First International Conference on COTS-Based Software Systems a Success



Lisa Brownsword

This article was originally published in News at SEI on: June 1, 2002

It is often thought that using pre-packaged commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) software components is a shortcut for building the same old software systems in the same old way. The SEI has been at the forefront of disproving this notion. Successful use of COTS components is at the heart of an entirely new way of building and sustaining today's industry and government systems. The International Conference on COTS-Based Software Systems (ICCBSS) was the first annual international conference to focus on the challenges of creating and maintaining COTS-based software systems that depend on the successful integration of COTS software and hardware products and, potentially, of custom or legacy (pre-existing) components.

Practitioners and researchers gathered for three intensive days, February 4-6, 2002, in Orlando, FL. Turnout for ICCBSS exceeded all expectations. One hundred seventy-five attendees—almost double the number that the sponsors anticipated—came to the conference from North America, Europe, Africa, and Asia.

Attendees' backgrounds reflected aspects and areas of involvement with COTS products: they included integrators, project managers, acquirers, and researchers from industry, government, and academia.

Attendees' responses were positive, and their comments evidenced their enthusiasm: "Very knowledgeable and high quality speakers." "Invaluable information, whether you are experienced using COTS software components or just starting out." "Timely (and much needed) information for any manager or engineer." "A much-needed forum to exchange ideas on this pressing topic."

Noteworthy keynote speakers served to stimulate each day's discussions. Dr. Barry Boehm, of the University of Southern California Center for Software Engineering and the Center for Empirically Based Software Engineering (CeBASE), discussed 10 empirical hypotheses about COTS-based systems (CBS) that CeBASE is collating and, over time, verifying with additional project data. For example, over 99% of all executing computer software instructions come from COTS.

Mike Moore, of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, focused on his CBS program management experiences for a large, complex system. Some key highlights of actions he found vital to his projects' success included maintaining relationships with alternative vendors and standardizing interfaces to
allow greater "plug and play" across products from alternative vendors.

Dr. Ivar Jacobson, of Rational Software Corporation, outlined four macro trends that are moving the focus of development to the early stages of a project: components that follow a reuse standard and are used to build systems of interconnecting reusable components; a verification step being included with every activity; using intelligent agents to make software platforms transparent; and generating systems directly from business and system models.

Ralph Hempel, an independent consultant, described a new generation of engineers who are learning to build unconventional solutions for embedded systems, such as alarm systems and automotive controls, through the use of robotic building blocks.

To accommodate the diverse needs of the attendees, three presentation tracks—process, technical, and experience—featured a broad range of current practices and promising research directions. The process track offered a range of proven processes to help acquirers, builders, and maintainers of CBS. Designers and integrators benefited from the technology track presentations, which highlighted state-of-the-art and state-of-the-practice techniques, such as using security wrappers to ensure that critical systems have the necessary levels of security. Practical hints, observations, and insights for achieving success were offered in the experience track. Because so much attention is paid to the failures of CBS, it was noteworthy that so many projects of varying size and across a large spectrum of commercial and government application domains reported on their successes.

To investigate in-depth topics crucial to COTS practice, the conference offered several tutorials. These explored the areas of CBS cost estimation, product evaluation, and system design and assembly. An introductory tutorial provided attendees with an understanding of the differences in the development and maintenance of CBS and the major actions necessary for their successful implementation.

The keynotes and most of the presentations are available for download on the conference Web site. Copies of the proceedings are available for purchase through the publisher, Springer-Verlag. Ordering information is also on the conference Web site.  

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