A word of help for software developers

Blueprint Software's suite now gives visibility into early stages of projects

Arguably there’s one essential piece of software in most organizations: A word processor.

It’s used for letters, reports, invoices, faxes and, by reporters who write the words you’re reading. Ironically enough, it’s also the heart of software development — developers or business analysts pound out the requirements for software projects on word processors before a line of code is written.

But getting those requirements into some software project management platforms isn’t as easy as pressing an import button.

Toronto-based Blueprint Software Systems, which makes a requirements definition and management suite for enterprises building their own software, said Thursday it has a new tool called BlueDocs, which helps pull Microsoft Word files into the Blueprint platform.

It also released version 5.3 of Blueprint with some 20 enhancements.

BlueDocs does its work by converting a Word files into an XML file, which can then be tweaked by staff before fully imported into Blueprint. It’s a two-step process, but Ray Payette, the company’s senior vice-president of engineering, said in an interview it’s better than competing platforms that force developers to write requirements in a word processor template or to restructure their word files before importing.

Requirement definition files can also include legacy information for application modernization projects and policy and compliance regulations.

Some 80 per cent of requirement files can be converted by BlueDocs without any need to touch up the files, Payette added. The application learns from previous passes to improve its conversion rate, he said. Once imported users can decide if the files should be brought into existing projects or put into a document repository.

A plug-in to Blueprint, BlueDocs costs $25,000, although there’s an introductory discount of 30 per cent. BlueDocs can also be bought as a service, where Blueprint staff convert a number of files for a set fee.

If you think the price is expensive, Blueprint is selective about its customers: A company official said it targets organizations with at least $100 million in revenue who have large internal software projects. A typical Blueprint purchase runs around $50,000. Price varies by the size of the organization and the roles of users.

Despite the price of BlueDocs Payette expects it will be in demand. “I suspect every customer we deal with has tons of legacy documents they’re going to want in a central repository,” he said, “so I anticipate we’ll see demand for this from all new customers an a significant number of our existing customers.”

An aside: BlueDocs was in part developed by University of Waterloo co-op students hired by the company. The application has been patented by Blueprint, which listed their names on the document.

Also on Thursday The company released version 5.3 of Blueprint, which now includes the ability to compare baseline project requirements, including summarizing artifacts that have been removed or changed;  a more granular audit log; and the ability to allow administrators to fine-tune control over groups (for example, IT staff can have the power to set up a project but not the ability to see data).

Blueprint creates flow charts for project management. It allows users to author requirements (which has 10 visual editors), review the work, manage changes and collaborate. It integrates with tools like HP Quality Centre (for testing software), Microsoft Team Foundation Server.

For organizations using Enterprise Agile processes, there’s a $25,000 plugin that includes templates for Agile work. The price also includes a Blueprint consultant — who can work on-premise — to help set the process up.

Blueprint is sold direct from the company.


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