A little change can go a long way

A little change can go a long way

It's natural to breathe a sigh of relief when a big project finally ships, but for many companies, the delivery of a product means the trouble is just beginning. The instant your complex application or device reaches users, their wish lists and bug reports start streaming in. No matter how sweet your product is, you can't stay in business unless you have a solid workflow for the management of change requests.

Continuous Software recently released ChangeSynergy 3.5, the vendor's new Web-based change-request management system. ChangeSynergy fits in to a product line that covers the gamut of change and source-code management needs. Competing change-request tracking systems such as Rational ClearQuest also meet this need but are usually not optimised for direct use by end users, developers and managers. What really sets ChangeSynergy apart, earning it a score of four stars, is that it gently encourages a best practices-based strategy for change submission, tracking and reporting.

If your organisation doesn't currently have a change-requirement management strategy, ChangeSynergy will give your company a solid strategy, and the tools to support it, in one painless install. All your organisation's clients will need is a late-model Microsoft or Netscape Web browser.

Installing ChangeSynergy requires little time and even less effort. We set up the ChangeSynergy 3.5 server on a Windows NT 4.0 PC. We were pleased to find that Continuus, unlike many vendors selling Java applications, paid attention to its Windows installer. The installer takes care of everything, including setting up the Java run time and wiring the ChangeSynergy Web site into Windows NT's Internet Information Server (IIS). On Linux and Unix systems, ChangeSynergy configures itself for iPlanet and Apache Web servers. The user interface is identical across server and client platforms.

ChangeSynergy integrates with Continuus' CM Synergy change-management system, giving developers a cohesive set of tools to manage projects, source code, content and change requests. In our tests, requests submitted via the ChangeSynergy Web interface were easy to route to the task lists of developers in the CM Synergy system.

We were struck by the extent to which ChangeSynergy satisfies the requirements of end users, developers and managers. Top-notch HTML documentation walks users through ChangeSynergy functions, and Continuus goes the extra mile by documenting the elements of a commercial-quality change-request tracking strategy.

We have never counselled granting end users, and some managers, for that matter, access to organisations' internal development tools, but ChangeSynergy changes that. Its role-based policies prevent unauthorised access and give each user easy access to the functions appropriate for his or her role. The user interface is polished yet uncluttered, a model of good Web application design. All of the content files used to display the interface are editable. Anyone with a basic knowledge of HTML and JavaScript can tweak ChangeSynergy's appearance.

Donning our manager's hat, we were tickled by the breadth of built-in reports and the ability to generate ad hoc customer enquiries. A manager can narrow a search to requests submitted by a particular user or pull up all the requests that are awaiting a selected developer's response. Report charts condense volumes of change-request statistics and are suitable for presentation. A welcome feature saves change-tracking reports as Microsoft Word or Excel files for inclusion in other documents.

We walked several requests through our lab's ChangeSynergy server without encountering any glitches or surprises. The system made it easy for us to spot flag events such as developer-response delays, unusually high change counts, and stale requests - those left in an open state too long.

Even if your organisation doesn't have the time or the expertise to cook up a change tracking and reporting strategy, ChangeSynergy belongs on its short list of development and project management tools.

The Bottom Line

Continuus ChangeSynergy 3.5

Busin-ess Case: Large software projects can fall into chaos in the transition from deployment to maintenance. ChangeSynergy takes care of the entire change-request workflow. With fantastic documentation, robust functionality, and an appealling user interface, it's the ideal one-stop change-request tool.

Techn-ology Case: ChangeSynergy is written in Java, with customisable Web interfaces crafted in JavaScript and HTML. On Windows servers, the ChangeSynergy installer configures the JRun Java run-time plug-in and sets up the ChangeSynergy Web site. Broad cross-platform support allows you to use one solution for all types of development projects.

Pros:-l Quick and easy installationl Excellent online documentationl Extremely attractive Web interfacel Complete change-request management functionalityCons-:l Price may be out of reach for smaller shopsPlatfo-rms: Supported client platforms: Any system running an Internet Explorer 5.5 or Navigator 4.7 browser; supported server platforms: Windows NT 4.0, Solaris 7 and 8, HP-UX 11, and Red Hat Linux 6.1.

Price-: $US24,950 for 25 users.

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