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Blueprint for code automation

Early adopters of Model Driven Architecture face cultural barriers, but the payoff promises savings in time and money and better code quality.

By Carol Sliwa
March 22, 2004 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Wisconsin is replacing its collection of disparate mainframe- and client/server-based unemployment insurance benefits applications with a Web system. But instead of starting the project by writing pages of specifications to describe the business processes, the team drew pictures.

The state's Department of Workforce Development hired a trainer to teach its Cobol programmers and business users the Unified Modeling Language, and the team mapped out UML diagrams on computers to document the requirements for the new applications.

Wisconsin is part of a small but committed group of organizations that is turning to a set of standards collectively known as Model Driven Architecture (MDA) that's being developed by Needham, Mass.-based Object Management Group Inc. They use UML and code-generating tools to build applications, and if all goes well, they use programming languages only sparingly to fill in the business logic. OMG CEO Richard Soley says he knows of two companies that are generating 100% of their code through the MDA approach.

But automatic code generation is only one of the benefits that early adopters are finding. They say they're also reducing development time and costs, improving code quality, promoting code reuse and doing a better job of meeting application requirements.

Lee Carter, a project director at the Wisconsin Workforce Development Department, says it's helpful that business users and IT staffers can now speak the same language when they work on requirements. "It allows us to really focus on our business needs and not have to think about all the underlying technology until it's time to think about the technology," he says.

Blueprint for Code Automation
Image Credit: Richard Downs
To map out requirements, developers and business analysts use stick figures and lines to illustrate the various use-case scenarios, such as how an incomplete application is processed or how a rejected applicant's appeal is handled. They replace the stick figures with boxes to show how the computer systems are connected. Once a series of activity, sequence, collaboration and other diagrams to design and document the new applications is ready, a tool transforms the models into the bulk of the application code, Carter says.

He says the diagrams documenting the applications can be retrieved at any time, even years down the road, because they're captured electronically with standards-based tools from IBM's Rational Software division. "Diagrams make so much more sense than writing pages and pages of narrative that just get stuffed into a 3-inch binder that nobody ever looks at again," he says. "We can trace from business requirements to code, or code back to business requirements."

To ease the transition to MDA, the project team brought in a qualified service provider, St. Paul, Minn.-based Adaptive Team Collaboration Inc., from the OMG's MDA FastStart program. Chris Armstrong, chief technology officer at ATC, has alternately served as mentor, trainer, counselor, psychiatrist and, most recently, process auditor, Carter says.

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