Software companies stay innovative and win business in fast-moving and competitive market
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Leicester
Unit of AssessmentComputer Science and Informatics
Summary Impact TypeTechnological
Research Subject Area(s)
Information and Computing Sciences: Artificial Intelligence and Image Processing, Computer Software, Information Systems
Summary of the impact
Research on software architectures and reengineering helped Portuguese IT
develop automated migration tools. A report by IT research company Gartner
in 2009 identified the
collaboration as one of the company's key strengths. The partnership
allowed ATX to sustain an
innovative R&D programme and win business in a competitive market.
Impact occurred via:
- New and improved methodologies and technologies provided to customers;
- Improved R&D capacity through upskilling of staff;
- Improved profile as a leading-edge IT company, leading to new
The same research also helped local SME Hunter Systems to redesign their
products for the Web.
Architectural models are crucial to improving efficiency and quality in
software evolution. For
business-critical applications, ability to adapt to new requirements is
key, but traditional
architectures are ill-suited to support evolution for two reasons.
Firstly, they often mix fundamental
business functions (computation) with more volatile business process and
rules (coordination) as
well as data and application logic with user interface aspects, making
them sensitive to evolution of
either requirements or technology. Secondly, knowledge about the system is
buried in low-level
code, so a large part of the effort in reengineering is spent on analysing
Research at Leicester in architectural modelling and migration by model
these challenges [1-6]. Event-based [2,6], mobile  and service-oriented
 architectures as
studied in [A, D] allow for computational and coordination aspects of
software systems to be
separated to enable independent evolution. In event-based architectures
the key advantage is in
allowing new functionality to be added without having to reprogram the
existing software [2,6]. In
service-oriented architectures, richer components support abstractions
that bring the structure of
applications closer to the business domain, making it easier to bind and
reconfigure services .
Migrating to new architectures as investigated in [B, C], instead of
wrapping applications by
interfaces, proposed a deep restructuring approach. A methodology was
developed to allow legacy
applications to be decomposed first by technological and then by
functional concerns, exposing the
latter as services . Formalising such transformations using graph-based
models we improved
scalability (graph-based models are often significantly smaller than
abstract syntax trees [C]) while
providing a high-level implementation of migration rules .
Software companies, such as ATX who develop and migrate software for the
government sector, or Hunter Systems who offer asset management solutions,
regularly face the
above challenges. In maintaining business-critical applications, they have
to guarantee longevity.
When migrating legacy applications, ATX are dealing with large
undocumented systems in
programming languages from the mainframe era that are too time-consuming
to analyse and
ATX' relationship with Leicester began with [C] through joint research
and training on methods and
techniques for re-engineering legacy systems to service-oriented
architectures and continued in
[D]. A formal partnership was signed between ATX and UoL in 2008 after the
end of [C].
Hunter Systems, migrating applications generated by out-dated GUI
builders towards web-based
solutions, have to document the existing architecture to support the
migration to new platforms.
They contacted the University for expertise in software architectures and
migration in 2011 leading
to an Innovation Partnership (a form of sKTP) supporting consulting,
training and joint supervision
of students' projects.
Leicester: J Fiadeiro, (Professor, 2002-2012), R Heckel, (Professor,
2004-), S Reiff-Marganiec
(Senior Lecturer, 2003-), M El-Ramly (Lecturer, 2003-07), A Boronat
(Lecturer, 2007-), K Ehrig
(PDRA, 2006-08), L Bocchi (PDRA, 2006-), C Matos (PhD student/RA,
ATX: L Andrade, R Correia, S Gorton, J Gouveia, G Koutsoukos, C Matos.
Hunter Systems: N Hunter (CEO), J Iqbal (seconded to Leicester for
training in 2011-12)
References to the research
A. "AGILE: Architectures for Mobility", FP5-IST-2005-16004;
€1,377,000 (Leicester: €125,494);
January 2002 - April 2005. Grant holder for UoL: J Fiadeiro.
B. "SEGRAVIS: Syntactic and Semantic Integration of Visual
Modelling Techniques", FP5-HPRN-
CT-2002-00275; Leicester budget: €50,000); October 2002 - September 2006.
Grant holder for
UoL: R. Heckel.
C. "Leg2Net: From Legacy Systems to Services in the Net", Marie
Industry-Academia Partnership 003169; €417,775; June 04 - May 08. Grant
Fiadeiro, R Heckel, S Reiff-Marganiec (for UoL) and L Andrade (for ATX).
PhD Students: C
Matos, R Correia.
D. "Sensoria: Software Engineering for Service-Oriented Overlay
16004; €8,158,000 (Leicester: €742,380); September 05 - February 10. Grant
holders for UoL:
J Fiadeiro, R Heckel, S Reiff-Marganiec. PDRAs: L Bocchi, K Ehrig, P
Torrini. PhD Students:
D Biztray, J Abreu.
Publications (Leicester authors underlined)
1. C Matos, R Heckel: Annotate, Abstract, Redesign, Transform:
Applications into Services, Proc. 4th Intl. Symposium on Graph
Transformations with Industrial
Relevance, AGTIVE, 2011
2. J Fiadeiro, A Lopes: An algebraic semantics of event-based
Structures in Computer Science 17(5): 1029-1073 (2007)
3. R Correia, C Matos, R Heckel, M El-Ramly: Architecture
Migration Driven by Code
Categorization. ECSA 2007, LNCS , Springer, 115-122 (2007)
4. A Lopes, J Fiadeiro: Adding mobility to software
architectures. Sci. Comput. Program. 61(2):
114- 135 (2006)
5. L Andrade, J Fiadeiro: Composition Contracts for Service
Interaction. Journal of Universal
Computer Science 10(4): 375-390 (2004)
6. A Lopes, M Wermelinger, J Fiadeiro: High-order architectural
connectors. ACM Trans. Softw.
Eng. Methodol. 12(1): 64-104 (2003)
Details of the impact
Both ATX Software and Hunter Systems face challenges of maintaining and
substantial applications, either as part of bespoke client project or to
update their own products.
Accessing research and expertise at Leicester has helped them to
Inform company strategies toward developing products and/or
Improve the skills and knowledge of their staff to enable them
to perform these
Innovate products and processes, making them more effective and
opening up new
ATX Software specialises in architectural modernisation and
migration of software systems to
event-based and service-oriented architectures. The company, established
in 1996, with
headquarters in Lisbon maintains subsidiaries in Spain and Brazil. ATX has
a wide portfolio of
clients in the private sector, finance and government, including [text
removed for publication]. Key
technogy partners include MS, HP and IBM. Turnover in 2012 was [text
removed for publication].
In a go-to-market strategy report produced in September 2009 by IT
research company Gartner,
the partnership between ATX and UoL was identified as one of its key
The collaboration helped to inform company strategy in order to
- adopt event-based and service-oriented architectures as target
platforms for their client's
- reinforce more flexible (higher level) reengineering/migration
processes and supporting
tools based on the approach in 2.
The cooperation significantly improved skills and knowledge
through training by UoA researchers.
Two ATX staff went on to earn PhDs. ATX HR manager Fernando Ramalho said:
provided a valuable source of information and learning... enhancing the
company's ability in terms
of highly qualified human resources.'' This has enabled "difficult issues
to be addressed collectively
and from different viewpoints, leading to innovation as a result of the
partnership's work'', as
demonstrated by the following examples.
Innovation in products and processes was helped as follows.
- The approach adopted for ATX's reengineering process is based on
transformation rules, developed and accumulated through past projects.
evaluation  confirming superior scalability and effectiveness of the
contributed to the decision to move the core tool set from a code-based
to a more high-
level platform. This has been (and is being) applied in tools automating
Delphi to .NET, Powerbuilder to .NET or Java.
- Two products derived from technical contributions in [1,3] are a port
of CARE (ATX's main
program analysis tool) to Eclipse in [D] and contributions to PL\SQL
extraction from Oracle
Forms to database stored procedures, using pattern matching developed in
[C, D]. These
were used in significant client projects, such as a mid-sized migration
from Oracle Forms to
Microsoft .NET (USA) and a large migration from Oracle Forms to Java
These innovations led to increased competiveness, enhancing the company's
profile as capable of
resolving complex migration problems across a variety of platforms and
helped securing new
clients and business in Brazil and USA.
The collaboration opened doors to partnerships and sources of expertise,
such as academic and
business partners in the Sensoria project [D]. Mr Ramalho said: "These
connections with several partners were seen to be valuable for a number of
reasons, not least
because it brought people together with organisations they previously had
not worked with and
would never had a reason to meet with.''
Hunter Systems are originally a reseller of CRM software who
started to market an in-house asset
management solution to their clients in services and manufacturing. At
their initiation, this desktop-
based solution had to be replaced by a web-based one in order to remain
effective in situations
where the workforce is increasingly mobile and distributed.
Through consulting with the UoA, the company was able to adopt the
methodology defined in [1,3]
and apply it to define target architecture and platforms for their
products. By conducting feasibility
studies, training a developer on a reduced version of the product, and
supporting a graduate intern
at the company, the UoA has enabled them to execute their migration and
expand the company's
knowledge- and skills base.
The product is undergoing testing within the company and is being
extended by a CRM integration
to meet further client demands. Early indications are that 80% of clients
want to switch to the web-
based product. Especially through cloud-based hosting, the solution is
also attractive to small
companies. Based on these predictions by CEO N Hunter, significant
resources are being
committed to finalise the development and testing of the product.
Sources to corroborate the impact
Corroborating source: HR Manager, ATX Software
Corroborating source: Former Developer, ATX Software
Go-To-Market Strategy, A Report for ATX Technologies Ltd.,
Gartner, Sept. 2009, confidential but
available to the University.
Factual statement from managing director of Hunter Systems Ltd (SAM
Software Solutions Ltd) on
September 10th, 2013.