A VIEW ON THE STATE OF SOFTWARE ENGINEERING PRACTICE: EXPERIENCE FROM EGYPT
11 Feb 2015
An excerpt from Thomas Friedman’s famous book The World Is Flat, “When developing countries start thinking about the challenge of flatism…It has to ask itself, “To what extent is my country advancing or being left behind by the flattening of the world, and to what extent is it adapting to and taking advantage of all the new platforms for collaborations and competition?”” is vividly describing the appeal of many developing countries in entering the software industry. With the globalization of crafting software and its services, the software industry is seen as a lucrative economic growth opportunity. Unlike other industrial investments, the software industry is convenient to developing countries for its low-cost of establishment. All is needed is an affordable real estate rental, a bunch of PCs, and a few skilled workers to get the business running. The globalization of the software industry with attention given to accessing the right skills no matter where and reducing costs through cheap labor is even a realization to those countries ambitions to remedy part of their economic challenges. India preceded with utilizing such potential and made good use of such globalization, or flatism, of the software industry; positioning itself as a successful model to those nations aspiring to compete globally and establish economic growth.
Egypt is no exception from this ambition. Geographically positioned in proximity to Europe at the crossroads of Europe, Africa, and Asia and with access to abundant low wage talent pool of multilingual technical graduates annually are all factors that made it conceivable that Egypt can compete in the global industry of software. However, such entrance into competition, notably with India as well as other Middle Eastern countries, have shaped trends in the practices of software engineering in Egypt as well as it did emerge several challenges that Egypt should learn to remedy if it wants to stay competitive in the global software industry. This paper attempts to shed light on salient current software engineering practices and related challenges that would be affecting Egypt’s progress and competitive edge. In laying a foundation to such brief survey of practices, this paper also overviews major cornerstones that gave rise to the establishment and support of such industry in Egypt.
Categories and Subject Descriptors
D.2.9 [Management]: Life cycle, productivity, software process models, programming teams, software quality assurance.
Software Engineering, Management, Economics, Human Factors, Practices, Software Trends.
Software engineering, software industry, practices, trends.
Egypt since entrance in the global software market has ambitioned to position itself as a prestigious software destination when it comes to Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) and IT Outsourcing (ITO). Such ambition has shaped current software engineering practices and gave rise to challenges as well. In studying the software industry in Egypt, it is important to look at it from this lens, competing in the global software industry as a reliable outsourcing offshoring destination.
This paper aims at surveying current software engineering practices and challenges from an experience in Egypt software industry. Since it is urged to look at such practices from the perspective of Egypt’s ambition to be a respected BPO and ITO destination, this paper starts by briefing some movers that shaped how the industry was formulated and how it is kept moving.
2. INDUSTRY SEGMENTATION & RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
Depicting current practices and software engineering trends in a developing country like Egypt might prove to be a daunting task due to limited or absent formal documentations of the industry and its practices. Published literature, especially published by Egyptians, is focusing on technical productions or theories by those specialized in the field while economists with interest in IT are concerned with the software industry implications on economy. On the other side, the software industry itself in Egypt has poor or absent contribution to literature. It’s rare to find a software company that publishes case studies or white papers on experiences and practices that represent the industry. The only body that is publishing on the industry of software in Egypt is mainly ITIDA, explained in section 3.2. However, even ITIDA is publishing on the industry from business perspective, for the purpose of publicizing the industry, rather than software engineering practices themselves as conducted by the industry.
The objective of this paper is to present the current practices of software engineering in Egypt and in front of such explained challenges of finding information, different sources of data were utilized manually in performing a trending to core software engineering practices across the industry. Market segmentation by software engineering practices and trends was analytically conducted on over 60 representative major software companies in Egypt ranging from large ones, 350+ employee, medium size companies, 150+ employees, and SMEs, 10+ employees – sampling was increased for SMEs to represent their major constitution in the industry. These companies were selected based on their degree of engagement in the local and global industry, types and sizes of development projects. The research method followed was both quantitative and qualitative; combining surveying the industry based on products vs. services, technologies adopted, and types of offered products/services coupled with the author’s wide industrial experience, interpretations of the industry, and as an insider to many among them serving as software engineering consultant. This is as well as analyzing available industry reports, articles, and documents as published by governmental bodies, local software events, economists, and market research offices.
3. INDUSTRY MOVERS
3.1. ICT Investments
Egypt came from a long way of investing in its infrastructure backbone since mid-1990s; ICT is an essential enabling platform for competence and production. The first introduction to the internet in Egypt was in October 1993, confined to educational, scientific research, and Cabinet Decision Support purposes. As of April 1996, internet has started to be offered by 11 private sector ISPs to the general public. During these short years, Egypt has made massive leap in growing its infrastructure backbone. Today, internet penetration in Egypt has reached 38.07% as of June 2012 with annual growth rate of 5.8% and 31.21 million user connected with annual growth rate of 20.6% 
At the mobility level, Egypt has established three mobile operators. Number of mobile subscribers has reached 92.5 million subscribers in 2012 with mobile penetration reaching 112.7%. Mobile internet subscribers have reached 11.3 million subscribers with annual growth rate of 27.6% .
3.2. Supporting Governmental Bodies
Establishing Egypt as an Information Society has first started in 1985 through the establishment of Information and Decision Support Center (IDSC) for the purpose of providing information for the Cabinet and policy makers and promoting information development projects. Since then IDSC has initiated multiple projects that transformed Egypt into an information society, including projects for increasing internet connectivity .
Today, Egypt has achieved a prestigious place in the global software industry through the help of multiple effortful governmental bodies. The Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) was founded in 1999 to continue the journey of developing and growing the ICT market in Egypt. With its establishment, MCIT came up with the Egyptian National Communications and IT Plan (NCITP). Among the NCITP developmental items was the establishment of the Egyptian Information Society Initiative (EISI) that formulated an agenda containing seven mechanisms for evolving Egypt into an information society: eReadiness, eLearning, eGovernment, eBusiness, eHealth, eCulture, and ICT Export Initiative . The Information Technology Industry Development Agency (ITIDA) was established in 2004 for the objective of boosting the IT industry and increases its global competitiveness. Since its establishment, ITIDA succeeded in helping many companies and attracting worldwide opportunities through its Egypt On program . The Software Engineering Competence Center (SECC) was established in year 2001 to promote and enhance software engineering practices. SECC has obtained joint partnership with the Software Engineering Institute (SEI) of Carnegie Mellon to provide trainings, accreditation appraisals, and professional certifications. SECC also provides multiple consultation services to software companies, software process accreditation appraisals, and hosting seminars. The organization also publishes its International Journal of Software Engineering to help disseminate software engineering research and knowledge.
3.3. Education & Resource Pool
Every year Egypt produces around 90,000 graduates suited for pursuing career in IT and Business Process Outsourcing (BPO). Not only producing a large pool of resources, but also resources with multilingual capabilities with around 26,000 English speakers, 3,000 French, 1,500 Italian, 800 German, and 300 Spanish .
Educational initiatives aiming at providing the right pool of talents to the software industry have marked progressive impact. Nile University was established in 2006 as a research-based university and the only university offering post-graduate degree in Software Engineering and software engineering professional certifications. Since its establishment over the past 5 years, Nile University has formulated partnership with ITIDA on different industry development projects aiming at bridging the industry-academia gap and produced around 250 publications in reputable journals and conferences. The Information Technology Institute (ITI) established in 1993 by the IDSC and was integrated in MCIT in 2003. ITI has started to offer professional diplomas to universities fresh graduates to prepare them to industrial work. Recently, ITI has initiated its EduEgypt program in collaboration with Egyptian universities to provide BPO trainings to university students and graduates. Also, ITIDA has established the European Language Program aiming at enhancing IT employees’ multilingual skills
3.4. Outsourcing and Offshoring
Governmental supporting bodies, geographical location, abundance of resource, and the long investment in the ICT sector have all enabled Egypt to place itself as a major candidate destination for outsourcing and offshoring. In this preparedness, the government has initiated construction projects to technology parks. Smart Village was initiated in 2002 by MCIT to be a dedicated park for technology, BPO, and ITO; built over 32 million square feet at the edge of Cairo metropolitan area with well-established infrastructure and initial capacity of 40,000 employees. Currently, Smart village is occupied by around 120 company and housing multiple multinationals such as: Microsoft, HP, and Ericson. On par with Smart Village, the government is progressively establishing the second BPO/ITO Park, Maadi Technology Park, which is built over 2 million square feet and providing capacity for 35,000 employees . Phase 1 of Maadi Technology Park is expected to fully finalize by year 2013. With these two technology parks established mainly to provide housing attractiveness for Egypt as a global software industry BPO/ITO destination, still Egypt needs to put more technology parks construction projects; in comparison to its counterparts India and UAE, which offer multiple technology parks and free zones. Egypt has achieved rank 4 in A.T. Kearney Index in 2011 .
3.5. Post 25th January 2011 Revolution
Following the Egyptians’ 25th of January 2011 revolution, much concern has been wandering about Egypt’s geopolitical stability as a lucrative outsourcing offshoring destination. However, since then, Egypt has proved to be a reliable destination through continuous reforms and preparedness. Since revolution, Egypt has reformed its law of establishing business to be up and running in 72 hours and with capital as little as $200. Taxation has been reduced from 32% to 20% and Tariff has been reformed for the purpose of attracting investments. Major companies, learned from the revolutions internet connectivity cut off, has established Satellite internet connectivity to ensure 100% internet presence at any case. Political and societal reforms are continuing at promising pace for the sake of economic growth and investments attraction. Stabilizing the country and assuring confidence of investment have started even to progress at remarkable pace since the election of a new president. Chief among such presidential attempts to restore confidence and increase direct foreign investments is the president’s visit to China accompanying him 80 businessmen to discuss business collaborations between the two countries. Such visit landed Egypt $200 million of credit and signing multiple developmental projects including massive investments in infrastructure. Furthermore, the new president has undertaken a similar tour to EU to encourage investments. Through such visit, EU leaders have offered Egypt more than a billion Euro of aid and trade terms. Finally, a delegation of the American businessmen has visited Egypt to explore investment opportunities. All such reforms and unhesitant collaborations from EU, China, and the US following Egypt’s revolution are indicators that Egypt remains to be a hot spot for investment and it progressive democratic transition would further enhance business and reforms.
4. THE STATE OF PRACTICE
4.1. Agile Methods
Agile methods are a group of development methodologies with four basic principles at their core according to the Agile Manifesto: Individuals and interactions over processes and tools, working software over comprehensive documentation, customer collaboration over contract negotiation, responding to change over following a plan. Unlike the 1970s plan-driven life cycled software development first coined by Roye in the Waterfall model, Agile methods foster team collaboration to produce a software that is fit to use and adaptive to ever changing business needs. It fosters setting software development free from rigid phases and documentation to achieve efficiency, value, and time-to-market demands.
In Egypt, especially where most of the software industry consists of Small-Medium Enterprises (SMEs), many software firms were attracted to adopt Agile Methods as a convenient mean to produce value-based software with limited resources and minimal overhead investment in process definition. Supporting bodies such as SECC has started to offer corporate Agile Training, coaching, held its first of a kind in Arab countries one day conference in 2008 named Agile Egypt, and an initiative for Agile certification. While SMEs are not originally adopting formal SPI programs due to lack of resources, Agile Methods were seen as a viable strategy to ‘legitimize’ and manage development chaos with a set of guidelines. This is often a misconception about Agile that would yield development pitfalls; Agile methods are not a legitimate name for undisciplined activities. Robust agile trainings and certification such as ones offered by SECC should curb this misconception by educating corporates in the real practices and objectives of Agile Methods.
4.2. Quality Control
To compete in the global software industry as a major outsourcing offshoring destination, software quality is an essential attribute. Realizing this requisite, Egypt has achieved maturity in performing quality control activities. Quality control has become an integral part of software development in most software companies in Egypt. Some companies are also specialized in offering testing services as part of their BPO offerings. Governmental bodies such as SECC have established the Egyptian Software Testing Board (ESTB) with the aim of spreading software testing practices and providing testing certification services jointly with the International Software Testing Qualifications Board (ISTQB). The ITI has dedicated a Quality Assurance specialization track in its offered IT Diploma. With this foundational awareness of the importance of Quality Control in development software, Egypt needs to build upon that establishment by fostering quality as a culture, beyond mere verification and validation activities. To utilize the mature testing practices and quality control educated resource pool, quality as a concept should be broadened to go beyond finding software defects to include quality standards and models, measurements, and process quality.
4.3. Industry-Sector Specialization
The software industry in Egypt can be seen as organized around cross-sectorial specializations. Development specialty into different industry sectors is a key enabler for organizations to go higher in the value hierarchy. India, for example, has stumbled upon changing their engagement since the Y2K problem to be a provider of specialized software services. Different industrial sectors specialties in developing software are appreciated for breeding teams of software professionals who not only develop software but also are experts in the application domain. Industrial sector specialized software development prevalent in Egypt software industry are ERP, Financial and Banking, Telecom, and Education.
4.4. Software Localization
Egypt had a foundational experience in Arabization, which enabled it to become a software localization gate to the Arabic language speaking world. Examples of this early engagement of Egypt in software localization include: first Arabic terminal screen manufactured by IBM was designed in Egypt in 1960, development of Arabic speech recognition in 1986, and the development of Arabic Optimal Character Recognition at IBM in late 1980s. Localization services in Egypt span over software interface translation and development of Arabic multimedia, especially used in packaged educational materials.
4.5. Legacy Software Modernization and Maintenance
The development and emergence of new technologies is a fast-paced trend in the software industry. Adopting software systems that have been operational since time while provide organization with stability of operations, it misses enhanced capabilities and new features made available by the continuously evolving software technologies. A legacy system as such becomes a company’s asset that throwing it away and initiating a totally new one is a daunting and risky undertaking. In software arena where fast-paced technological is the norm, this becomes even an infeasible solution. In this regard, transforming a legacy system into new technologies is the best adopted approach to preserve the long used for operational software system while streamlining it with new features, capabilities, and efficiency.
Egypt has many established software firms offering legacy systems modernization and maintenance. A giant example of companies operating in this direction is IBM Egypt Enterprise Modernization Center. The Ministry of Communications and Information Technology in partnership with Ministry of Education has established multiple Requests for Proposals (RFPs) through its ICT Trust fund for software companies to compete for modernizing its educational systems.
4.6. Business Intelligence
In a seminar hosted by SAS in 2009 titled ‘Corporate Strategy and Performance Management’, Gary Cokins, SAS Business Development Manager, has delivered a thoughtful speech on the Business Intelligence (BI) market in Egypt and how SAS is formulating different initiatives to help Egypt customers maximize their BI technologies. The BI market in Egypt has exceeded $10 million by year 2010. This is due to massive governmental and corporate investments and reliance on analytics in replacement to traditional decision support procedures. SAS, among many, is participating in the growing BI market in Egypt. At the global software industry, BI becomes an integral offering by software services and BPO companies.
5.1. Software Reuse
Software reuse is an undertaking which planning should start as early as in software design phase. When designing software systems, architects and designers should design it with reuse in mind. This affects how software components and constructs are built, organized, and connected. Lacking needed knowledge of software reuse patterns and principles are core factors why software can be designed for operational use but not for later on reuse. Egypt software firms lack software reuse capabilities, knowledge, and the concept is considered even absent from management agenda when planning for their products or even cost reduction. In many software organizations, it can be seen how similar products or services are being developed from scratch every time a different client make a request for service; and the client is billed as such. Software reuse not only can warrant Egypt software industry with cost competitive edge, but it would also afford firms more time spent on polishing their services and products to improve them.
5.2. Software Processes
Although the aggressive governmental push on software firms to discipline their software development processes, still Egypt software industry lacks the needed establishment of a disciplined software process institutionalization. Out of around 2725 software companies in Egypt, only 48 companies are CMMi certified . Agile methodologies are adopted by companies who just do not want to invest in putting a disciplined software development methodology rather than wanting to benefit from agility. Lack of disciplined development methodology in vast majority of software firms in Egypt is one of the roadblocks preventing Egypt from taking a head on in the global software industry.
5.3. Infrastructure and CASE Tools
Due to the software industry in Egypt being constituted by SMEs mainly, the industry lack limited investments in the area of infrastructure and adoption of CASE tools. Investments in servers, enabling software packages, CASE tools, backup machines, and development tools are almost absent due to budget limitations. Cloud infrastructure applications could be a viable solution to narrow down such investments; however, Cloud is not yet nurtured in most organizations culture in fulfilling their infrastructure needs. Egypt MCIT plan for improving CIT for the next five years has promoting Cloud applications and infrastructure as its top one undertaking .
5.4. Non-Functional Requirements
While non-functional attributes of software are growing into the awareness of the software industry in Egypt, still software professionals are not culturally oriented to address them. Most dominant non-functional attributes known to professionals are Security and Performance. Though these two are even not well addressed, not being oriented that non-functional attributes are not only performance and security is a key indicator of immaturity in this regard. Non-functional attributes of software include many others like interoperability, reliability, survivability, compatibility, to name a few. A contributing factor to such limited appreciation and awareness of the full spectrum of non-functional requirements is the type of software systems being developed in Egypt, where performance and security would stand as the most visible needs. However, for Egypt to ensure competitiveness in the global software industry, it has to start nurturing such appreciation now so that firms can be ready to address any of these requirements when they become most demanded.
- Software Engineering Competence Center. April 2009. CMMI Appraised Companies. 2009. http://www.secc.org.eg/Publications/CMMI%20Appraised%20Companies%20Guide.pdf
- T Kearney. 2011. Global Services Location Index. Global Index Report. A.T Kearney.
- The Information Technology and Industry Development Agency. In Destination Egypt ITO-BPO Value Proposition 2012. http://egypton.com.
- The Information Technology and Industry Development Agency. 2011. Business in Egypt. http://egypton.com
- Ministry of Communications and Information Technology. 2012. National ICT Strategy. Ministry Report. Egypt Ministry of Communications and Information Technology.
- Kamel, Sherif. The Birth of Egypt’s Information Society. International Journal of the Computer, the Internet, and Management.
- Ministry of Communications and Information Technology. 2012. ICT Indicators in Brief. http://egyptictindicators.gov.eg.
- Kamel, Sherif, et.al. The Impact of ICT Investments on Economic Development in Egypt. The Electronic Journal on Information Systems in Developing Countries.