Abbiamo intervistato Caspar Honée, product owner di SimaPro, che descrive il lavoro dietro, e dentro, il software. È molto interessante scoprire attraverso il suo racconto come nasce il software, chi lo gestisce, come vengono fatti gli aggiornamenti e quali sono i progetti futuri.
Caspar dirige il team che sviluppa SimaPro con l’obiettivo di creare e migliorare software che permettono di utilizzare indicatori di sostenibilità accogliendo le necessità di chi li usa e anticipando le tendenze future della metodologia LCA. Caspar Honée ha una lunga esperienza nel settore IT, nell’ambito di sostenibilità, della LCA e nella gestione di progetti complessi. Ha studiato Technical Business Administration in Olanda e Ingegneria Ambientale con una specializzazione in LCA in Svezia.
Come curiosità, Caspar dell’Italia ama la cucina, con particolare predilezione per il caffè, l’architettura e il mare.
You are the Product Owner of SimaPro and manage the software together with other experts. Can you introduce us to the team?
At PRé we work with dedicated software developers and LCA specialists to continuously update and improve our data and software services. Typically we work in small project teams with around 5 people. The teams are diverse and consist of a blended mix of specialists on LCA data, methods, software, marketing and support. The teams work together for a number of months to bring a release out. Usually we also involve outside parties to add specific skills to the team. Personally, as Product owner I have a role of representing the customer in the team and being the Customer liaison. I try to get the best software and service experience for our users. You can meet and contact me and my colleagues on the PRé website.
Can you tell us how SimaPro is developed, the major tasks and the toughest challenges involved?
Before new features make it to SimaPro a lot of steps have been taken. Often new features start with great ideas. These new ideas are identified from talking to users, providers, dealing with support cases, addressing specific feature requests, working on client projects or following general market developments for example. A good idea is often one that many users can benefit from. Such so called user stories are further designed and described in great detail to capture the functionality. After this the software developers will assist to translate the wishes and requirements to technical conditions. From here development can start. Once available rigorous testing takes place, often implying a number of additional issues need to be fixed before the product is ready to be shipped.
Every time an ecoinvent update is released, this is included in SimaPro; how is this done and how much work does this involve?
Implementing new ecoinvent releases basically just means updating data in the SimaPro databases but in fact involves many steps. To make a release in SimaPro happen the data need to fit into existing or improved software and data structures. The process starts when ecoinvent comes out in test release. We get engaged in the testing to assist but also to assure the knowledge transfer starts early between the data publisher and software makers.
The new version needs to be fully understood so we can plan for implementation taking all possible impacts into account. Each release brings its own specific challenges. Generally large volumes of additional datasets are added which need to be assessed and mapped to the existing data like methods. Often new versions have also various other consequences on the existing system such as additional or replaced units, elementary flows, enhanced regional coverage and extra meta information. In the past a major overhaul took place between version 2 and 3 where the entire structure of the data changed to ecospold2. More recently sub version updates were implemented.
Especially making updates work for end users who may work with older versions of software and data in their projects, can be a challenge. To assist users transitioning to new systems models and new data sets, we try to make this update process as seamless as possible. New features were developed to update existing projects with new library data for example.
Overall the database implementation work requires an enormous attention to detail. For quality assurance we execute lengthy test processes. In fact the test efforts usually take up more than half of the total implementation project time. Besides testing for consistency, testing with different versions and different platforms also takes place. Once the new version passes the internal tests a beta testing round within our global partner network takes place. Each time issues are identified and fixed, retesting has to occur. When a release is stable we get ready for deployment, this involves mainly the fine tuning of support documentation and informing the community.
In what way do you take SimaPro users’ opinions into account in the development of SimaPro?
In my experience, the most successful features we have built to date, result from users or projects specifically reaching out with their requests. In these cases the community is involved early on and continuously engaged during the development cycle. In practice anyone can ask for features. These requests always get recorded and prioritized in a so-called product backlog. If we see many users asking for things in the same theme we will prioritize and accommodate. I strongly believe this is the best way, since users have context to see if what we make is actually helping them to achieve their goals. Translating features into technical requirements and keeping everybody engaged in a time consuming process is usually the biggest challenge. Still it is also the most rewarding. I love it when in the end we get happy user feedback! That’s what motivates us every day.
What can you tell us about the future developments of SimaPro in the short and longer term?
Across the board we see users moving more and more to services offered over the internet. That is why I am engaged in building a web based platform for SimaPro applications. Last year we launched 2 new product being SimaPro Share and Collect that are web based. Earlier this year we updated SimaPro Report maker and introduced SimaPro Direct while continuing to expand and integrate the web based offering.
We currently are in the middle of releasing the new web service API that helps customers integrate their existing web application and power these up with SimaPro managed data and robust calculations. This year we also also completed the designs for the online LCA modelling tool targeted at advanced business users and product designers. I have been going around to various parties and users to demonstrate our vision and prototypes. With this feedback we have now come to a point where we can give the community a test drive and get involved in the next steps. So should you wish to experience and define the future of SimaPro developments, I would be pleased to show you and hear about your experiences first hand.