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Software Quality


INTRODUCTION

During the last decade quality has become one of the major economic, competitive and strategic issues for organizations (Carroll et al. 1997).  Software Quality (SQ) is very important for the overall performance of the organizations as Laudon et al. (1998) has cited that information systems (IS) can dramatically boost a firm¡¦s productivity and efficiency that businesses view information as a weapon against competition and a strategic resource.

However there are still very high failure rate for IS software.  To investigate the topic may involve an extensive understanding of technical issues.  The paper attempts to narrow the scope to discuss on Software Quality Management so the objectives have been limited to:

¡P        To define Software Quality.

¡P        Why are IS and other managers concerned with SQ in the development of IS projects?

¡P        Why is quality important and what factors affect quality?

¡P        Why are most IS software failed and what are the critical success factors?

¡P        What can be done to improve SQ and the roles of IS planning play in the quality of system?

¡P        To determine the organizational, management and technical factors associated with IS planning and quality.

Definition of Software Quality

Government of Western Australia (1994) has defined quality as ¡¥conformance to requirements and fitness for purpose¡¦.  Quality therefore is a user perception and any definition of quality must be viewed from the user perspective.  SQ must be broad in scope and specific enough to encompass the satisfaction of user needs. 

According to Laudon et al. (1998), a quality system must be able to achieve the business goals articulated by the user department.  It should be able to operate at an acceptable cost, commensurate with the value produced for the firm.  It should meet carefully defined performance standards.  It should be competitive and efficient that producing accurate, reliable output for intended purpose.  Finally it should be easy to learn, use and flexible.

The concern with Software Quality development

IS plays a central role in most organizations and is an integral part of daily operations, products and services.  IS and other managers are therefore concerned with SQ during the development of IS projects for four reasons:

1.      The user of the information system is the single most important factor in establishing and evaluating its quality (Kendall et al. 1999).

2.      It is far less costly to correct problems in their early stages than it is to wait until a problem is articulated through user complaints or crises (Kendall et al. 1999).

3.      Software bugs may be impossible to eliminate so SQ is important in development stage (Laudon et al. 1998).

4.      Organizations are more dependent to reliable software to sustain competitive advantage.

LITERATURE REVIEW

Quality is important in contemporary organizations

Quality cannot be divorced from the day-to-day running of the business.  A focus on customer satisfaction, continuous improvement and a visible recognition of individual and team performances is a winning formula.  The John Simmons Lecture (1999) has cited their experience reinforces the view that quality reduces costs.  A ¡¥get it right first time¡¦ approach is helping organizations eliminate the often-significant potential cost of correcting mistakes in the business.

Quality has long been a concern in the analysis and design of IS.  A survey reported in Computerworld (Table 1) of 100 chief executive officers and top corporate executives at Fortune 1,000 companies indicated how importance IS is to their organizations (Hussain et al. 1995):

Survey Questions

Results

IS will significantly change the way their company does business in the 1990s

54 percent strongly agree

34 percent somewhat agree

12 percent disagree

IS hold the key to competitive advantage for their organizations in the 1990s

35 percent strongly agree

50 percent somewhat agree

11 percent somewhat disagree

4 percent strongly disagree

           Table 1: Survey about how importance IS is to contemporary organization
          
(Source: Hussain et al. 1995, p.471)

IS is critical to organizational success and how to assure the quality is becoming a challenge.  Government of Western Australia (1994) has defined Software Assurance as ¡¥all those planned and systematic actions necessary to provide adequate confidence that goods or services will satisfy given requirements¡¦.  It is emphasized that Quality Assurance is proactive and preventive, while Quality Control is reactive, detective and corrective of the product.

Quality factors

There have been several attempts to identify specific product qualities that appropriate to software.  Martin (1995) has concluded quality factors as (a) relevancy, (b) completeness, (c) correctness, (d) security, (e) timeliness, (f) economy, (g) efficiency, (h) reliability, and (i) usability.

Government of Western Australia (1994) has argued that SQ cannot be inspected in, but must be built in from the beginning.  Not all requirements are stated explicitly.  A strong partnership between the users and the system developers will help uncover the implied requirements.  In this way, the developer is providing leadership in quality and provides real help to the user in improving organizational efficiency and effectiveness.

Reasons for failure of IS software

Although many organizations recognize that SQ is imperative to the organizational success.  It is surprising to find that an indication of high failure rate from development (Table 2):

Studies

Facts

U.S. companies and government agencies spent $80 billion for cancelled software projects in 1995 (Dromey 1999)

31.1 percent cancelled before completed

52.7 percent cost 189 percent of original estimates

9.0 percent in on time within budget

Surveys in Australia and overseas (Government of Western Australia 1994)

75 percent software costs are due to the need to change software after it has been developed

Some studies of large TPS system by TRW, Inc. (Laudon et al. 1998, o. 478)

64 percent major system errors are resulted from early analysis errors

           Table 2: Studies and facts about failure of software 

Carroll et al. (1997) and Brookes et al. (1982) has identified several major causes.  First, the system¡¦s design is over-sophisticated and too ambitious for the project scope, which is not practical utility.  Second, the application is not appropriate due to poor project selection techniques.  Third, the system¡¦s designers have assumed, or user management has abdicated, responsibility for the system¡¦s design.  Forth, the system is designed to supplant and have failed to appreciate the role of the user.  Fifth, the implementation of the project has been over-optimistically planned and does not recognize the impact and change of the design on the users.  Lastly, there is a lack of a quality infrastructure especially in the area of training and inadequate management support of quality programs.

Critical success factors

Khandelwal et al. (1997, p.2) has stated that critical success factors (CSFs) are those few things that must go well to ensure success for the organization.  A survey responses of 408 organizations (Figure 1) for CSFs for IS has identified ¡¥top five¡¦ as: (1) alignment of IS and organizational objectives, (2) strategic IT plan development, (3) data availability to users, (4) end user service management and (5) IS-user partnership. 

Solutions to IS quality problems

A number of technologies and methodologies are available for improving SQ.  They include software metrics, systems development methodologies, and tools to automate analysis, code generation, and testing (Laudon et al. 1998).  However, Government of Western Australia (1994) has argued that methodologies in no way replace sound project management and planning, but they should be aids and guides to supplement and improve this management.

Many organizations have espoused Total Quality Management (TQM) to commit to continuous improvement of its work processes and focuses on satisfying both its internal and external customers.  TQM is a generic quality management theory which is defined as ¡¥the totally integrated effort for gaining competitive advantage by continuously improving every facet of organizational culture' (Tobin 1990, p. 10).  A survey about advantages of practicing TQM is shown on Figure 2:

Tobin (1990) has argued that TQM means to IS planning.  A new definition of quality is defined as ¡¥a quality system delivering defect-free and meets the expectations of ALL potential customers.¡¦  As to meet the new definition of quality, methodologies will be expanded to guide the IS professional in exploring the true requirements at the interface.  A whole host of new and challenging IS will be required to focus on satisfying the multiple quality expectations of the customer.  In addition, new systems aid workers in the performance of their jobs, due to an emphasis of flat structure for more effective information flow.  Organizational culture is renewed through employee empowerment programs, IS professionals will be able to impact the way they do business.  Moreover, by always looking to see how tasks can be done better, even the most mundane activity will have meaning.  Under TQM, skills are continually upgraded and IS professionals have the opportunity to explore new technologies and methods according to their own views of how best to accomplish the task.

Roles of IS planning in quality system

Developing an IS is a very complex undertaking, generally involving the synthesis of various elements ¡V hardware, software, data capture, user training and so on.  Therefore, SQ can be only benefited through proper IS planning in advance.  IS planning is an important component of organizational planning.  The role of IS planning include  (O¡¦Brien 1999, p. 618): (1) team building, modeling, and consensus; (2) evaluating what they have accomplished and the resources they have acquired; (3) analyzing their business, economic, political, and societal environment; (4) anticipating and evaluating the impact of future developments; (5) building a shared vision and deciding on what goals they want to achieve; and (6) deciding what actions to take to achieve their goals.

ISSUES/FINDINGS

Quality has long been a concern of businesses.  Many organizations have learned about the huge investment to launch a system successfully.  As emphasized by Government of Western Australia (1994), using planned Quality Assurance as proactive and preventive approach throughout the process is a way to minimize risks and helps ensure that the resulting system is in the quality as desired.

There are a number of quality factors for development of IS but Laudon et al. (1998) argued that the most important is user perspective.  As quality must be built in from the beginning, hence the IS developer is the catalyst for the entire change process and is responsible for ensuring that the changes created by a new system are accepted by all parties involved.

The reasons for failure of IS software are concluded as: design is not user perspective, lack of proper IS planning, lack of a quality infrastructure and lack of management support.  This corresponds to CSFs from Khandelwal (1997) that strategic IT plan development, which is crucial to align of IS and organizational objectives.  Hence, roles of IS planning in quality system from O¡¦brien (1999) should be appreciated to the development of SQ.

TQM is a major solution to IS quality problem and key element in IS planning.  According to Tobin (1990), TQM is essential through all of the systems development steps.  The elements of customer focus, strategic planning and leadership, continuous improvement, empowerment, and teamwork are united to change employees¡¦ behavior and, ultimately the organization¡¦s course.  The concept of quality reflect an organizational, rather than an exclusively production approach.  Instead of conceiving of quality as controlling the number of defective products produced, quality is now an evolutionary process toward perfection.  Only organizational culture practicing TQM can continuously upgrade the skills to explore new technologies and methods for SQ.

The literatures have indicated that IS is more than computers.  Using IS effectively requires an understanding of the organization, management, and technical shaping the systems (Laudon et al. 1998).  The relationships between these factors are shown in Figure 3.   

Management factor

One key element of TQM is management of quality (Carroll et al. 1997).  The implication from Tobin (1990) that responsibility for quality rests not with the skills and abilities of individual workers, an independent quality group or the efficiency of a testing program; rather management has the responsibility for resourcing, training, motivating and leading the IS group to its quality activities.  TQM aims to endlessly improve all the products, processes and people within an organization through steady incremental change rather than radical innovation.  The human aspects of quality, such as empowerment of staff, training and teamwork are emphasized.

Hence management commitment and leadership is critical to the implementation and success of IS planning and SQ.  Communications between the three management areas (management, organization and technical) is essential if an effective and efficient environment is to be established and maintained (Brookes et al. 1982).  IS planning should include organization-wide goals and objectives and defining quality concepts with development of quality policy.  The management needs to specify criteria to be used for project selection and approval.  They have to review the implications of technical developments to ensure advantage is taken of them.  They have to set up a mechanism to review regularly the effectiveness of current activities and specify broad project management policy parameters, i.e. allocation of responsibility is required.  They should evaluate the constraints should be placed on systems designers regarding the impact of computer systems on people and procedures.  The most important is to establish procedures which ensure that there is adequate communication within the enterprise about the progress on computer projects, the difficulties being encounter, and any conflicts arising.

In addition, a quality training program to motive staff; educate management and staff about the organization¡¦s quality mission; provide skills in the specific quality tools and techniques used in system development; and develop interpersonal skills to achieve the quality aims (Carroll et al. 1997).

Organization factor

The organization culture plays a large role in determining its approach to SQ.  As Tobin (1990) has emphasized that TQM can help to shape the culture and processes of whole organization to delivers defect-free and meets expectations.  IS planning should include re-defining organizational culture to quality perspectives.  The users¡¦ responsibility for a quality product should be emphasized that may require certain knowledge of the business should be exercised. Training of skills like definition of requirements, design review, structure walkthroughs/review of requirements and design, using documentation/help screens/checklist, acceptance testing and review of end product are required. 

Brookes et al. (1982) has suggested that the staffs in the organizations needs to co-ordinate with the management and technical on certain issues.  First, project selection, which includes considering modifications to existing systems by nominating candidates.  Second, approving the technical approach proposed by the system¡¦s designers after reviewing the implications for the application, especially the operator interface and cost effectiveness aspect.  Third, project management and control in particular monitoring aspects relating to the user interface, the attainment of performance objectives, and the implementation schedule.

Technical factor

The technology of computers clearly has a dominating influence on the IS¡¦s administrators.  Developments in hardware, systems software and, more recently, applications development aids and packages all provide ¡¥solutions¡¦ looking for ¡¥problems¡¦.  Rockart et al. (1996) suggested IS personnel should involve in the following responsibilities in IS planning: understanding and interpreting technology trends; working with line managers to help them develop IS-enhanced strategies; educating and consulting with line manager to ensure that the strategic direction is carried out; take responsibility for or supporting at the very least effective process innovation; developing relationships that permit useful internal partnerships; managing suppliers to whom parts of IS have been outsource; developing and managing the IS human resource; provision of guidelines and quality training; and control of quality

FUTURE RESEARCH/LIMITATIONS

There is an increasing demand of outsourcing of software package such as Windows and Office.  The challenge of the organizations is not only limited to in-house Quality Assurance, but how to source a competitive software package to meet organizational needs and global requirements in terms of ISO.  Moreover, the paper has not deeply addressed to methodologies that some new quality tools also help in SQ.  Therefore, further research on these areas is recommended.

The limitation of the paper is time constraint and word limit.  Since an extensive reading is required to address the quality issues, the paper has tried to narrow the scope to Software Quality Management rather than talking about technical.  The challenge is to produce a relevant report in the topic within the limitation.

CONCLUSIONS

It has concluded that quality is imperative to the effectiveness and efficiency in developing IS software.  The IS software has to meet user quality perspectives and Quality Assurance is essential in the development stage.  Therefore only proper IS planning with TQM concepts can align to the goals and objectives of the organization.

Historically, IS design has been preoccupied with technical issues at the expense of organizational concerns.  With the increasing importance of quality, it is an organizational issue with all levels involved to produce perfect software to sustain competitive advantage.  Without a close organizational fit, such systems have created tensions, instability, and conflict.  TQM is emphasized in IS planning as only this approach leads to organizational continuous quality improvement.

Designing a system redesigns the organization.  Successful IS software can be compatible with the structure, culture, and goals of the organization as a whole.  Since organization¡¦s tasks, participants, structure, and culture are bound to be affected when an IS design is changed.  The three key factors are essential to the IS planning and SQ: management, organization and technical has to closely link each other through all of the systems development steps.  The management has to provide leading and training in the process.  The organization has to re-shape their culture to a TQM practice and provide training to their human resources with appropriate skills for the change.  The technical has to provide assistance, guidance and education to the users about hardware and software technical issues. 


REFERENCES

Brooks, Cyril H.P.; Grouse, Philip J.; Jeffery, D. Ross and Lawrence, Michael J. (1982), Information Systems Design, Prentice-Hall of Australia Pty Ltd., Sydney.

Carroll J. M. and Swatman, P.M.C. (1997), ¡¥Total quality management for information systems: the Australian experience¡¦, Proceedings of the 8th Australasian conference on information systems, pp. 1-11.

Dromey, R.G. (1999), ¡¥Software Quality principles ¡V Lecture Notes¡¦, Software Quality Institute, Griffith University.

Hussain, K.M. and Hussain, D.S. (1995), Information Systems for Business, 2nd edition, Prentice Hall International (UK) Limited.

¡¥The John Simmons Lecture¡¦ (1999), Manager, The British Journal of Administrative Management, UK.

Kendall, Kenneth E. and Kendall, Julie E. (1999), Systems Analysis and Design: International Edition, 4th edition, Prentice-Hall, Inc., New Jersey.

Khandelwal, V.; Hosey, W. and Ferguson, J. (1997), ¡¥Critical success factors approach for managing IT maturity: the Australian experience¡¦, Proceedings of the 8th Australasian conference on information systems, pp. 1-12.

Laudon, Kenneth C. and Laudon, Jane P. (1998), Management Information Systems: New Approaches to Organization and Technology, 5th edition, Prentice Hall, Inc., New Jersey.

Martin, Merle P. (1995), Analysis and Design of Business Information Systems, 2nd edition, Prentice-Hall, Inc., New Jersey.

O¡¦Brien, James A. (1999), Management Information Systems: Managing Information Technology in the Internetworked Enterprise, 4th edition, Irwin-McGraw-Hill, pp. 615-628.

Rockart, John F; Michael J. and Ross, Jeanne W. (1996), ¡¥Eight imperatives for the new IT organization¡¦, Sloan Management Review, pp. 43-55.

¡¥Government of Western Australia¡¦ (1994), State IT, Department of State Services, Government of Western Australia.
URL:http://www.wa.gov.au/IPC/guidelines/sqm/sqmgd941.html

Tobin, L.M. (1990), The new quality landscape: totally quality management¡¦, Journal of systems management, pp. 10-14.


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