Company-Wide Test Solution Using Modified COTS Software

In today’s test and measurement industry, commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) software products are becoming the standard corporations aspire to. COTS products often provide a safe, well tested, and quick solution to a company’s test and measurement needs. But although COTS products may comply with most requirements of individual departments, they cannot always provide a company-wide solution.

Ideally, a company would like all of its departments, divisions, and groups to use the same test-software package. The look and feel should be identical across the board to reduce the required learning curve. Data needs to be transferred over the company network and be available to all engineers.

The software must satisfy the requirements of each department. Real- time data acquisition, graphing on the fly, user-defined reports, mass production, and engineering prototyping/debugging are only a few of the many tasks that the software must handle. At the same time, the program must provide sufficient flexibility to customize reporting and testing requirements for each department.

To date, corporations requiring such a company-wide testing solution have developed the test software internally or outsourced it to an external software firm for development. Typically, this process proved both long and expensive. As a result, many companies shy away from custom-built testing solutions.

The MCOTS Approach

A new hybrid of the COTS products might satisfy corporate-wide needs in a timely and cost-efficient manner. Modifiable COTS (MCOTS) software—which addresses customer needs and preserves the COTS rules—can provide a company-wide solution while containing cost, scheduling, and risk at a realistic level.

MCOTS software is designed around two primary elements: a core COTS software and adjustable modules. The approach is unique in two ways. First, it provides companies with the capability to select only the modules necessary for a given task and expand the software as necessary on a case-by-case basis. Second, the individual modules can be modified to meet a company’s requirements while continuing to serve as a company-wide COTS solution, typically 25 to 50 or more stations. Ideally, MCOTS supports seamless integration with other COTS products such as EXCEL, SPC, and LabVIEW.

The best case for MCOTS can be made by examining the pros and cons of COTS solutions. COTS test-software products provide several major benefits:

Relatively low price per unit.

Availability for immediate use.

No development risks.

Nonetheless, there are situations when a strictly COTS product cannot work. Table 1 illustrates some typical situations.

Blending the benefits of COTS with the flexibility of MCOTS could be a viable solution when a company-wide test system is desired. With MCOTS, the core technology behaves like a true COTS program while the adjustable modules may be used as supplied or modified to suit customer needs. The two elements are completely independent. An installation of a new version of the core technology should not affect any module attached to it.

Two examples can help you understand concept and potential benefits of MCOTS.

Example 1

A company requires a test executive that must have multiple levels of password protection as well as data validation. In this case, the test executive will serve as the fixed part of the MCOTS, while the security and data-validation modules will be tailored around the company’s requirements. Upgrades of the test executive will not affect the security or validation modules. Likewise, enhancements to the security modules will not affect the test executive.

Example 2

A company needs to perform 20% of its test cases in real time. In this example, the test executive will serve as the fixed part of the MCOTS. The real-time module, which may run as a new thread, will be tailored around the company’s requirements.

In both examples, a COTS solution would have required a compromise by the user. It is not possible to purchase a fixed COTS solution that addresses all possible needs and test scenarios.

A Solution Provider and MCOTS

The successful implementation of an MCOTS solution relies on a thorough analysis of the customer’s needs. A qualified solution provider will choose the best COTS product available as the fixed portion of the MCOTS, modify the required modules, and integrate them into a seamless turnkey system. The best solution providers will have in-house core technology that can serve as the fixed portion of the MCOTS, allowing fast, efficient response to customer’s needs.

As a minimum, the provider must handle these capabilities:

Development of drivers, including VISA and IVI standards.

Networking such as network installation, user accounts, and backup procedures.

Communications protocols such as 1553, ARINC, 422, RS-232, and TCP/IP.

Data acquisition such as time tagging, data-base storage, and retrieval.

Real time applications.

Multiple data bases.

Internet access and control.

Ultimately, the MCOTS concept will furnish a custom-tailored company-wide solution for test and measurement needs while successfully managing cost and scheduling budgets.

About the Author

Ehud Shany is the president of WinSoft. In the last 18 years, Mr. Shany has written and designed several test and measurement software packages. For three years, he served as a consultant to the British government. Mr. Shany holds a B.S.C. degree in computer science from Technion in Israel. WinSoft, Hutton Centre, 200 Sandpointe, Suite 520, Santa Ana, CA 92707, (717) 444-4844, www.winsoft.com.

Table 1.

Potential Problem

COTS

MCOTS

I need to change a critical feature in the package right now.

Please wait for the next product version.

The feature is modified immediately by the solution provider or customer.

I found a bug.

Please wait for the next patch/version.

The bug is removed immediately by a solution provider.

I need it to work with unique legacy data base and new data bases.

Sorry, we do not support this type of data.

The module supporting the legacy data base is modified by the solution provider or customer without affecting the core package.

Certain parts of the software are too slow.

We never claimed it is a real-time system.

The module supporting real time is added.

The software is too generic and cannot fulfill some of my company’s needs.

By nature, COTS products must be generic enough to fulfill as many needs as possible.

By nature, MCOTS is built to be modified to fulfill the customer’s needs.

My company is investing in an enterprise solution with your software. I would like to secure the source code of the application.

The source code is not available.

Upon modification for customer needs, the source code is available.

 

Copyright 1998 Nelson Publishing Inc.

October 1998

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