Does the DoD Really Want Reusable Software?
(Part 3)

By Edward V. Berard (The Object Agency, Inc.)

In my previous two communications, I questioned whether the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) was really committed to the reuse of software. I observed that a number of DoD policies and standards represented either direct or indirect roadblocks to the reuse of software for DoD applications. Based on the responses I have received, I am encouraged that several people are not only aware of the potential problems, but are also investigating ways to directly address the problem. (Many responses were directed directly to me rather than to the mailing lists to which I originally posted the messages.)

To be completely honest, those who provide software to the DoD are, for the most part, ill-prepared to deal with reusable software technology. In effect, if the DoD removed all roadblocks to the reuse of software tomorrow, it would still be a long time before DoD contractors could adequately deal with the concept.

Why do I say this? Consider the following:

  1. Few companies and organizations have anything that even slightly resembles a comprehensive software reusability plan. Yes, many of these companies and organizations have someone somewhere who is "researching" the idea. However, few have any intention of implementing such a plan any time in the near future. Let's face it: software reuse is hardly a "top priority item" for many software firms.

  2. Examine the commercial marketplace. How many vendors do you see who are selling software reuse related products? I am not referring just to reusable software modules. What about entire software reusability systems, or tools specifically designed to aid and foster the reuse of software. (Some vendors have taken old products and placed the words "reuse" and "reusable" in their marketing literature. While some of their claims may be true, the reuse of software is not quite business as usual.)

  3. Look at the software engineering training available. How many courses whose main focus is software reuse can you name? Compare that to the number of "Ada courses" that are currently offered. For that matter, how much emphasis is placed on the reuse of software in the existing courses? Remember, it is not only the "technical staff" who must be trained in software reuse. Management must also be trained in software reuse.

  4. Examine the attitudes of the software personnel (programmers and managers) themselves. For some time now, I have been participating in software reusability forums, and I have become aware of many "horror stories" relating to software reuse. For example, it is not uncommon to hear technical personnel recite long lists of the "disadvantages of reusing software." Managers seem equally committed to maintaining the status quo. Even when managers purchase the tools and training necessary for rudimentary software reuse, staff resistance to the concept is still high. (Skip Carstensen at Magnavox in Ft. Wayne has some interesting insights into this problem.)

Yes, the DoD seems to want to encourage the reuse of software. (Just this past week I heard more than one Army general use the term in a positive manner.) And I am sure they are not completely aware of the full ramifications of their commitment. (Many policies and standards will have to be changed, personnel will have to be trained, and new initiatives will have to be created, to name a few.) However, those of us who provide software services to the DoD must get our own act together. If we are clever about it, we can get a lot of work done before the DoD removes the last roadblock to software reuse.

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