Network Research Belgium, or simply NRB, develops software using different systems, including Microsoft .NET, Java, Cobol and PL1. NRB was looking for a way to develop software even more efficiently, for instance by obtaining maximum synergy from the different software development environments. The Application Lifecycle Management tools had to be improved and staff wanted the source code stored at a central location, so that it would be directly accessible from Cobol and .NET.
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NRB installed Visual Studio Team Foundation Server 2010 and the proof of concept was operational in just three days. The new system quickly proved to meet expectations, which means that not only can NRB carry out its development projects faster but it can also monitor and manage them more efficiently. Now the software developers, each with their specialized knowledge, are also deployed optimally. All this will result in an increase in productivity of 10%.
Network Research Belgium, or simply NRB, develops software using different systems, including Microsoft .NET, Java, Cobol and PL1. To make the work on the software development even more efficient and to save time, NRB set up Diapason. The name, a synonym for a tuning fork, is not a coincidence. After all, one of the goals of this project was to align the working methods of the 250 developers in the four development systems to one another. The Application Lifecycle Management tools had to be improved and staff wanted the source code to be stored at a single central location, so that it would be directly accessible from both the Cobol and the .NET environment.
The starting point for making the software development even more efficient is linked to NRB’s expansion plans. The company was created in 1987 as the common IT service of the main shareholders: Ethias, the utility companies ALG, ALE (Tecteo), CILE and, more recently, Sibelga.
“Today NRB has a strong position in the financial sector, the government sector and with utility companies, and it has also gained more and more ground in the social sector and healthcare,” says Daniel Eycken, marketing manager at NRB. So far we have been mainly active in Wallonia and Brussels, but the aim is to gain a foothold in Flanders.”
Convincing proof of concept “Diapason relates to the whole life cycle of software development: from the initial concept up to and including the management of the developed application afterwards,” explains Philippe Willems, Software Architect at NRB. We have four major competency teams, each of which specializes in a different development technology. Diapason is the underlying basis of all these systems and it has to ensure maximum synergy between the four development environments.”
NRB looked for a product that would cover the whole cycle of development and that could handle not just .NET but also, for example, Cobol. The company saw a possible solution in Visual Studio Team Foundation Server 2010. The IT specialist also installed Visual Studio 2010 for the .NET developers. The Cobol developers received the Visual Studio Team Explorer Everywhere plug-in for Eclipse and Visual Studio Team Explorer. Additionally, the source code history was migrated from Visual SourceSafe (VSS) to Team Foundation Server. The proof of concept was operational in just three days, including the complete installation and configuration of the server and client environment. The new system quickly proved to meet expectations, allowing NRB to carry out development projects faster as well as to monitor and manage them more efficiently.
Simpler project management “Previously the Cobol developers always had to leave their development environment to check-in and check-out the source codes in Visual SourceSafe, resulting in lost time,” says Philippe Willems. “We migrated these source codes to Team Foundation Server 2010, which is linked to the Cobol development platform. This allows developers to organize the check-in and check-out of the source codes directly from their development platform, whether this is .NET, Cobol or some other system. So not only have we achieved technological progress -- it also offers benefits on the business side, namely monitoring and reporting. If we develop applications for customers, it often involves long-term projects. For instance, we developed an application for provincial taxation for the Walloon government, but we also created applications for subsidy management, accounting and budgeting.”
Project managers can now easily retrieve the progress of all the various development projects and even report automatically to the management. This is definitely important for longer term projects. NRB is always working to deadlines and every month it gets together with the customer to discuss progress. With Team Foundation Server 2010, it is easy to monitor the different phases of the project. In the past the status was updated manually in Excel lists. The developers worked on the projects in groups. Now the developers, each with their own technological specialization, are deployed in projects in a better way. “Because of the overview we can easily see beforehand when someone is finishing their project and so available for a new assignment. This means we can better manage the competences and make maximum use of the knowledge of our staff. The staff can then better use their talents, specialize further and plan their work themselves,” according to Daniël Eycken.
Sharp increase in productivity – also of interest to customers If developers can manage their tasks much better and project managers monitor the status more easily, then this in itself will lead to improved project management. With the result that deadlines are met effectively. Team Foundation Server 2010 also turns out to be a handy tool for monitoring software tests.
Philippe Willems: “Before we go to the customer with a new application, we carry out internal tests, for instance to test the quality of the source code. This happens completely automatically and the system signals potential problems to the developer, who becomes increasingly more competent as a result. It is only after we have tested the entire application that we present the software to the customer. And this is guaranteed to be technically in order.”
According to estimates, Diapason will lead to a 10% increase in productivity. The time that is freed up is being invested in, for example, more consultancy. At the same time, NRB can save up to 10% on internal costs, which will ultimately also benefit the customer. This greater efficiency strengthens NRB’s position in relation to the competition.
Daniel Eycken: “There is indeed strong competition from offshore and even nearshore players, where software developers work at cheap rates. But our strength in analysis, our experience and our knowledge of local business provide important added value. And the fact that we are now working faster, thanks to Team Foundation Server 2010, is an added benefit.”