By using Normalized Systems as the standard software development method, the ministry ignores a negative advice (pdf) from the Advisory Board ICT Testing (ACICT) from 2017 (then Bureau ICT Testing or BIT). It advised against using standardized systems because “the technology has not been tested and is not supported by a leading vendor”.
Michiel Bakhuizen, spokesman for the Ministry of Finance, refers to the then Secretary of State Eric Wiebes’ reaction to the BIT Council when he is asked why the Council is being acted against. He points in particular to the passage: “In addition, it is still necessary to improve the IV landscape [Informatievoorzieningsorganisatie, red] modernize and better organize management, accountability and impact measurement. They remain part of the program. A step-by-step approach must also be taken to ensure that concrete results are achieved.
ACICT does not have a more current position with regard to Normalized Systems than at that time, spokesman Koen van Tankeren asked when asked. “The survey was conducted five or six years ago. We have not been involved in that site and therefore have no insight into it. That means our advice is still firm.”
No source code released
Another problem is whether the source code for software created with standardized systems can be made publicly available. The then Secretary of State Raymond Knops noted this desire in a letter to the House of Representatives in April 2020 (pdf). It states that the government in connection with NLDIGIbeter wants information, public facilities and new techniques to be accessible to all. Releasing state software source code would go a long way toward achieving these goals.
According to director Frans Verstreken of NSX – the spin-off that has made the academic development of the Normalized Systems theory ready for the market – there is no technical problem. Professor Jan Verelst, one of the spiritual fathers of the theory, adds: “The advantage of NS in this context is that this method provides new opportunities to separate parts of the code (or concerns) that people want openly accessible. One can or will not make available (for whatever reason). It is up to the government concerned to make a decision. “
An inquiry to the Ministry of Finance shows that the code has not been published for any of the twenty completed projects. “There are valid reasons for not publishing source codes, for example when this is important for investigation and supervision,” Bakhuizen refers to the letter from Knops (pdf) to the House of Representatives. “In determining the policy in 2017, among other things, Skat has made reservations about the disclosure of source codes. Source codes used by Skat contain sensitive tax information for, for example, our supervisory and enforcement strategy.”
Another reason is that technology needs to be configured to actually make the source codes, if they qualify, public. Due to the pressure on Tax to renew systems, this has not been prioritized. The spokesman does not rule out that Tax will publish source codes in the future.
Why normalized systems?
Normalized Systems is a method developed at the University of Antwerp by the two professors Jan Verelst and Herwig Mannaert. They developed Normalized Systems out of their frustration that large software systems are often extremely difficult to customize after delivery because there are many dependencies in them. By replacing, changing or expanding a smaller part, many other parts of the system often also need to be adjusted so as not to cause interference.
The solution lies in the very strict application of software design rules. It is virtually impossible for developers to do this consistently, so a modeling language has been developed that eventually divides the software into very small modules that contain only one functionality. These blocks are created automatically on the basis of the model using code generators – also called expanders. Adjustments in one or a few blocks therefore do not have the ‘wave effect’ that occurs in more common software development strategies.
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