Opinion: Why is model-driven engineering unpopular in industry, and what can we do about it?

Model-driven engineering (MDE)1 is a branch of software engineering that aims to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of software development by shifting the paradigm from code-centric to model-centric.

I have been in the MDE community on and off for about 15 years. My supervisor at the University of L’Aquila, Alfonso Pierantonio, introduced me to MDE in 2003. Back then, the approach was still in its infancy and was not even called model-driven engineering. I wrote my Bachelor thesis in 2003 on code generation based on Unified Modeling Language (UML), and my Master thesis in 2006 on model versioning.

During my four years as a PhD candidate at the University of Bergen, I researched formal aspects of model versioning and multi-level modeling, and successfully defended my PhD thesis in 2011. During my following four+ years as a researcher at SINTEF, I conducted applied research on domain-specific languages and models@run-time for automating cloud management platforms. I also compared two-level and multi-level techniques for modeling cloud application topologies. My work has led to several publications in journals and conference proceedings.

Eventually, I decided to come back to the business world, with the aim of transferring these research results to industry. As an advisor and manager at Norway’s largest IT organizations, I have worked with architectures and solutions as well as trained colleagues and clients. While I did not expect MDE to be widespread, I did expect UML and domain-specific languages (DSLs) to be an integral part of these activities. Unfortunately, I have been disappointed.

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  1. Some researchers in the field would argue that this approach is not an engineering discipline and that it should be called model-driven development (MDD) instead. The Oxford English Dictionary defines engineering as “the branch of science and technology concerned with the design, building, and use of engines, machines, and structures.” Considering that software and data are in fact structures, I am perfectly comfortable with the term model-driven engineering, and I will not distinguish between MDE and MDD.


One month ago I attended the MoDELS’08 conference in Toulouse, France. Sounds important, isn’t it? 🙂 Well, it was to me. MoDELS’08 has been the first international conference I attended, and I am glad that I started with a relevant one. I had the chance to go there because my colleague Adrian and I had the paper “A Tentative Analysis of the Factors Affecting the Industrial Adoption of MDE“—the first paper accepted in my PhD programme—at the ChaMDE 2008 workshop, a satellite event of the conference.

The six-days conference had plenty of researchers from all over the world, including many of the “big names” in software engineering. Getting in touch with some of them was an honour. Many of the works presented at the conference were interesting. I even learned what “megamodelling” means. In my opinion, megamodelling is the most childish keyword ever appeared in computer science… However, the majority of these works were rather theoretical. The industry may never adopt model-driven engineering if the academy does not (quickly) provide anything useful to them. Of course, theory is fundamental, but sometimes I had the feeling of listening to speakers “selling thin air” rather than showing concrete results. Maybe one day I will be selling thin air as well, who knows… But for the time being it seems to me that research is software engineering is taking a dangerous path.

The city of Toulouse is gorgeous. So old and so modern at the same times, it offers a lot of sightseeing, attractions and restaurants where we had delicious meals and wines. I am waiting to upload a bunch of pictures on Flickr. Unfortunately, my Ubuntu 8.10 provides a buggy version of Digikam, and I have to wait for the developers to read my bug report and fix it.

That’s it folks at the moment. My next destination? NWPT’08 workshop in Tallin, Estonia, where I will have my first presentation. 🙂

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