iRise Application Simulator: It'll Build You Up

Formed in 1996 as an application development and services firm, iRise began developing its flagship Application Simulator tool several years ago as way to make the requirements phase of a project more efficient for a development team, said Emmet Keeffe, CEO and co-founder of the El Segundo, Calif.-based vendor. "We discovered a painful problem in the area of requirements and how these systems get specified," he said. "It's hard for people to articulate the requirements of an application."

Keeffe said that on most projects, application requirements are written by business analysts and others in the company who require an application to behave in a certain way to meet business needs. Most times they are compiled in various documents such as Microsoft Word or Excel files, which are cumbersome and sometimes do not compile every detail business analysts might need. In some situations, this can result in costly late-cycle changes to an application once it is deployed, he said.

"It's similar to building a house and at the end you find out the garage is in the wrong place," Keeffe said. "That's an expensive change to make."

Indeed, Melinda-Carol Ballou, Meta Group senior research analyst, said "a good 70 percent" of IT project failures occur from "poor requirements gathering, analysis and management."

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IBM Rational, Telelogic and Serena Software also provide tools intended to improve the requirements phase of the application life cycle, Ballou said. IRise's take on the visual interface differentiates Application Simulator from competitive tools.

Application Simulator allows business analysts to use a combination of text and visual cues to build a simulated application in a whiteboard environment and then run the program to see how it would behave in a deployment situation. This allows them to find possible errors or missing requirements before the application is coded by the development team and deployed, Keeffe said.

This ability to build and run an application prototype that behaves much like the final application is what differentiates iRise's tool, said John Gephardt, director of solution modeling at systems integrator Perficient, Austin, Texas. Gephardt said that when creating application requirements, it is extremely helpful to show customers a prototype of an application instead of just giving them all of the requirements in various document formats.

"Customers definitely respond much better to visual representations and prototypes," he said.

While Macromedia Dreamweaver allows developers to build HTML-based application prototypes, they "lack the ability to have data associated with them," Gephardt said. For instance, to display how an application might behave in deployment, developers might have to build several different Web pages to demonstrate different transaction scenarios. "[With Application Simulator], instead of having to create three or four different dummy representations, I create what is one prototype and, based on the data, I can conditionally display different pieces of info or scenarios in the one prototype based on the data in the applications," he said.

IRise Application Simulator is priced at $250,000. The company has strategic partnerships with vendors such as BEA Systems, IBM and Sun Microsystems as well as several pacts with regional solution providers. Keeffe said iRise is working to build out its channel presence. "We want to work with large consultancy firms so they can have visual simulation be a regular part of their practice," he said.