The Importance of an Integrated ALM Toolset

An integrated application lifecycle management (ALM) toolset—what we're all looking for—is one that has ALM functions working together to provide a well-defined lifecycle process and capability. But beware! Not all integrations are alike.

I'm actually surprised to see the term "integrated" used when tools are almost literally Scotch-taped together. One tool, in its promotional web pages, refers to the "application you've integrated"—when all you do is specify the tab label, the location of the application, and the access permissions. While you can then use that tool by clicking on the labeled tab, that’s far from integration.

Some frameworks go so far as to define an API to which a tool must conform to provide integration. Microsoft’s Visual Studio Source Code Control Interface (SCCI) is such an example. It provides a bit of integration with information passing back and forth between Visual Studio and the tool supporting the SCCI API so that some basic operations can be performed between the two. But this is far from ideal, especially when the API changes frequently, leaving past integrations at a specific version level.

Integration is meant to provide value. Yes, I save a few clicks if I have a tab close at hand to launch an application, but let’s not call this integration. Even the SCCI, though it provides real value from a Visual Studio perspective, severely limits the ways in which Visual Studio to CM integration can occur, leaving the “real value” on tenuous ground.

When you hear of an ALM suite or tool set having integrated tools, there are specific things to look for. You should ask yourself the following questions: Do I have to separately administer each tool in the suite? Is the data integrated into a single database and repository or is it spread across tool-specific repositories? Can I use the same means to customize the process and user interface across the tool set, or do I have to tailor each tool individually using its own customization capabilities? If I have multiple site capability, does it apply to all data across all the tools or just to a subset, such as the version control?

Tool integration is a critical capability in any ALM suite. If it’s not done right, it may not be worth the integration effort. To delve deeper into this topic, refer to an article I wrote a few years back titled “CM: The Next Generation of Tool Integration and Toolkits.”

An integrated ALM tool suite looks and acts like a single tool—not like a hodgepodge thrown together under one roof.

What does your tool suite look like?

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