Quality Issues In System Development

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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

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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 various areas where information is needed for
development, as well as the information systems and infrastructures available or
required to provide for the different needs. There are a number of reasons why
information has not yet played a significant role in development. One reason is
that planners, developers and governments do not yet acknowledge the role of
information as a basic resource. Another is that the quality of existing
information services is such that they cannot yet make an effective contribution
to information provision for development.

Avoiding development failure

     Companies blame their unfinished system projects on such factors as poor
technology, excessive budgets, and lack of employee interest. Yet, all these
factors can be easily avoided. All that is needed to develop and implement
successful systems is a strong corporate commitment and a basic formula which
has proven effective time after time. By following the guidelines below, any
system workers can install and implement a successful, efficient system quickly
and with minimal disruption to the workplace. Understand your workplace-every
company must fully understand its existing environment in order to successfully
change it. Define a vision for the future- This objective view will help the
company develop a clear vision of the future. Share the vision- In order for the
system to be successful, all those who are involved in its development must
fully buy into the process and end-product. This will also help further define
specific goals and expectations. Organize a steering committee-This committee,
which must be headed by the executive who is most affected by the success or
failure of the project, has to be committed and involved throughout all stages.
Develop a plan-The project plan should represent the path to the vision and
finely detail the major stages of the project, while still allowing room for
refinement along the way. Select a Team of users- A sampling of company
employees is important to help create, and then test, the system. In the
Laboratory systems failure case . That means both the vendor and laboratory
should identify what users know and what they need to know to get the best out
of the LIS. They must also develop a formal training plan before selecting a
system. Create a prototype-Before investing major dollars into building the
system, consider investing in the development of a prototype or mock system
which physically represents the end product. This is similar in concept to an
architect's model, which allows one to actually touch and feel the end product
before it is created. Have the users actually develop the system- It is the end-
users who will directly benefit from the system, so why not let them have a hand
in developing it? In the DME is DBA case , the fault that the Open Software
Foundation(OSF) make it's Distributed Management Environment system fail is the
OSF tried to go from theory to perfect product without the real-would trial and
error that is so critical to technology development. Build the solution-With a
model in place, building the solution is relatively easy for the programmer.
Users continue to play an important role at this stage ensuring smooth
communication and accurate user requirement. Implement the system-Testing the
system, training and learning new procedures can now begin. Because the majority
of time up until now has been spend planning and organizing, implementation
should be smooth and natural, and most importantly quick.

The Role of SAA and ACS in the Assurance of Quality

     The Standards Association of Australia was established in 1922 as the
Australian Commonwealth Engineering Standards Association. Their original focus
was on engineering, subsequently it expanded to include manufacturing standards,
product specifications and quality assurance and consumer-related standards. The
role the SAA play is in quality certification. According to SAA, a standard is a
published document which sets out the minimum requirements necessary to ensure
that a material, product, or method will do the job it is intended to do. For
systems development, both the Standards Association of Australia and Australian
Computer Society give the guides and standards to develop a system and to
control the quality of a system and to prevent failure from occurring. They also
make the standard of the system developed connectable world wide.

     When software development projects fail, they usually fail in a big way.
For large development projects, the cost is typically astronomical, both in
terms of dollars spent and human resources consumed, some with even further
reaching implications effecting adversely the whole of a society. Too often,
mistakes made in developing one project are perpetuated in subsequent ones. As
with the error which occurred in the London Stock Exchange system, what they
should have done was find out how the system allowed the error to happen and fix
it, then learn from it for making better developments for future information


1. Fail-safe Advice, Software Magazine, George Black, 3/93 2. All fall down, The
Economist, Anonymous, 20/3/93 3. DME is DBA(Dead Before Arrival), Data
Communications, Robin Layland, 2/94 4. There's No Excuse for Failure, Canadian
Manager, Selim EI Raheb, 9/92 5. Laboratory Systems failure: The enemy may be us,
Computers in
Healthcare, Stanley J. Geyer, M.D., 9/93 6. Australian Standard Software
quality management system, Standards

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