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April 2007
Guest contributors
Bull's service centers
Thierry Lapresle, Director of Bull Service Operations in France
"Control and industrialization are keys to a successful project"
Captain Georges Deli
Bull's service centers
Interview with Thierry Lapresle, Director of Bull Service Operations in France

For more than two years now, Bull has set up service centers in France and abroad. What is the economic backdrop to the establishment of these centers?
The pressure on enterprises and public sector bodies to move faster, create competitive advantage, produce more efficiently and at lower cost, and modernize is stronger than ever. Information systems are becoming critical in the enterprise value chain. They must be capable of both fully supporting the organization’s business vision, and integrating new strategic, regulatory, marketing, organizational and operational data.

Enterprises and administrations are therefore developing new applications, putting new services in place and opening up their information systems.
Bull is constantly moving forward in its drive to support customers as they face each new challenge: creating more value, moving faster, producing at lower cost. The way these service centers are organized responds to these demands. It means we can get the full benefit of rationalizing ‘back-office’ resources (tools, methods, processes), as well as by sharing skills and expertise.
Therefore, a single development project can be broken down between several centers so we can draw on the best possible expertise at each stage, whatever the geographic location, while being structured around the same tools, methods and processes. This professional and structured approach is the cornerstone of our service centers.

How do Bull’s service centers operate?
The strength of Bull’s service centers depends on two vital aspects: the networked structure and the use of a shared software development platform, NovaForge.

Our service centers are all connected to each other, with an international dimension that is a real ‘plus’ of Bull. Today, Bull has specialized service centers in France, the United States, Brazil, China and Poland, complementing the Bull’s local teams and divisions spread in countries where Bull is present. Some of these centers specialize in certain technologies or businesses, and this concentration of particular resources in a single area of competence creates in pools of expertise. This organizational structure of networked service centers means we can be much more responsive, partly through a greater capacity to support increased work-loading, and partly because we can do the work at the lowest cost, thanks to tools that provide continuous access to the necessary information for each project.

Each service center shares methodologies, processes and tools. At the core of this approach, NovaForge provides a range of advanced Open Source tools integrated and implemented by Bull’s own R&D teams in the course of the many development programs on which they have worked. NovaForge aims to:
Reduce the development work load
Optimize management of costs and timescales
Improve the quality of deliverables
Make it easer for everyone involved in the project to take part
Monitor the development process
Reduce risk, notably by providing a shared view of the project parameters.
This platform is at the very heart of our program to deliver increasingly professional and structured services. It is used both for application development and renewal projects in a J2EE, PHP and .net environments, third-party application maintenance, and professional third-party application acceptance.

NovaForge has been designed to simplify and automate the development environment. A typical development workstation integrates standard tools, allowing developers to concentrate on coding the business rules and managing complexity. NovaForge also serves as a meeting point between the various players contributing to the project, at every stage, since it can be customized to support each individual role, and enables each and every ‘business’ to participate fully in the development process.

Finally, NovaForge resolves the problem of transparency between the client, the ‘front office’ and ‘back office’, by providing project management tools and collaborative working spaces. As a result, everyone involved has an identical view of the project, whether they are contributing to the earliest stages of specification, or to the testing and acceptance process.

How do you see the various tasks of customer and service center being divided?
This is a critical issue: it is a question of constantly overseeing the development process, and of ensuring that the code we write meets defined quality criteria, in line with the customer’s specified requirements.
NovaForge is an important tool in several ways:
Its dedicated customer portal gives access to the monitoring information they need
The project management module enables uploading of aggregate data for unitary information and quality indicators, event and request monitoring, and provides control panels
Continuous integration and testing means that the quality of what is being produced can be constantly monitored, day to day.
To this collaborative resource, we can add the project management framework: which clearly defines the responsibilities of both the contracting authority and the prime contractor, using standard methods such as CMMI* and rigorous project quality structure.

How are these centers going to develop in France?
In France we favor a strategy of remaining close to our customers (the ‘nearshore’ approach). Today, four service centers located across the country bring together skills in areas such as Java J2EE and Open Source, as well as specialized expertise such as mobile computing at the Bordeaux service center, and solutions for local government.
The ‘nearshore’ concept gives us a certain degree of agility, so we can remain in close contact with our customers’ needs, while ensuring that we deliver a professional level of production capacity.

*CMMI : Capability Maturity Model Integration

 
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