Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Poor software quality--stand up and refuse to take it anymore! Information Week has a good report on the current state of packaged software quality (still generally abysmal) and what buyers are doing about it. The article outlines problems at several companies, including Integrated Health Services, where poor quality forced a two year delay of a financial system implementation; American Power Conversion, where poor quality of a supply chain package brought APC’s shipping to a halt; and TMP Worldwide (parent of, where an ERP implementation was delayed by a year because of bugs. These experiences are indicative of a larger problem. A recent study by US NIST found that poor software quality cost the US economy $60 billion a year. "Few products of any type other than software are shipped with such high levels of errors," the report says.

Fortunately, one of the byproducts of the current slump in technology spending is that buyers are finally in a position to minimize the risk by making some demands of technology vendors. Here are three practical things you can do. (1) During the evaluation phase, ask for a free demo period, to allow you to shake down the system in your own test environment. It’s surprising what you’ll find when the car is driven by you, instead of a pre-sales consultant. (2) During vendor due diligence, go beyond perfunctory reference checking to get a thorough and balanced view, as we discussed earlier. (3) During contract negotiations, insist that contingencies be spelled out to cover situations where poor software quality delays the project. For example, hold back a final payment to be made only after the software is running in a production environment for a certain period of time. Take this concept even further and break up large software purchases into phases, with license fees paid phase by phase, to ensure that the software delivered in one phase is actually working before paying for software for the next phase.

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