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Ball State Professors Honored for Software Design Metrics

February 1, 2007

A Highly Effective Technology to Identify Fault-Prone Modules

Reprinted with the Permission of the I/UCRC Association - January 11, 2007

Wayne and Dolores Zage, professors of Computer Science at Ball State University and, respectively, Director and Research Coordinator of the Software Engineering Research Center (SERC) have been awarded the third annual Alexander Schwarzkopf Prize for Technological Innovation from the I/UCRC Association, a voluntary, independent organization of past and present members of the National Science Foundation’s Industry/University Cooperative Research Center program involving 42 Centers, 100 Universities, and thousands of faculty and student researchers.

The award recognizes the Zages’ achievements in developing software design metrics that identify fault-prone modules early in the software lifecycle, thereby allowing significant improvements in software quality and productivity.  This approach, whose development started in 1988, can be used to highlight stress points in a design and to determine overall design quality, thereby greatly reducing the time and cost required to complete the development of new software.  In its simplest form, the technology is based on the idea that the “complexity” of a software module depends both on the amount of information flowing in and out, and the number of modules connected to the given module.  Considering software as a set of modules, a particular module can be considered as fault-prone if its design metrics’ values identify it as an “outlier” in the software.

Since its conception in1988, this idea has been refined in many ways.  A metrics-guided methodology for software quality has been developed that has applications in the coding phase (identifying problematic components), in the testing phase (assisting in identifying where testing efforts should be focused) and in predicting the effects of design decisions on expected reliability of a software product.  A SERC affiliate company has developed and implemented a high reliability software engineering process based on these metrics.

The metrics and methodologies were first developed in SERC projects.  Validation of their capability as excellent predictors of fault-prone modules took place in concert with industrial sponsors.  Wide spread application with significant impact then followed.  Included have been applications to software associated with a wide range of military and communication systems.

The design metrics have had major impacts on research, business and national security.  In research, the metrics have, for the first time, tied estimates of software reliability to actual code statements, providing a scientifically sound approach to exploring complex issues in software engineering and reliability which can be applied to real world software systems.   Work underway in industry, based on these ideas, includes new software reliability models (Raytheon), architectural based analysis of software products (Telcordia) and use of module signatures in understanding design notation characteristics (Motorola).

These advances have had a major business impact. One Fortune 500 company has reported a cost reduction of 67% and productivity of 300% in software development.  Another firm found that the technology is so accurate that defect mitigation efforts are directed solely on the basis of the metrics guidance, providing a key discriminator in business competition.  Some firms that use the software report that the results are crucial to improvements in quality and productivity. This research has been used to validate the effectiveness of the design metrics technology to identify fault-prone software during the design phase, far surpassing all other technologies available. 

The Alexander Schwarzkopf Prize is awarded annually in the name of Dr. Alexander Schwarzkopf, who established the Industry/University Cooperative Research Centers (I/UCRC) Program at the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 1979 and has managed this unique and remarkably effective program since its creation.  His efforts have been recognized by many awards as noted below and have been the catalyst for adoption of the I/UCRC model by a number of states and several other countries, the highest form of recognition.

Further information about the I/UCRC program can be obtained from the web site

Contacts relevant to this story:

Wayne M. Zage
Software Engineering Research Center
Ball State University

Dolores M. Zage
Software Engineering Research Center
Ball State University

R. Bruce Thompson
Chair, I/UCRC Association Executive Committee
Center for Nondestructive Evaluation
Iowa State University

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2023 budget of $9.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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