The landscape of ALM tools is shifting beneath our feet.
Because the discipline of ALM, or Application Lifecycle Management, is undergoing a shift—IoT is blooming, and the line between physical products and software has already begun to blur.
Many organizations are finding that they need to update, integrate, or reconsider the Application Lifecycle Management tools they’re using in order set up a system that truly supports the nature of their lifecycle (whether it’s hardware, software, or something in between—I’ll get to that later).
In this review, I provide a brief ALM definition and explain what ALM tools are—what they do, what benefits they provide, and what a good ALM tool should offer. I’ve included a detailed breakdown of some of the top ALM software on the market (including their features, main pros and cons, integrations, pricing, and an overall quality score). Finally, I describe the main points you should consider when choosing an ALM tool for your organization.
First, What Is ALM?
Easy question, not such an easy answer.
To start, the Application Lifecycle Management Body of Knowledge (ALMBOK) gives a basic ALM meaning:
“ALM defines how a software application is managed from conception, through its creation and deployment, to its eventual retirement.”
In practice, ALM isn’t quite as cut and dry.
The line between software and hardware (including physical products) is blurring with the growth of IoT. The once-separate disciplines of ALM, which is largely concerned with software lifecycle management, and PLM, which is concerned with physical product lifecycle management, are converging. Many industry experts predict that within a few years we’ll simply call it Enterprise LIfecycle Management, or ELM.
That said, ALM is a broad term that ecompasses many disciplines. To illustrate my point, here’s a list of disciplines that fall under the ALM umbrella or have some overlap with ALM:
- Business Case Development
- Project Management
- Assets Management
- Security Management
- License Management
- Change Management
- Release Management
- Requirements Management
- Quality Assurance
- Customer Support
- IT Service Delivery
- Software Testing
- Portfolio Management (Project, Application, etc)
- Business Process Management
- Knowledge Management
- Architecture (IT, Solution, Infra, Software)
The list could probably be longer, but it’s more useful to distill it down to something concrete for our purposes.
A Simple Definition Of ALM
In general, a simple way to look at ALM is this: ALM is the marriage between software engineering and business management. Looking at it through this simplified lens gives us a clearer focus when it comes to evaluating the best ALM software—which is what I cover in the next section.
What Are ALM Tools, And What Do They Do?
Unlike standalone software developing tools or agile planning tools which by and large serve the same purpose for anyone using it, ALM tools have to merge a number of disciplines under the same roof.
For that reason, ALM tools are generally sold as software suites with several modules or components. These can be integrated to provide a standardized environment that supports your organization through all of the phases of the software development lifecycle (from concept through deployment and eventual retirement), in addition to supplying business management and software engineering tools for the functions listed in the previous section.
The people using an ALM tool across an organization will be using it for very different purposes, performing different functions to achieve different goals. Because of this, it’s unlikely that you’ll find an ALM solution offering absolutely everything you need right out of the box. Even so, using an ALM software has many advantages, which I describe below.
What Are The Main Benefits Of ALM Software?
ALM tools serve many functions—here are some of the main benefits you can derive from implementing an ALM solution:
- Standardized environment for collaboration between departments, integrating sw development tools with various management tools
- Automation and streamlining of the software dev process
- Enhanced clarity and simplicity for complex processes
- Improved software quality
- Reduction of costs
- Reduction of time to market
- Enhanced compliance audits (especially important for safety-critical industries)
Of course, to get these benefits, you have to make sure you’re choosing a tool that genuinely serves your use case, otherwise you run the risk of it becoming a waste of money and space as “shelfware”. See below for criteria to help you choose the right tool.
The Digital Project Manager is reader-supported. When you click through links on our site, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
The Best ALM Software List
Based on the above criteria, here are the top ALM tools featured in this review—find a summary chart and detailed description of each one below.
- Microsoft Azure DevOps – https://azure.microsoft.com/
- JIRA – https://www.atlassian.com/
- Tuleap – https://www.tuleap.org/
- Target Process – https://www.targetprocess.com
- Orcanos Application Lifecycle Management – https://www.orcanos.com/
- Collabnet VersionOne – https://www.collab.net/
- Micro Focus ALM Software – https://www.microfocus.com/
- CA Agile Central – https://www.ca.com/
- Inflectra SpiraTeam – https://www.inflectra.com/SpiraTeam/
- Perforce Helix ALM – https://www.perforce.com/
The Best ALM Tools
Here are a few of the best ALM tools available today. Read on to understand what they offer, how they’re different from the other tools, and what types of organizations and projects they’re best suited for.
1. Microsoft Azure DevOps – https://azure.microsoft.com/
In 2018, Microsoft rebranded their Visual Studio Team Service (VSTS) as Azure DevOps. Whether you consider this an ALM tool depends on how you define ALM, but Azure DevOps does work much like an ALM solution. Overall, it provides a standardized environment for managing a software application through its complete lifecycle through a unified DevOps approach.
Azure DevOps is composed of various self-explanatory modules: Pipelines, Test Plans, Boards, Repos, and Artifacts. Between these modules, this software includes features for planning and tracking work, implementing code, managing source code, running builds in a staging evironment, managing CI/CD, testing, and running diagnostics. It also offers the capability to monitor app performance and user behavior in real time.
As part of the Microsoft ecosystem, Azure DevOps offers dozens of pre-built integrations and a readily accessible library of extensions. Another benefit of this product is its transparent, flexible pricing which you can easily determine by using the interactive price calculator on the Azure site. While it’s definitely more of a “niche” solution designed strictly for DevOps environments, it’s a best-in-breed tool that can easily be extended to provide additional ALM functionality like portfolio management, etc.
Azure costs from $30/month. It’s free for 5 users or less.
2. JIRA – https://www.atlassian.com/
Atlassian is a household name in software development lifecycle (SDLC) tools. Usually, people compare it to the likes of big names like IBM and the HP ALM tool. They offer solutions geared toward agile development teams in anything from startups to corporate enterprises.
The Atlassian software suite for ALM can include any number of Atlassian products, sold separately, that integrate with one another. These include JIRA (task and project management), Confluence (collaboration), HipChat (real-time messaging), Bitbucket and Stash (code management and software developing tools), and add-ons like Jira Service Desk (issue management and support). These are available on-premise or as a SaaS.
The main advantage in using JIRA and other Atlassian products for ALM is in the well-developed suite of plug-ins, add-ons, and modules that you can use to customize your solution. It’s a good choice for organizations who plan to expand or who have large, distributed teams (it’s worth noting that Atlassian products are available in about a dozen languages). The suite can be customized for just about every use case conceivable, and they offer good support and training through their Expert network and Atlassian University.
At the same time, while JIRA is highly customizable, it doesn’t offer the out-of-the-box convenience or structure that a more all-encompassing solution does. You have to come with some knowledge of the features your business requires, and where to find them in the Atlassian suite.
Jira costs from $10/month for 1-10 users.