ERCIM News No.23 - October 1995 - INESC

Software Quality: The Tip and the Iceberg

by Fernando Brito e Abreu

As software becomes pervasive in most tools and activities of humankind, including leisure, users' expectations toward its quality are increasingly demanding. On the other hand, because more and more investments are made in IT&T services and artefacts, which are strongly dependent on the underlying software, companies who sponsor its development are increasingly concerned about the quality of this important asset. Last but not least, software development teams are realising that Software Quality (SQ) activities are indispensable to cope with increasingly complex applications and platforms, a growing volume of maintenance work and staff turnover. As a result, a progressive number of software development organisations, even middle-to-small sized ones, have dedicated Software Quality Assurance (SQA) staff. This is often the reality in the software industry field either in Europe or (even more often) in North America. Anybody who has participated in international SQ conferences can well confirm it.

The research communities, however, have their own peculiarities. Most, if not all, research teams within ERCIM are somehow involved in software development, at least at some stage in the development cycle (specs are software too!). However, there is a common tendency to disregard quality assurance functions. Indeed, many researchers often consider offensive the assumption that their development activities are not excellent. The reasons for this are perhaps the absence of pressure to market (many development projects end up with prototypes), weak or even no user pressure or, eventually, just a matter of academic pride. As a corollary, one might suspect that we lack the adoption of best practices in our own software development activities (does anybody know how many ERCIM sites have a SQA team and a defined process in effective use internally?). Reflections on how we care and manage the quality of in-house or subcontracted software development efforts can be an interesting theme for a future issue of ERCIM News.

Recent years have seen the birth of organisations like the European Software Institute (Bilbao, Spain) and the Software Engineering Institute (Carnegie-Mellon University / DoD, USA) dedicated to spreading the word of SQ and to teaching how to achieve it. Although the role of research organisations like ours in ERCIM is, at a first glance, the one of proposing leading edge solutions to the still unsolved problems of SQ, it would be desirable that the above mission (SQ proclaiming and training) is carried out more intensively by all consortium partners. Some are already doing it !

This issue of ERCIM News provides a brief overview of some SQ related activities being carried out in the ERCIM world. Beyond the awareness effects,it is expected to trigger some cooperation that is lacking in this arena among ERCIM partners. Regular meetings, for instance, must be revived. Do contact the authors of the interesting research actions described in the following articles if you feel their work may somehow relate to yours. Let us try to establish a SQ network within the ERCIM world. This is certainly just the tip of the iceberg of our future activities in the SQ domain !...

Please contact:
Fernando Brito e Abreu - INESC
Tel: +351 1 3100226

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