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"We need an IT quality standard"

May 30, 2016

Dr. Ferri Abolhassan, Managing Director of T-Systems
ICT quality deserves the attention of top management, demands Dr. Ferri Abolhassan. In this interview, the Managing Director of T-Systems explains why.

Dr. Abolhassan, on June 9, T-Systems will host the first Zero Outage Conference in Berlin, a high-level meeting on the subject of quality – but quality is hardly a new thing. Why hold this conference?

It's simple: quality is a red-hot topic for digitization. Quality management has been debated in the manufacturing industry for decades and is now mature. Look at Kaizen, Kaikaku, TQM and Six Sigma, for example. Companies that want to sell capital goods and high-value products successfully in the long term have to focus on quality. The market punishes quality defects mercilessly. As such, quality usually has the attention of top management at manufacturing companies.
Things in the IT sector are different, however. Through digitization, technology is permeating every area of our lives, but quality is still treated like a poor relation and a necessary evil. Quality experts at software and hardware companies have a tough job. The customers experience this first-hand: they get beta versions and serve as inexpensive bug finders. In contrast, no car manufacturer can launch a new model that has failed its quality tests.

But IT customers seem to have done pretty well so far...

I'd question the word "well" here. Instead, I'd say they swallowed the bitter pill because they didn't have any real alternatives. No matter which major IT service provider they took: all of them have had huge problems – although certainly not in every project. And strangely, the IT service providers did not change much, although they've occasionally had to pay high contractual penalties for quality defects. For me, that was the starting point for launching the Zero Outage program at T-Systems. Moreover, IT services are changing fundamentally. Take cloud computing, for example. Today's customers have to have even greater trust in cloud providers than under conventional outsourcing. Complexity has also increased enormously, along with quality demands, of course, because today's businesses are entirely dependent on their IT. For these reasons, the managing board and I decided to tackle this topic ourselves.

So IT quality is more important than ever?

Today, IT doesn't just support business processes. In a digital society, software and networks are part of everything and they've assumed and manage central tasks. And this will only increase in the coming years. A short-term outage of IT systems no longer "only" causes financial losses. Outages can put lives at risk. In the 21st century, a CIO is reprimanded if costs are too high, but fired for quality defects. That's why quality is now the most important decision-making criterion for choosing an IT provider – at 84 percent of companies, according to a study.

What's so new about zero outage in the IT industry?

I'm not saying there were never any quality controls in the past. Software development already includes testing. But the results do not necessarily prove that they really work. We're not only concerned about fixing outages more quickly; we want to prevent them from happening in the first place. To do so, we have to depart from the beaten paths, examine the sources of the problems in the finest detail and turn everything on its head. This demands an organization that focuses consistently and systematically on quality. And since zero outage affects the behavior of every employee in an organization, it must be attached to top management. Why? Because quality is uncomfortable – it questions established behavioral patterns and changes existing process flows. As a result, quality officers sometimes face a lot of headwind, which they can only counter if the quality programs have the backing of top management. So we need people who are willing to take a different approach.

In addition to representatives from IT companies, guests from other industries have also been invited to the Zero Outage Conference.

We expect 150 guests from a wide range of industries, because we can no longer afford to consider IT in isolation. And because we can – and indeed have to – learn from other industries. We need defined, uniform standards for a focus on quality, to ensure it has a verifiable framework. We have to establish a cross-industry standard for zero outage as quickly as possible. It's the only way to minimize the risk of business interruptions. We want this conference to open the debate and we need a meeting of the top players.