Quality Issues In System Development


The period between the 1970\'s and 1980\'s was a time of great advancement in
computer hardware technology which took an industry still in it\'s infancy, to a
level of much sophistication and which ultimately revelutionised the information
storage and processing needs of every other industry and that of the entire
world. However, it was also during this period when the shortcomings of
implementing such technology became apparent. A significant number of
development projects failed which resulted with disastrous consequences, not
only of an economic nature, but social aswell. Seemingly, although hardware
technolgy was readily available and ever improving, what was inhibiting the
industry was in the methods of implementing large systems. Consequently, all
kinds of limited approaches materialized that avoided the costs and risks
inherent in big-systems developments.

Times have changed, and with it our understanding and experience as how
best to develop large systems. Today\'s large systems yield greater benefits for
less cost than those of previous decades. Large systems provide better, more
timely information, the ability to integrate and correlate internal and external
information, the ability to integrate and facilitate streamlined business
processes. Unfortunately, not every system that information workers develop are
well implemented; this means that the computer system which was originally
intended to make a company more efficient, productive and cost-effective, is in
the end doing the exact opposite - namely, wasting time, money and valuable
manpower. So even with all the lessons learned from the 70\'s and 80\'s, our
vastly superior methodologies and knowledge of the 90\'s is still proving to be
fallible, as suggested in the following examples.

System Development Failures

In Britain, 1993, an incident occurred which forced the London
Ambulance Service to abandon its emergency system after it performed
disastrously on delivery, causing delays in answering calls. An independent
inquiry ordered by British government agencies found that the ambulance service
had accepted a suspiciously low bid from a small and inexperienced supplier. The
inquiry report, released in February 1993, determined that the system was far
too small to cope with the data load. For an emergency service, the system error
would not only cause the loss of money, but more essentially, fail to dispatch
ambulances correctly and promptly upon the arising of critical situations. Thus,
the implications of such a failure are apparently obvious, both socially and
economically. Since the failures, the ambulance service has reverted to a paper-
based system that will remain in place for the foreseeable future.

Another failure was the collapse of the Taurus trading system of the
London Stock Exchange. Taurus would have replaced the shuffling of six sorts of
paper among three places over two weeks - which is how transactions in shares
are settled in London-with a computerized system able to settle trades in three
days. The five-year Taurus development effort, which sources estimated cost
hundreds of millions of dollars, was termed a disaster, and the project was
abandoned in March 1993. Exchange officials have acknowledged that the failure
put the future of the Exchange in danger.

Why did they fail?

What went wrong with these systems? The real failure in the case of the
London Stock Exchange was managerial, both at the exchange and among member
firms. The exchange\'s bosses gave the project managers too much rope, allowing
them to fiddle with specifications and bring in too many outside consultants and
computer firms. Its new board, having heavy-weight and diverse membership,
proved too remote from the project. Member firms that spent years griping about
Taurus\'s cost and delays did not communicate their doubts concerning the project.
The Bank of England, a strong Taurus supporter, failed to ask enough questions,
despite having had to rescue the exchange\'s earlier attempt to computerize
settlement of the gilts market. According to Meredith , an expert in project
management issues, many system development catastrophes begin with the selection
of a low bidder to do a project, even though most procurement rules state that
cost should be only one of several criteria of designation. The software failure
occurs because the companies involved did not do a risk assessment prior to
starting a project. In addition, many companies do not study the problems
experienced in earlier software development projects, so they cannot apply that
data when implementing new projects.

Another source of problems is the failure to measure the quality of
output during the development process. Information workers as yet have not fully
understood the relationship that exists between information and development. It
is shown that information should be viewed as one of the essential know-how
resources. The value and necessity of information for development is argued. An
attempt is made to classify the