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Buggy Software: Up From a Low-Quality Quagmire

By using application life-cycle management, some companies are trying to exterminate software bugs and reduce the costs they incur.

By Sue Hildreth
July 25, 2005 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - The horror stories have become all too familiar:

  • In April, a software glitch resulted in the loss of thousands of dollars for US Airways Group Inc. when some tickets were mistakenly priced at $1.86.

  • In the latest U.S. presidential election, reports of incorrect tallies surfaced in several districts that were using new computerized voting machines.

  • A software bug apparently caused the largest power outage in North America, the Northeast blackout of August 2003, which threw millions of people into darkness.

The list could go on and on. And the problem, it seems, is only getting worse. According to one oft-quoted number from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, flawed software cost the U.S. economy $60 billion in 2002. No one doubts that the number is even higher today.
Bad software plagues nearly every organization that uses computers, causing lost work hours during computer downtime, lost or corrupted data, missed sales opportunities, high IT support and maintenance costs, and low customer satisfaction.
In frustration, CIOs are taking a hard look at how bugs get into the application development process and why they seem to be so hard to prevent. The consensus: It's not one specific failure but a series of disconnects and miscommunications among the IT specialists involved in the planning, development, testing and maintenance of each application.
The problem, say those who study bad software, is a failure to manage the life cycle of software and recognize that any effort to improve software quality must span all of the stages of the application's life, from initial planning to postdeployment and maintenance.
Berkshire Life Insurance Company of America, a subsidiary of The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America in New York, has been examining ways to improve quality throughout the application life cycle.
"In the past year, we have looked at our development process, at our requirements-gathering methodology and at the way we monitor systems," explains Sorin Fiscu, project manager and IT rapid application development team leader at Berkshire Life.
Fiscu's team has implemented changes such as involving the quality assurance (QA) staff in the early planning stages, soliciting input from business analysts and automating more of the testing phase. These changes have enabled the company to meet or exceed two of its goals for postdeployment: application availability and overall user satisfaction with the application.
One of the first steps in the development of an application at Berkshire Life is bringing business users and IT together to agree upon the functional specifications of the application, listing every feature and function that the business users need, from the flow of screens to


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