Development of large and complex software applications can be a nightmare for companies of any size with budget overruns and delivery delays. One possible solution is application lifecycle management, Bob Doyle asks if it's the right one.

CIOs today tend to have shades of grey around their job description. What exactly is their primary concern? In today's fast moving and highly regulated business environment, the role of the CIO increasingly cuts across a wide range of business priorities and initiatives.

This broadening remit can make it difficult to set clear priorities and gauge results. To maintain their focus and deliver the goals of the organisation, they must have: the authority to set and manage processes that work for their individual organisation, the freedom to choose the right tools and technologies and the ability to track and measure the processes involved. One area in particular where these issues come to a head is software delivery.

Typical IT organisations spend millions on software development tools over the years. Executives shop for best-of-breed within the budget and the goals of the project. The result is that IT shops are likely to have on hand a bucket-load of development lifecycle tools that simply don't fit.

This trend has done nothing to improve the perception that software delivery is a complicated undertaking that inevitably leads to cost overruns and schedule slippages. Application lifecycle management (ALM) has long been trumpeted as the miracle cure for this problem.

Unfortunately, the truth is that ALM has showed mixed results in transforming the business value of software delivery processes. To understand why, one needs to take a look at the ways many vendors have approached ALM: aggressively promoting restrictive, end-to-end offerings that aim to lock customers into proprietary IT platforms.

For the customer, the resulting choices are less than ideal. They can manage their delivery process using disparate tools for different roles / platforms, having little control or tracking ability. Or, they can rip and replace their existing tools with a monolithic platform and put their trust - and professional reputation - in the hands of a vendor with an agenda that may not reflect their own.

Given these realities, it's not surprising that early ALM solutions often delivered limited improvements to the process. A successful application delivery process depends on visibility across tools and processes, and the ability to measure results across the entire lifecycle.

When early ALM approaches succeeded in these areas, they worked well. When visibility and measurability is limited to certain phases or tools, results slip. In addressing the complexity of the role of the CIO in business, the first-generation of ALM solutions missed the mark.

Should the concept of ALM be scrapped altogether? No. The core concepts that animated the ALM movement remain sound. Openness is paramount. An ALM platform that aims to restrict the capabilities of the development team is destined to fail.

When the developer has choice over tools and technologies - and the ability to leverage the knowledge, skills and capabilities not just within their team but across the industry - the software delivery process will be truly transformed. ALM can live up to its potential, but only when the open and diverse nature of today's enterprise information systems is addressed.

What's encouraging is companies such as Borland are moving towards this open approach to ALM. We’re finally seeing interested parties taking the higher road that will eventually bring value to all. Borland's Open ALM solution promises the openness, visibility and measurability that is central to successful project delivery.

It's not another solution that requires an organisation to rip and replace across the vertical slices of software delivery life cycles. It's a way to connect, manage and measure all the activities and assets across the application lifecycle. It's a holistic approach to software development, aligning business objects with development activities to deliver optimum value.

Bob Doyle is the former CIO of Alliant Foodservice (formerly Kraft).