Md. Software Industry Consortium Gets Wings

Md. Software Industry Consortium Gets Wings

Ronald Lear

By John Makulowich, Senior Writer

Transforming Maryland into an IT powerhouse and helping member companies improve their product development, competitiveness and productivity are the goals of a new industry software consortium.

The Maryland Software Industry Consortium, which began in October 1997 and was launched formally July 9, will focus on implementation and technology training to improve and maintain the state's business base.

"Other states look to develop networks but don't take an active role in developing and delivering technology training," Ronald Lear, the consortium's project director, told a gathering Oct. 9 at the University of Maryland's Shady Grove campus in Gaithersburg.

While states routinely offer support and venues for information technology companies seeking to network their products, processes and services, Maryland is taking a different tack. Organizers claim the consortium's focus on implementation makes its business development effort matchless.

Lear estimates there are 500 to 600 software companies in Maryland but said that figure is difficult to quantify accurately. Even though the software industry is nearly 30 years old, he said, it is still not well understood. The industry has common problems, and few outside of it grasp how software is developed.

"The first question we get from companies is why does software cost so much. We need to take that question and ask ourselves, as a software industry, if we are asking the right questions and addressing the right issues," Lear said. "We also need to look into performance improvement models and see which ones are right and can be implemented."

Sponsors of the group are the Maryland Department of Business & Economic Development, the Fraunhofer Center-Maryland on the University of Maryland campus and a group of Maryland IT companies and subcontractors. They include ARINC Inc. of Annapolis, Computer Data Systems Inc. of Rockville, and OAO Corp. of Greenbelt.

The group also focuses on implementing the models that members agree are important to improving business. Along with the training is potential support from another program, the Partnership for Workforce Quality, which offers funds to qualified companies to help reduce training costs.

The programs the consortium will offer range from tactical initiatives, such as certification training and specific platform-based training, to more strategic efforts, such as software process improvement programs and services.

Lear said the consortium will follow a four-part model in developing its initiatives and programs.

-Define areas of excellence and frame an overview by identifying critical performance elements, such as leadership and supplier relationships.

-Assess an organization's status.

-Gather information from members and develop a program to meet their needs ? the group implementation phase. In this case, they can leverage the price of training and consulting with the increased business base.

-The company implementation phase, where the results flow back to the first part to improve the definition of areas of excellence.

Pilot programs the consortium will introduce soon include initial certification for Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer and Oracle7 Database Administration Certification. Other programs in development include training for software engineering process group, software process improvement programs, technology transfer and high-level business improvement and implementation consulting.

The consortium plans to offer a self-assessment model to help members decide which programs could benefit them the most.

Lear said Maryland has developed several successful consortia, including the Maryland World Class Manufacturing Consortium and the Maryland ISO Consortium. These and the software consortium are initiatives of the Partnership for Workforce Quality Consortium.

"The different consortia have taught a number of lessons. For example, the keys to success include business-driven initiatives, high-quality training, cost-effective programs and the identification of world-class targets," Lear said. "The critical key, however, is focusing on implementation."

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