Despite many examples of good practice, there is still a lack of professionalism in software engineering that could even be dangerous in safety-critical systems, according to a report published today by the Royal Academy of Engineering and the British Computer Society.
Adding to the problem, Britain is failing to produce software engineers and managers with the IT and project management skills to commission and execute complex IT projects.
“The UK public sector alone has spent an estimated GBP12.4 billion on software in the last year and the overall UK spend on IT is projected to be a monumental GBP22.6 billion,” Basil Butler, chairman of the working group that produced the report, said in a statement. “We looked at a range of studies showing that only around 16% of IT projects can be considered truly successful.”
Even conservative estimates put the cost of such failures into tens-of-billions of pounds across the European Union (EU).
“It is time for the IT industry to recognize the engineering content of their work and to embrace the discipline and professionalism associated with traditional branches of engineering,” said John McDermid, a professor of Software Engineering at the University of York and a member of the working group. “In fact, there is a powerful argument that (professional) registration should be mandatory for people working on high-consequence systems like safety-critical or banking software.”
The report goes on to conclude, it is a cardinal mistake to select suppliers for a complex IT project on the basis of price alone since it is very difficult for suppliers to accurately predict costs at the outset. If a customer is asking for something unrealistic or ultra-high risk, the supplier should tell the customer and encourage them to review the project.
“Projects are often poorly defined, codes of practice are frequently ignored and there is a woeful inability to learn from past experience,” said McDermid.
“It needs to recognized that IT and software projects have many of the characteristics of traditional engineering programs,” added Butler. “Many software and IT projects could benefit from employing the disciplines applied on other major projects.”
A full copy of the report can be downloaded from the BCS Website, www1.bcs.org.uk.
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