Improving Collaboration, Reducing Risk
The Toyota Crisis
In the wake of the Toyota auto tragedies over the past two years, and the subsequent investigations by NHTSA (the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), I was surprised to learn how ill-prepared NHTSA was initially to dig into the matter -- to see what might have gone wrong, and where the blame might fall. The matter: possible vulnerabilities in the electronic throttle control (ETC) system in several Toyota vehicles. Patented in 2002, ETC is an electro-mechanical, software-driven subsystem that has been in production throughout the auto industry for several years, and has taken its place among a variety of software based subsystems that have given rise to the value of software as a critical component in modern automobiles. The surprise: The Washington Post reported that NHTSA “was woefully unprepared to decide whether engine electronics might be at fault,” and that “NHTSA officials told investigators that the agency doesn't employ any electrical engineers or software engineers.”
I’m not here to single out NHTSA for inadequacy of oversight or vision, but rather to point out how quickly software has risen as a determining factor in product design and consumer value. True, the major players in the auto industry have touted the rising value of software in automobiles (as much as 40% or more). But the federal agency largely responsible for auto safety may not have been so much asleep at the wheel as simply caught off guard by the rapid growth of software as a critical element in product engineering.
As it turns out, NHTSA (usually pronounced “Nit-suh”) enlisted the help of NASA (yes, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) to investigate Toyota’s ETC systems, since NASA has loads of experience in computer-controlled electronic systems, electromagnetic interference, software integrity, etc. NASA could find nothing wrong with Toyota’s ETCs.
But wouldn’t it have been nice to hear from NHTSA’s own software and systems experts, instead of NASA’s, whose vehicles are chiefly designed for extraterrestrial transportation? Ideally, regulatory agencies that oversee all technical endeavors are working to hire the software expertise they need to understand the critical role that software now plays.
Software as major competitive differentiator
Software design, delivery, and implementation is an inherently risky aspect of today’s commodities -- from cell phones, to automobiles, to IT systems, to orbiting satellites. The way software is produced and delivered across the extended supply chains in so many evolving industries requires not only increased scrutiny by government agencies, but also fundamental improvements in collaboration in the software production process itself. The stakes are high, because software continues to grow as a major competitive differentiator between rival companies of all sorts, and that’s what drives consumer interest.
A new paper by IBM and business partner Black Diamond illuminates the value of improved collaboration as a means toward reducing risk in software deliverables (PDF). In it, you’ll read how technologies like IBM Jazz can improve team performance, and you’ll get a sense of what these improvements can yield your organization in terms of cost savings and improved time to market. Plus, Black Diamond has its own value-add for quick implementation of the Jazz environment.
I think you’ll find it worth reading! Download the white paper 'How collaboration in software delivery improves productivity for small to medium businesses' and let us know what you thought here.
About the author:
Mike Perrow works as a writer and editor for the brand strategy team within the IBM Rational organization. His current focus is assisting thought leaders and subject matter experts as they explain the business value of Rational products and services through white papers, journal articles, and other forms of the written word. Prior to this position, he served for eight years as the founding editor of The Rational Edge ezine. He can be reached at