An Overview of the
SPI Activities in Estonia
Ahto Kalja1 and Jaan Oruaas2
1Institute of Cybernetics
at Tallinn Technical University
Akadeemia 21, 12618, Estonia
2Estonian Information Technology Society
Kiriku 6, 10130, Estonia
A fact worth mentioning is that the two largest Estonian
software firms are the information technology divisions of the two biggest
Estonian banks (Hansabank and Estonian Union Bank). The IT divisions of
these two banks employ over 100 programmers. Other software companies are
mostly small, comprising 20-50 people. If we want to compare the software
development processes at these companies, we should emphasise that the
banks have the best available technical facilities. The IT divisions of
banks don’t have notable problems with financing. It means that they can
purchase the newest computers (Sun Microsystems server Enterprise 10000
(Starfire) in the Union Bank and HP equivalent systems in Hansabank) and
the latest versions of such DBMS as Oracle, Sybase etc. It also means that
the software development in these divisions can support all the programming
novelties such as component technology, three level systems, data warehouse
paradigm, Internet-banking etc. Last and not least - the banks employ a
lot of Estonian best IT specialists. For example, Tallinn Technical University
has lost dozens of very high-educated employees to the banks. Of course
the software developing processes at bank divisions have their own problems
as well. At one time the technological process seems as endless improving,
at other times as a battle with fire and the project management and documentation
tasks are not always solved the best way.
A group of companies that work on a good level thanks
to the technological support from abroad are the representatives of large
Western companies, such as Microsoft, Oracle, IBM etc. In this case the
one who takes care of the software development technology and the training
of people is the mother company.
Another group of companies is of kind that works to develop
software for western clients. The work of these companies depends on the
quality. It means that to survive and preserve clients they have to maintain
the same quality level as western software houses. Regretfully these companies
at the same time reduce their expenses, for example, in the way that they
produce the software without project documentation!
Yet another group of companies works only for Estonian
market. This group includes firms, which produce, for example, financial
software for Estonian companies, Estonian language-specific text editors,
develop Estonian registers or databases etc. Some of these companies are
working very successfully and their projects’ software development processes
maturity level is often "repeatable". Sometimes their processes (training
processes, configuration management processes etc.) reach even the "defined"
Unfortunately there are also many companies whose software
development activities take place at the "ad hoc" level. The main reason
for their survival is the shortage of qualified IT people and companies
The Software Engineering Institute's Capability Maturity
Model (CMM) for software process assessment, improvement and capability
determination was the first methodology, which was learned and used to
improve software processes in Estonia. The people from TTU’s Institute
of Informatics and the Abobase Ltd were the first users of this technology
The next model, SPICE, as described below, is the next
methodology, which has been introduced to Estonian specialists. Some leading
software companies are striving to preparedness for ISO 9000 certificate.
One computer manufacturer has it already for two years.
Tallinn Technical University has good contacts with Pori
School of Technology and Economics. The delegation (3 people) from TTU
visited on December 9-10, 1998 the Software Process Improvement Center
(SPIC). Negotiations showed that there is an interest and possibility to
organise a similar center in TTU and to start the co-operation in the field.
A centralised activity co-ordinated by governmental organisation
is translating IT field ISO standards into Estonian language. Same standards
have been accepted on title page methods, but the largely used standards,
for example ISO/IEC 12207, Information technology – Software life cycle
processes, have been fully translated and versions in Estonian accepted.
By joining the resources of these two projects it became
was possible to organise the first special course (seminar) on Software
Process Improvement and Capability dEtermination (SPICE) = ISO15504 in
Estonia. The lecturer was Risto Nevalainen, from STTF Oy, Helsinki. This
event was organised in Tallinn on April 2nd-3rd,
1998. Seven participants registered from Tallinn Technical University,
1 from University of Tartu, and 6 specialists from different companies
(Aetec Ltd., Abobase Systems Ltd., etc.).
The seminar included the following topics:
The objectives of the Initiative for Software Process
Improvement - Regions Exterieures (INSPIRE) project are focused upon providing
access to the experience and knowledge of various software process assessment,
improvement and certification methods, currently available in Western Europe,
to SME's from the Central and Eastern European regions.
This focusing is caused from rapid political changes in
these regions where the economies are now being committed to migrate to
become market driven. As a result, companies from all industrial sectors
must modernise their operational practises in order to be successful in
competing for new tasks.
INSPIRE recognises that information technology, and software,
in particular, will be one of the critical factors impacting upon an organisation's
ability to modernise. INSPIRE will target those organisations in which
the development of software is of key importance to the success of the
To address this situation INSPIRE will meet the following
INSPIRE operates in Estonia, Hungary, Poland and Romania.
Four companies and mentors for some of them have taken
part in the project. The companies were targeted to find out their critical
business or development processes and make improvement plans. Two of them
were software companies, one was a system integrator with its' own development
department and the other a system integrator oriented on services and training.
The following processes were improved:
The results of PIE have impact on companies from various
sides. The experiment showing that typical business software development
and supporting process could be easily investigated and assessed could
be considered as technical impact. The fact that the Estonian companies’
software capability level profile reached the ISO15504 level 1 and 2 is
even more important.
Measuring the following goals at the end of the project:
extensions of business activities with clients, meaningful reduction in
the average production time of the software in the project etc. have impact
on the companies’ business side.
From the organisational side no large changes were made
for the experiments. The companies’ employees did some overtime and participated
in a few special courses.
The INSPIRE project had also a cultural impact. It showed
in people accepting positively the concepts, technologies and management
changes concerning software development and more generally in the company
production improvement. Anyway all the software teams, mostly composed
from young employees with spirit open to innovations, accepted the challenge
and moved along in introducing changes to the old software practices.
Last and not least the impact on skills should be mentioned.
During the project members of software teams gained significant and valuable
new skills like how to use software project management tools according
to established procedures. Many engineers involved in the engineering processes
received extra training in the software project management, in using assessment