Start-up VisibleThread launched its document structure and quality analysis tool this week. Utilizing natural language analysis, semantic search, pattern analysis and regular expression matching, VisibleThread automatically detects structure and quality deficiencies in IT documentation, as well as provides an actionable view into the health and status of all project documentation.
VisibleThread founder and CEO Fergal McGovern, who was also the creator of the SteelTrace requirements capture tool which Compuware acquired in 2006, said he knows "we're going against the grain saying documentation is really critical."
However, he said, "Despite agile trends, people are still very much dependent on documentation. There's a huge need to show you've got quality within the document. [Microsoft] Office is still the top tool for business analysts. We're focusing on putting intelligence into that [and identifying]: Do I have what I think I have? Do I have loose language?"
The idea behind the Baltimore-based company, he said, is to deliver a solution that works the way people work and won't force a change in behavior, a lesson he said he learned from the requirements definition and management market. "At SteelTrace, we used to suggest our solution would bring you to a better place, but it probably forced too much behavior change and process disruption," McGovern said. "No company wants to go through the pain of tool adoption and process change. We must deliver tools that will wrapper Office, and deliver value to senior executives while being useful to QA, etc."
McGovern said VisibleThread is complementary to requirements products, but aims to help solve the bigger problem of process improvement and providing metrics to senior management.
"They are not positioned as a requirements management tool or a requirements definition tool, which I think is great," said Theresa Lanowitz, analyst and founder of voke inc. "Those tools are always very heavy and cumbersome. The tools haven't penetrated the way you'd think they should. [VisibleThread] is providing a good product and category for organizations that need to improve process quality, especially for organizations that have to work around compliance guidelines. That's the sweet spot."
Lanowitz said organizations could use VisibleThread in addition to a requirements management tool. "A big need is improvement of process quality. Everything that has been done in the lifecycle focuses on product quality." VisibleThread, she said, makes sure that those working on the process side are complying with best practices and compliance requirements.
RIIS, a Southfield, Mich.-based systems integrator, has been using VisibleThread as an early adopter since late 2008. "My biggest issue is that while there is a way to do code reviews, it's really difficult to do document reviews," said Godfrey Nolan, president and founder of RIIS. With VisibleThread, he said, he has a handle on what business analysts, testers and systems analysts are doing. "I can easily set up a template to see the quality of the documents."
RIIS uses IBM Rational RequisitePro for requirements management and iRise for prototyping. He said RequisitePro works for a single project, but now VisibleThread enables traceability across projects. Moreover, he said, VisibleThread enforces processes.
"VisibleThread allows you to make sure process is enforced across the development lifecycle; that's where the killer app is, why it turns into something that's a paradigm shifter." Other products, he said, could also determine if processes were followed, but allowed people to bypass process. "With VisibleThread you can't get away with that because you can see what everyone is doing. It tells you quickly if someone is doing what they're supposed to be doing because documents will get flagged as not meeting quality standards."
VisibleThread is able to compare a given document to an organization's adopted best practices for that type of document, according to the company. In addition, natural language analysis identifies ambiguous language that could jeopardize project success. VisibleThread supports process improvement by tracking all changes and flagging compliance issues in real time.
VisibleThread can either be deployed on-site or is available as software as a service at a price of $140/month.