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The real cost of software bugs

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Software bugs are the monster under the bed for any tech-first business. Coders, developers, designers and QA professionals are desperate to avoid them at any cost, and when a product ships with critical bugs, it can be a hard pill to swallow. But software bugs are not just an annoyance, as many of us know, they come at a cost to fix too.

But what is the real cost of software bugs? Is it really that high?

Research by CISQ found that, in 2018, poor quality software cost organizations $2.8 trillion in the US alone. That’s a staggering number. And, 18.22% of that figure was cost accrued from technical debt alone. Pair that with the fact that on average, software developers make 100 to 150 errors for every thousand lines of code, well, that’s enough to keep any C-suite executive up at night.

The scale of the problem is much larger than we might imagine

It’s not just small scale mistakes with small scale consequences. The cost and the likelihood of software bugs are monumental. But, the financial impact isn’t the only effect that poor quality can have on a business.

The real cost of software bugs is threefold. Poor quality affects customers, company, and even your career. We like to call it the 3Cs:

Customers

In worst-case scenarios, the cost of software bugs can be life-threatening. It was stated that more than 10,000 patients were at risk of being given the wrong medication after an NHS glitch was discovered in 2018.

An NHS spokesperson said, “the clinical impact has been assessed as major due to the potential for the incorrect or inappropriate medication being provided to patients.” This glitch wasn’t just negative for public perception but could have posed a real risk to patients health. This is an extreme example, but it shows that it is real people who can suffer the cost of quality.

The most common risk of poor quality software is poor customer experience. And, in the world of software, customer churn is easier than ever.

According to Helpshift, 80% of apps are deleted after one use, and the number one reason for deletion is due to an app crashing or freezing. A buggy app, therefore, can have a direct and immediate impact on app retention, especially in such a competitive space as the app market. If a user downloads your app and it does not behave as expected straight away, or even worse, fails completely, your customer will have no qualms about deleting the app and turning to a competitor. Especially when almost 1 in every 2 apps installed is uninstalled within 30 days, the need to impress a user in a short time frame is incredibly high.

Fundamentally, this means testing your app thoroughly, and putting a thorough QA strategy with wide test coverage into place, is a great asset to your customers.

Company

The importance of poor quality can go beyond the direct user of the software. In 2017, American Airlines announced that a problem in their holiday scheduling software meant too many of their pilots were able to book time off during the Christmas holidays. As a result, there were 15,000 flights with no one to fly them and a lot of angry customers. This not only impacted the holiday-goers, who were stranded in airports during the festive period, but the company actually had to pay time and a half for pilots willing to leave their families and fly the grounded planes. On top of that, the story hit the news headlines.

Ouch.

Clearly, software bugs can hit your company as hard as they hit your users. Reputational damage is just another cost to fix with positive PR and reimbursing customers.

According to Parasoft, the day a company announces a software glitch publically, they lose an average of $2.3 billion of shareholder value. That’s a lot of damage control to take on when the market loses trust in the ability of your software and product. Faith in your software, therefore, means faith in your shares and even your business as a whole.

Career

When the CEO of Provident Financial announced a software glitch that led to the company collecting only a little more than half of loan debts on time, the stock prices tumbled 74% in a single day. The share price reduced from £17.42 to just £4.50. He resigned soon after.

The pressure of being in charge of quality for your product, clearly, is huge. Being a leader when your software issues are highlighted in the press is a stressful experience that many CTOs and CEOs alike fear. So when quality can cost you your career, it is in your best interest to reduce the cost of software bugs sooner rather than later.

Poor quality software can even impact the personal development of your team.

If your team are spending valuable time fixing technical debt, they have less time for research, designing new updates and thinking up new exciting product ideas for your app.

On top of all that, research by Capers Jones found that the cost to address bugs post-release costs $16,000 to address, but a bug found at the design phase costs $25. That means valuable QA budget is being spent on fixing bugs that could’ve been solved for much less, and earlier on in the release cycle.

There are many reasons for technical debt: pressure to release quickly, tight deadlines and a tighter budget at the time of release. But, the real cost of technical debt is more costs incurred further down the line, and less time for your team to spend working on the things that matter.

Recognising the cost of software bugs

Putting software quality first will not only protect your revenue but your customers, company and career. The real cost of software bugs is a combination of money, time and reputational damage.

But this does not mean all software is doomed to fail – far from it.

Many big tech companies, and smaller app startups, deliver high-quality software at speed with the help of a structured QA strategy and testing infrastructure in place.

Sure, a great QA team doesn’t come for free, but the cost incurred by fixing bugs post-release can be overwhelming. In order to safeguard the future of a tech-first business, testing needs to be at the forefront of everyone’s minds.

A shared understanding of the importance of quality if vital to reduce the cost of software bugs in future.

Written by Ronald Cummings-John, co-founder, Global App Testing and co-author of Leading Quality: How Great Leaders Deliver High Quality Software and Accelerate Growth

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