ANALYSIS: Software Quality

By Chris Gloede

Each day in the lives of most IS professionals who deal with either client/server or simple desktop applications environments, the issue of software quality rears its ugly head. The issue today is that the quality of the software shipping from the manufacturers has become downright lousy.

The concepts of Alpha, Beta and Gold code sound good and make sense, but given some of the software I have installed, I wonder what the Alpha and Beta versions looked like. In some cases, I would be willing to bet that Beta versions would not even launch when clicked on. I have been told, on more than one occasion, "We beat the industry average for bugs per lines!" and I suppose that I am supposed to be impressed with that. What if the industry average stinks?

Did you know that to achieve ISO certification in the software business, you need to have quality control procedures documented and in place? Did you know that really has no bearing on the quality of the finished product? While it is nice to have documented procedures in place for maintaining quality and being recognized for that, if it does not improve the quality of the product when it goes out the door, it has no value to me. Achieving a high level of quality, like a Malcolm Balridge award is significantly more meaningful.

The blame for this situation rests squarely on the shoulders of several parties. First, let’s give credit where credit is due. Software manufacturers are in such a hurry to get new products out the door that they no longer spend an adequate amount of time in the design, coding and testing of their new applications.

The software marketplace can be as competitive and cutthroat as any business these days. Being the first to market with a new technology or desired feature can make the difference between a market leader and an also-ran. This leads to a number of problems. Back in the old days, vendors used to keep product announcements more closely guarded than the United States nuclear weapons secrets. This would typically enable them to work out many of the kinks prior to the product release. Today, this is quite the opposite. Vendors publish release dates and feature lists that go well into the future. As a result, dates are missed and products that are not ready for prime time are sent out to unsuspecting customers.

Why then, do vendors pre-announce things? It seems that I always come back to the same place. That place is the customer.

We all push so hard, to be the first to install something or to deploy the latest version that we have, in essence, pushed our vendors into the proverbial corner. What message are we sending? If the message is 'give me the new product or feature now,' then I will get what I deserve. If the message is, let me see it, all of it! Then I will make an informed and intelligent decision, the chances that the products will be complete become more realistic.

The cost of software is constantly increasing and the cost of maintaining it is increasing at an even higher rate. When you deploy a non-working application, your costs of implementation may triple, your frustration quadruple and your chance of getting that raise drop 50 percent.

If you think the costs of trying to implement software that is not ready are high for you, take a look at the costs to the vendor. I recent study showed that it costs 97 times as much to fix a software problem after release as opposed to during initial development. Who do you suppose is bearing this cost? I'll give you a hint, it's not the vendor.

Where does all of this leave us? We, as the consumers of this stuff need to make some tough decisions and stick firmly to our guns. Until we simply state: "If it ain't done and thoroughly tested, I don't want to hear about it!" We deserve what we get. Let's face it. How quick would you be to get into a new airplane that has not been thoroughly tested just because the manufacturer wanted to be the first to market with the thing?

A veteran of the IBM midrange arena since 1983, Chris Gloede is executive VP for Business Solutions Group in Wayne, Pa.

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