Eliminating Quality AssuranceBy Deborah Gage | Posted 2003-01-16 Print
Dishwashers, automobiles and other products are increasingly driven by software. But digits don't always do a better job. Where do you turn when your appliance's software goes south?
Eliminating Quality Assurance
Some vendors agree software must improve. IBM worries about the quality of its own software, especially as its customers begin doing business over the Internet and interact with software and services that IBM has not developed. IBM recently acquired the tools vendor Rational Software, and in May, signed a global license agreement with Parasoft, a vendor in Monrovia, Calif., whose tools prevent software errors by automating the way software is developed.
Software is no different than any other manufactured product, says Parasoft CEO Adam Kolawa, and companies waste resources and lower quality by treating software as a work of art.
Parasoft's own developers follow a strict routine and are required to turn in their code for testing every night by 7. Kolawa says he eliminated Quality Assurance (QA) testing—which traditionally occurs after software is developed—years ago, because code would bounce between developers and testers and no one would take responsibility for problems. "Eliminating QA worked marvels," he says. "It enforces a culture of ownership. It enforces discipline."
But ABN AMRO Services Company Inc., which works with both IBM and Parasoft to help integrate systems for online banking, says automated testing tools don't guarantee good software. They won't work unless companies invest in planning and training, says VP John Schmuck—companies without automated, repeatable processes can't automate testing. Furthermore, no one tool covers the entire software development process, so tools must be integrated. And some parts of the process still have no tools at all.
The automotive industry is working extensively with software modeling, says Chris Lanfear, a senior analyst with Venture Development Corp. This lets them generate code from graphic models of systems rather than handwriting millions of lines of code. But he says the industry is still coming to grips with the fact that it's in the software business and must learn to manage the entire software development process.
For instance, General Motors is working on "drive-by-wire" cars that use a videogame-like controller—called an x-drive—linked to sophisticated software and hardware systems in a new kind of chassis with no mechanical parts. But the company's chief technology officer is not sure software companies are ready to provide either the software or the support at the level of reliability required by cars.
Auto manufacturers are legally bound to provide parts and service support for 10 years after each car is first sold. As GM CTO Tony Scott asked last year of attendees at Internet World in New York, "Is anyone here still running software from 10 years ago and could they find support for it?"
It "just won't be an option for us" to tell customers "to hit control-alt-delete to reboot the car," Scott said (See also, "Grand Test Auto," Baseline, Issue 012, Nov. 2002, p. 42).
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