been picked up by Microfocus

2. Microfocus, having moved from being ‘the COBOL company’ to being ‘the application modernisation company’, has also just bought some testing tools from Compuware

Putting both points together, Microfocus is starting to have quite a comprehensive portfolio when it comes to software development management. But there is a deeper question here. Borland, for all its problems, was doing pretty well in terms of reaching out to the agile development community. Meanwhile Microfocus’ core audience remains organisations that have a larger pool of legacy applications, COBOL or otherwise. Undoubtedly, there is an overlap between the two communities – but it may not be that great: research we have done in agile development draws out one audience, while traditional development and maintenance continues on a somewhat different track.

Where’s the hinge? I believe it lies in SOA – or at least, in the drivers towards an IT environment in which the principles of SOA make sense. This convoluted statement is somewhat deliberate given our consistent finding that many organisations may be doing SOA-like activities, they just don’t use (or even dislike) the term.

A story. A few years ago I did some work with a large, traditional organisation – my task was to train up staff on modern development techniques. Trouble was, I arrived to be told that the CIO had blocked any new application development – any ‘developer spend’ needed to be focused on enhancing existing systems to deliver against new business requirements. While the CIO later relented, it certainly focused how I was to approach what I had been tasked to do.

After a series of workshops, the result was not awfully different from what might be considered a legacy modernisation exercise – understanding the new requirements, mapping them against services provided by the legacy applications, and (through gap analysis) prioritising development activities. Essentially, the first part of the exercise enabled us to identify what needed to be done, at which point ‘development’ could take place in a way that made the most sense.

And what was that way? Certainly, waterfall approaches would have been a poor fit given that there was already a great deal of functionality available – while some (re-)development was necessary, as much focus needed to be placed on a more integration-led approach to software delivery – something which today we might call an enterprise mash-up. Offering a far better fit at the time were timebox-led development approaches such as DSDM – such approaches have of course led to what we call agile approaches today.

From a Microfocus/Borland perspective, then, there is the potential for a good fit between traditional and modern, legacy and agile. Taking into account questions of scalability, availability, security and the like, application modernisation can lead to a platform of functionality to be used across the organisation, which can then be built upon using agile techniques to respond to specific business requirements. I’ve not talked much about the (Compuware) testing piece here – though this is clearly an important element of any integration-led development story. But this is a good start. If Microfocus/Borland looks to help its customers in such a way as to balance old with new, then the acquisition will have my vote.

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