Failure and Beyond: How Software Quality Might Cost You Your Life!

“In this rapidly changing world where software has become an integrated necessity in most of life’s aspects, one misstep can be costly. In some cases, it could be fatal to your business and your life. Therefore, the first step is to really recognize that Software QA is a pro-active, process-oriented activity. The focus is putting right processes in place so that quality is “built into” the product rather than to inspect and test quality into a finished product.”

Failure and Beyond_Larg

In this rapidly changing world where software has become an integrated necessity in most of life’s aspects, one misstep can be costly. In some cases, it could be fatal to your business and your life. Consider these events:

Data Conversion Failure, Ariane

In June 4, 1996 the European Space Agency launched the inaugural flight of its fifth-generation Ariane launcher. Within seconds, the Arianne blew up into a fireball as the rocket automatically self-destructed.

The problem was that Ariane’s 64-bit floating point data had to be converted to 16-bit signed integer values. The data conversion was too large for the 16-bit signed integer, causing an arithmetic overflow in the hardware. This resulted in decades of research, planning and development to go for naught. A software handler could have dealt with the problem, much to ESA’s regret. [Reference: University of Minnesota, https://www.ima.umn.edu/~arnold/disasters/ariane.html]

 

Therac 25 Horror

Radiation therapy is a handy tool in the fight against some forms of cancer. Beams of electrons zap the bad stuff; the body disposes of the dead matter. One such tool was the Therac-25 Medical Accelerator which had a megavolt x-ray mode. These required shielding and filters and an ion chamber to keep the dangerous beams safely on target.

Yet in several documented instances, patients went screaming in pain and attempted to run out of the room. Patients suffered radiation poisoning and several lives were lost.

The problem was that the software that powered the unit was repurposed from a previous model and wasn’t adequately tested. As a result, even when the new system delivered error messages, these were cryptic, undocumented and easily overridden—which is what the operators did.

The huge cost in the aftermath of these epic software failures is insanely huge and in many instances could spell the doom of a well-laid project, or even of the business itself. [Reference: Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Therac-25]

 

Target Credit Cards Data Breach

The biggest retail hack in U.S. history wasn’t particularly inventive, nor did it appear destined for success. In the days prior to Thanksgiving 2013, someone installed malware in Target’s security and payments system designed to steal every credit card used at the company’s 1,797 U.S. stores. At the critical moment—when the Christmas gifts had been scanned and bagged and the cashier asked for a swipe—the malware would step in, capture the shopper’s credit card number, and store it on a Target server commandeered by the hackers.

The company investigators went back to figure out what happened. What it hasn’t publicly revealed–poring over computer logs, Target found alerts from Nov. 30 and more from Dec. 2, when hackers installed yet another version of the malware. Not only should those alarms have been impossible to miss, they went off early enough that the hackers hadn’t begun transmitting the stolen card data out of Target’s network. Had the company’s security and Quality Assurance team responded when it was supposed to, the theft that has since engulfed Target, touched as many as one in three American consumers, and led to an international manhunt for the hackers never would have happened at all.

The cost of the breach, which included the payments to Visa, MasterCard, Credit Union and the shoppers, in addition to the cost related to systems recovery, would reach to over $250 M. [Reference: Bloomberg Business]

 

Why Software Quality Assurance?

When the Japanese started teaching the world about manufacturing quality in the 70s and 80s, software QA started to appear in the business lexicon. Suddenly, dozens of processes with their own unique operating systems sprouted. And with them came spectacular failures. In most instances, they were preventable.

Oftentimes, software QA is mistaken for testing or quality control. While testing is important for defects detection, it is different. Testing can prove that a system does not meet its requirements. It is quality control, not quality assurance. Software Quality Assurance, therefore, can be described simply as a preventive function with the responsibility to ensure that the software at all different stages has been built the right way, adhering to the standard process to ensure the software meets the requirements. The primary purpose of software QA is to ensure successful projects.

 

Is It Necessary?

Many people don’t actually know how it could cost their organization to fix a defect. An estimation technique could be helpful in this instance. Just add up the number of people and the number of days it took them to fix the defects (and the cost per person per day) over the number of defects fixed. We say fixed, not just found.

Locating the failure, deciding how to fix it, developer testing (a.k.a. unit testing) the fix, system testing the fix, and looking for other defects this fix caused is part of the fix. Indeed, the cost of fixing the defect internally is daunting. The tester researches and reports the failure, the programmer finds and fixes the fault, the release engineer produces a new release, the deployment team installs that release in the test environment, and the tester retests the new release to confirm the fix and to check for regression.

Yet, external-found defects cost much more to fix. Not only does the same process described for tester-found bugs occur, but you also incur the technical support overhead and the more expensive process of releasing a fix to the field rather than to the test lab. In addition, consider the intangible costs—angry customers, damage to the company image, lost business, and maybe even lawsuits.

Will it be more expensive to find the defect before the client does?

 

IT Quality Assurance in Government.

It is crucial today for governmental and semi-governmental organizations to provide IT services that meet or even exceed end users expectations in terms of reliability, robustness and ease of use, which leaves end users with nothing but satisfaction. Moreover, IT services robustness in governmental sectors facilitate business operations, reduce cost and increase efficiency.

Government agencies have realized the important role Quality Assurance and testing play in assuring the high quality functionality of IT programs, meeting the organization goals, and resolving any defects that may lead to IT services interruption and adverse impact on business operations.

While Government Agencies are always striving to provide better services to the users yet cutting cost by enabling more e-solutions to automate manual processes, investing in Quality Assurance would be a wise strategic approach to enhance efficiency and yet cut further costs.

 

Quality Assurance in Healthcare Systems

Given the highly complex nature of healthcare systems, quality assurance programs are necessary to help clinicians, administrators and users understand where to drive their efforts for improvement. Delivering poor healthcare quality increases costs and wastes resources, and may adversely impact on the working environment of the organization itself.

Recognizing the consequences of poor quality care is as important as understanding what good quality care means. Poor quality care is undesirable for the patient but is also harmful for the organization as it can lead to suboptimal outcomes for patients, wasted resources and costs, delays in the admission and treatment of patients, poor staff morale and reputational risk for the organization

In the healthcare setting, the quality of patient care is most critical since this involves a life-threatening situation. Thus, Quality Assurance, in this instance is of utmost importance.

 

Consumer Electronics and The Need For Quality

Within the world of consumer electronics, embedded software is growing rapidly. The amount of software in high-end television sets is increasing by a factor of eight over the past ten years. The increasing complexity of software in consumer electronics products calls for a high level of quality assurance activities. No field defects can be allowed. For it is almost impossible to recall consumer products from the market. Implementing software product quality is not an option anymore, it has become mandatory.

In this highly competitive field, the time-to-market for consumer electronics product is decreasing rapidly and is putting more pressure on software development to deliver on time. Being a month late in product introduction can mean a substantial reduction in calculated profit. And software glitzes can scupper all well-laid plans.

 

How Can One Beat The Odds?

Watch video of Wareef CEO speaking about the concept during the IDC CIO Summit

The first step is to really recognize that Software QA is a pro-active, process-oriented activity. The focus is putting right processes in place so that quality is “built into” the product rather than to inspect and test quality into a finished product.

Enable a positive and preventive approach to managing the software systems and establish QA policies, standards, processes, procedures and tools.

In the complex, highly competitive global market there is simply no alternative.

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