Expert blames poor testing for buggy software

A software maker and a software analyst agree – application vendors are saddling users with bug-ridden products in order to get to market faster.

Dennis Gaughan, research director at AMR Research in Boston and author of a recent report, For Software Vendors, Quality is Job 1000, said in the rush to compete, new software releases go out the door with little thought to thorough testing for quality and compatibility. Gaughan said the evidence for this report came directly from frustrated end users.

“One of the themes just kept coming back, the fact the general available software is always so buggy and there are just so many issues relating to maintaining software,” he said. “It was just frustration on the part of end-users.”

According to the report, because enterprise customers depend on a single software vendor to provide the functionality to achieve business goals, they are left with an unreasonable burden of integration.

Gaughan said the main problems include vendors releasing bug-ridden software as production-ready, the constant need for patches to correct coding problems, missing commitment dates for new releases and poor customer support. He added that this frustration is seen “right across the board,” he said.

“The point of the piece wasn’t to single out vendors, but it is a frustration that end users are dealing with. When we talked about some of the biggest challenges that people face, well, it’s just that, quality of software kept coming back as a recurring theme.”

John Fisher, president of Borland Canada, a Markham, Ont.-based packaged software maker, said he agrees with a number of Gaughan’s points because his company has avoided some of the major mistakes the analyst pinpointed.

“From a general perspective, exclusive of Borland, I think there is a lot of truth in what he has to say,” Fisher said. “A lot of companies have been bringing products to market that haven’t necessarily been fully bug tested, where the gold master was cut Thursday and brought to manufacturers on Friday.”

Fisher said the problem often stems from companies that don’t produce products frequently and end up calling a new product an upgrade.

“It’s a new product and businesses have to change for it,” he said. “It may not even be bugs, it may just be that the product doesn’t fit into the business model as nicely as the previous one.”

Borland releases product updates on an incremental, six-month schedule, thus avoiding the shock of completely new products to businesses, Fisher said.

“It’s not a total revolution so it doesn’t affect your business in any way and it isn’t a total rewrite of an application,” he said. “In addition, it forces us to deliver return on investment quickly. It’s three or four weeks instead of multiple years.”

Alister Sutherland, software director at IDC Canada, said software readiness has actually improved over the past years, not degraded. What’s more, he added, it would be competitive “suicide” for companies to release buggy software that isn’t market-ready.

“There is no such thing as perfect code,” he said. “Software will always be subject to faults and some of those faults can’t be identified until it is out there on the field. That is the nature of software.”

Sutherland said it would be expensive and a poor business decision to bring software developments back in-house, as Gaughan suggests, because “you end up siloed off from the rest of the world.”

“The big move has been towards extending the enterprise and that requires a whole mess of things,” he said. “To start doing that in house, while there may be the tools available to maintain some form of compliance, you still are working in a siloed environment and therefore building out non-standard platforms and applications which, I think, is counterproductive for most organizations.”

Gaughan said a more likely solution would see users asking for payment schedules to be tied to software delivery promises, which could force vendors to pay more attention to existing customers and less to trying to attract new ones.

“We are both culpable,” he said. “The vendors do it, but we put up with it. We need to do some behaviour modification to actually make things change. You have well-publicized episodes of this. I think it is, in most cases, it is an annoyance and a cost of doing business that shouldn’t really be there.”

Gaughan said end users can also address software quality by holding vendors accountable through the language of the license and maintenance agreement, including release dates and the incorporation of risk sharing.

AMR Research in Boston is at

IDC Canada in Toronto is at

Borland Canada in Markham, Ont., is at