The Quality Tangle

Competition, both within the
country and abroad, is getting tougher. There are more software players from within the country than ever. In the overseas markets, Ireland, the Philippines and China are being considered serious threats. Add to this the traditional image of India as not being quality-conscious. And you understand why Indian companies suddenly are talking so much about being ISO-certified or SEI-CMM Level 1 to 5. "Even long-standing clients are now asking for some form of quality benchmarking," says VV Subramaniam, Assistant Vice President, Nucleus Software.

"As more and more companies go global and bid for the same prestigious projects, either independently or cooperatively, it becomes necessary to evaluate their capabilities on the basis of some common criteria. The certification provides a measure of fulfillment of the criteria," adds Phiroz Vandrevala, Executive Vice President, TCS. And, despite having the image of being the ideal destination for software projects, quality is becoming an issue among clients. Affirms Manoj Kupreti, Software Technology Group, SSI Software Services, "There are serious quality issues and there are reports of failure to match standards." The strengths that saw its success in the international markets-cheap, skilled labor-are no longer enough for the country to win projects.

Realizing this, many companies have started implementing quality processes to match international standards. However, at this stage, most view it as an additional USP and process improvement is an incidental advantage. "For many, the improvement in standards is still a secondary motive," says B Krishna Mohan Rao, Deputy General Manager, IIS Infotech Ltd. The drawback is that this very rush-there are roughly 4,500 companies, IT and non-IT, that are ISO-certified-is diluting the impact of the advantage that ISO certification is claimed to bring.

An ISO certification also suffers from the drawback that it is traditionally meant for the manufacturing industry and is not intended for highly skill-oriented software project or product development work. And the problem does not end here. ISO certification should be obtained from a calibrated agency such as BVQi, DNV, STQC and CII, since, according to CL Kaul, Director, STQC, Department of Electronics, ISO certificates apparently can also be bought in the country and therefore are viewed with suspicion if the certifying agency is not calibrated. He adds, "A company that puts its ISO certification in bold in its advertisements does not necessarily understand quality." Besides, the presence of innumerable ISO agencies makes monitoring the certifying agencies difficult.

Specific for IT

These issues should not exist with the now popular Software Engineering Institute’s Capability Maturity Model (SEI-CMM), which has been designed specifically for the software industry and understands the quality issues faced by this sector better. With five levels, it also plots a company’s quality performance at various levels of maturity, enabling a better understanding of the quality level of the company. The assessment is more stringent as only one assessor (Ron Radice) can assess a company in the South Asia region, making it more reliable.

But, be it the ISO or SEI-CMM, a constant reviewing/auditing of processes is essential. Getting it once does not mean that the company has achieved the zenith of quality. Even in the case of SEI-CMM, an indication of evolving standards is the fact that SEI will launch Version 2 of CMM next year. Companies that have achieved various levels of this model will have to undergo review at the end of the year to see where they stand.

A certification definitely sends right signals to clients within India and abroad, but an attempt at shortcuts to impress the clients would only cause further damage to the image of not only the company but other compatriots as well. The only way to avoid this is to look at the certification and assessment as sacrosanct and not resort to shortcuts for short-term gains, for instance, winning a client.

S Meera
in New Delhi.

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