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IT Governance: It Matters How Decisions Get Made

Lee Nackman, VP of product development for IBM's Rational tools unit, said Tuesday that IBM has built commercial code by adopting some of the democratic, open source-style practices with its developers behind the IBM firewall.

There's no intent to make the resulting code open source. But using some open-source principles in IT governance--that is, setting the decision-making structure of a project along open-source lines—tends to lead to favorable results, he said.

"It's not good governance to be counting keystrokes like the boss in (the comic strip) Dilbert," said Nackman in a keynote at the Software Development West 2006 conference in Santa Clara, Calif. It's better if the acknowledged leaders of a group become committers, reviewing code submitted by individual developers and deciding when it's ready to be incorporated into a build of the project, he said.

Nackman didn't produce code for Eclipse, the open-source development framework initiated by IBM, but he helped sponsor the move to make it open source. Eclipse started as a single workbench for the many software tools being produced inside IBM across product lines. Nackman urged that it be made open source as a host for Java tools that couldn't work together. By following Eclipse conventions on file sharing, Java and other language tools can work together when plugged into Eclipse. Nackman was a founding member of the Board of Stewards of the open-source project.

IBM has developed some components of its Rational tools in an open-source manner, letting the most eager and vocal advocates of a feature become its developers. One example is the drawing mechanisms that underlie Rational tools' ability to do Unified Modeling Language models or business process designs. The mechanisms are based on the same drawing software, developed collaboratively, regardless of the tool, he said.

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