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The WebML innovation cycle

by Researcher at Politecnico di Milano and WebRatio on Oct 14, 2011

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10 years of WebRatio is a good occasion for thinking about the path that led from a university research project to a recognized modeling language (WebML) and a solid, industrialized version of a ...

10 years of WebRatio is a good occasion for thinking about the path that led from a university research project to a recognized modeling language (WebML) and a solid, industrialized version of a toolsuite (WebRatio).
The main ingredient of our history are basically:
- a substrate for cross-fertilization coming from European Research projects (W3I3, WebSI, Cooper, BPM4People, ...)
- valuable inputs and requirements from customers (both final customers and software integrators)
- a strong research team that continuously worked on innovating the approach
- the teaching activities within the university
- and the professional developers and analysts at Web Models that work hard for making a good product out of the rough ideas and experiments produced in the university.

These ingredients allowed more than 10 years of evolution of the language and the tool. I tried to summarized this in the virtuous cycle of our experience.

While research provides innovation to both teaching and industrialization, and finally produces the upto date version of the language and methodology.
The tool vendor provides the tool itself and also requirements coming from real industrial customers. The tool is extremely useful for teaching and research purposes not only within our group, but throughout the world (thanks to an academic program that allows education institutions to get free licenses of the tool).
The role of customer is crucial in this picture, because it's from their input (business, technical and UI requirements) that we extract the actual needs of the industry. The whole innovation cycle start there.
Furthermore, customers provide feedback and feasibility/acceptability check upon our findings and solutions.

This virtuous cycle has been able to carry the core idea of the WebML language through 10 years of history in the product (and 15 years of history of the language). The lesson learned is that, if you have a core concept which is flexible and innovable, a good strategy can lead to continuous evolution, improvement and expansion of the idea. In these years the language underwent a huge number of incremental additions:

support of web services
support of business processes
support of semantic web features
support of RIA - AJAX features

If you want to get a flavour of the experience, you may check out this paper, published in John Mylopoulos Festschrift by Springer:S. Ceri, M. Brambilla, P. Fraternali: “The History of WebML Lessons Learned from 10 Years of Model-Driven Development of Web Applications“. In book: Conceptual Modeling: Foundations and Applications, Essays in honor of John Mylopoulos, Springer LNCS, Festschrift series, vol. 5600, 2009, pp. 273-292

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