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A software quality crisis is brewing

A large number of companies reportedly have little regard for the quality of their software. This must change, says Colin Armitage.

Colin Armitage, CEO, Original Software
Colin Armitage

CEOs, shareholders, employees, and the public have the right to know whether companies care about the quality of the applications they build -- and whether those companies respect the confidential data with which they are entrusted. Original Software took on the challenge to find out and commissioned a survey to learn the views of senior-level executives who participated in a CIO forum in New York. The findings were extraordinary. More than 40% of CIOs admitted that their companies have very little regard for the quality of their software. Obviously we have a major problem.

The respondents were not from small companies; they were CIOs of corporations that have revenues totaling more than $5 billion and IT budgets approaching a billion dollars. Given what those CIOS said, it's not surprising that a recent IDC report showed that more than 40% of all software applications are released with between one and 10 critical defects -- with management being fully aware of this at the time of issue.

With software increasingly underpinning business-critical applications, sloppy attitudes toward quality from the people who make it is no longer acceptable.

Our society relies so heavily on technology. Software is deep-rooted in almost every aspect of our daily lives. Most businesses would find themselves unable to trade without it. The situation has got to such an extent that a small glitch in a software application or a computer outage can cost companies huge amounts of money -– in some cases even put them out of business.

In 2002, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) estimated that software errors cost the U.S. economy $59.5 billion annually. (One can only guess at what this might amount to today.) Some examples: A website fault in the U.K. forced supermarket giant J. Sainsbury to shut down its online shop for just one day, costing it $2.7 million in lost sales and compensation. And a failed ERP installation at American LaFrance caused the fire engine company to go into bankruptcy.

With software increasingly underpinning business-critical applications, sloppy attitudes toward quality from the people who make it is no longer acceptable. They need to take responsibility for making sure their software is good enough to run our businesses, our lives, and the global economy. Too often the desire to just deliver something quickly and be first to market overrides any sensible decisions about whether the application is actually good enough to go out the door.

More on the importance of quality software
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Another thing I find shockingly scary is the amount of potential customers we run into that currently test using live customer data. Many of them expose personal customer details such as credit card numbers to the testing process -– much of which is outsourced to external companies! This is just inexcusable, especially when statistics tell us that 70% of data breaches are inside jobs. If customers knew what a shocking disregard these companies had for their personal information, I'm sure many wouldn't think twice about changing suppliers. What excuse do these companies have? None -- just their unwillingness to invest in resources or tools to do the job properly and a misplaced judgment of what's important. (After all, it's not their credit card details that they're sharing with external suppliers –- God forbid!)

Achieving quality takes time, effort, and money, and in these credit crunch-constrained times one can understand a temptation to take short cuts to try to avoid this fundamental discipline. But given the horror stories, this cannot be right. Perhaps it has been the very limited success of test automation solutions that came out of the last century that needed months to configure, required expensive and scarce specialist skills, and simply could not survive in the face of rapidly changing applications. "Solutions," which at best will address only 20% of the problem, only give "solutions" a bad name.

It is time for a rethink. CIOs cannot forego basic IT fundamentals, and CEOs and shareholders cannot let them. We do need cost-effective technology in these cost-constrained times, but it has to make the entire test process more productive and it must be applicable in the fast-changing, business-critical areas of the applications.

About the author: Colin Armitage is the CEO and the founder of The Original Software Group.

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