IBM"s Rational executive talks up priorities

Von Heather Havenstein

Daniel Sabbah, who began his career at IBM in 1974 and was most recently a vice president in IBM"s Software Group, recently was named general manager of IBM"s Rational division, which makes development and testing tools. He spoke with Computerworld on Monday at the Rational Software Development Conference here in Las Vegas.

What will be your top priorities as the new general manager at Rational? To grow the business, the appeal of the Rational tools and methodology world -- both from a pure business standpoint in terms of revenue, but also in constituencies. So far, Rational has been extremely valuable to a set of core software engineers. We want to stick with that constituency. But we also want to start appealing to broader constituencies of developers, as well as starting to play into the connections between software engineers and business analysts, and the connection between software engineers and operations and deployment issues.

Are we going to keep on adding to existing tools or start thinking about repackaging and maybe decomposing our tool portfolio into smaller pieces that can be more easily consumed by larger parts of the community? That is yet to be determined.

I"d like to take in more of the collaboration capabilities we have in our Lotus portfolio. Developer communities at the high end and the low end and geographically distributed developer communities could definitely benefit from much richer collaborative capabilities.

What are the biggest pain points right now in IT development shops, and how will you mold the product offerings to meet those needs? The pressure is really on return on investment. Over the years, we have disconnected ourselves as software engineers and as IT implementers. We"ve focused on technology, and we haven"t done a good enough job of relating that technology to business needs. Giving enterprises the tools and the capabilities to be much more successful in bridging that gap between where the business wants to go -- and lowering the barrier to entry to integrate with existing IT systems -- is crucial to that type of transformation.

With the advent of distributed systems, the gap between developers and production and operation people has been widening. If you look at where operations were 20 years ago, they were much more systematic, and they understood what the deployment environment was. Today, with the chaos that exists in most organizations around distributed computing, that is a gap that needs to be bridged. There are so many failures of people not understanding what is going on in production and not understanding why they are not achieving their service-level agreement.

What does IBM"s recent acquisition of open-source vendor Gluecode mean from the tools perspective? Our acquisition of Gluecode was a sign that says, "Open-source is here to stay." Open-source is an evolution of where software is going. It is something that you have to pay attention to. We will pay attention.

What is your take on Microsoft Corp."s planned entry into Rational"s traditional stronghold of team development with its Visual Studio 2005 Team System? I welcome the competition. They"ve got a long way to go on the team side and model-driven development side. I don"t think they will ever be able to match our ability to take the model-driven design, to take the team side and map it to as strong or open or broad a middleware portfolio as what we can do. Welcome to the fray, and let"s see what happens.