Martin joined IBM in 1959, and since the 1980s established several IT consultancy firms. Starting in 1981 with Dixon Doll he established DMW (Doll Martin Worldwide), which was later renamed James Martin Associates (JMA), which was (partly) bought by Texas Instruments Software in 1991. He later with Fran Tarkenton co-founded KnowledgeWare, a software company, and he founded Database Design Inc. (DDI).
He lives on his own private island, Agar’s Island, in Bermuda. According to Computerworld’s 25th anniversary issue, he was ranked fourth among the 25 individuals who have most influenced the world of computer science.
Martin is an expert in the field of systems design, Software development methodology, information engineering and computer-aided software engineering. He was one of the first to promote fourth-generation programming languages, and is the main developer of the Rapid Application Development methodology.
Information Engineering (IE) is an approach to designing and developing information systems. It has a somewhat chequered history that follows two very distinct threads. It is said to have originated in Australia between 1976 and 1980, and appears first in the literature in 1981 in the Savant Institute publication Information Engineering by James Martin and Clive Finkelstein.
Information Engineering first provided data analysis and database design techniques that could be used by database administrators (DBAs) and by systems analysts to develop database designs and systems based upon an understanding of the operational processing needs of organizations for the 1980s.
The Finkelstein thread evolved after 1980 into the data processing (DP)-driven variant of IE. From 1983 till 1986 IE evolved further into the business-driven variant of IE, which was intended to address a rapidly changing business environment. The then Technical Director, Charles M. Richter, from 1983 to 1987, played a significant role by revamping the IE methodology as well as designing the IE software product (User-Data) which helped automate the IE methodology, opening the way to next generation Information Architecture.
The Martin thread in Information Engineering was strategy-driven from the outset and from 1983 was focused on the possibility of automating the development process through the provision of techniques for business description that could be used to populate a data dictionary or encyclopedia that could in turn be used as source material for code generation. The Martin methodology provided a foundation for the CASE (Computer-Aided Software Engineering) tool industry.
Martin himself had significant stakes in at least four CASE tool vendors—InTech (Excelerator), Higher Order Software, KnowledgeWare, originally Database Design Inc, (Information Engineering Workbench) and James Martin Associates, originally DMW and now Headstrong (the original designers of the Texas Instruments’ Information Engineering Facility and the principal developers of the methodology).
At the end of the 1980s and early 1990s the Martin thread incorporated Rapid Application Development (RAD) and Business Process Re-engineering (BPR) and soon after also entered the object oriented field.
Rapid application development is a term originally used to describe a software development process introduced by James Martin in 1991. Martin’s methodology involves iterative development and the construction of prototypes. More recently, the term and its acronym have come to be used in a broader, generic sense that encompasses a variety of techniques aimed at speeding application development, such as the use of web application frameworks and other types of software frameworks.
RAD approaches may entail compromises in functionality and performance in exchange for enabling faster development and facilitating application maintenance.
In 2005 Martin donated $100 million to help establish The James Martin 21st Century School at the University of Oxford. This school aims "formulate new concepts, policies and technologies that will make the future a better place to be".