A Chief Information Officer (CIO) doesn’t necessarily need to be running a large-scale information system in order to find himself confronting the dilemma of major security risks on the one hand and spiralling costs on the other. The CIO is kept under permanent pressure from serious legal and business expectations, constant security threats, and the often competing demands of a plethora of manufacturers and solution providers. KÜRT demonstrates a possible response to this situation – which is a typical feature of the everyday life of CIOs - through a case study based on a project it recently carried out for the National Development Agency.
Even if the infocommunication systems that he or she manages are not all that complex, the CIO has to cope with a highly demanding amalgam of tasks and responsibilities. To manage this complicated array of problems, the CIO needs a broad range of professional competencies that a single person is unable to acquire. Consequently, CIOs often rely on external help to fulfil certain IT functions. However, keeping the work of numerous independent suppliers under some semblance of control places the issue of quality assurance at the fore, especially given the serious degree of responsibility that’s involved.
The Hungarian National Development Agency (NDA) commissioned KÜRT Zrt. to implement a comprehensive quality assurance project related to the development and operation of its IT systems and applications that support the distribution of EU tender-related funds. The parameters of the system clearly illustrate the complexity of the task: the software consists of 5.5 million lines of code, contains 210,000 types of data field, manages several million records, runs on 60 servers, has 60,000 web-based users and 1,400 users on its internal terminal server, and disposes over the distribution of some HUF 8,000 billion in EU funds.
KÜRT’s quality assurance work began before the development contract was concluded. The first tasks included checking whether the IT development would genuinely serve the interests of the institution in the event that the plans and solutions proposed by the developers were implemented. Subsequently, the task covered the entire process of the project, from supervising the development work to controlling the operating parameters.
“I believe that one of the most significant sources of added value for the NDA in our ongoing collaboration is that the KÜRT team checks each item of performance related to development and operation, and if a task is performed in accordance with the expectations of the client, KÜRT signs off on the performance in its capacity as the expert in charge. Afterwards the IT manager can be certain that the performance can be accepted and the invoice paid”, said Miklós Márton, KÜRT Zrt’s Deputy CEO for business.
The terms of reference of the collaboration included giving a professional opinion on the technical content, preparing the way for decisions to be made on key issues, measurements, identifying inadequate parameters, and rechecking any corrections. KÜRT participated in the cooperation between the NDA and the developer as an independent partner, and facilitated objective decision-making in contentious issues by providing an expert opinion. KÜRT’s tasks included checking source codes and product documentation, ensuring compliance with the deadlines of the process, and checking the quality of system post-commissioning SLA measurement and service by inspecting the parameters of the key functions. KÜRT checked customer service traffic, and analysed and evaluated problems that were reported by users during their use of the system.
A fair question to ask would be whether it’s wise for a single quality assuror to be afforded such an extensive insight and role in the implementation of a project such as this. Part of the answer certainly lies in the point mentioned above about the sharing of responsibility.
The client had had considerable negative experience with quality assurance consultants in the past – consultants that summarised their observations in professional opinions that sometimes ran to several hundred pages, but were unwilling to take responsibility by signing off on those recommendations. And yet one of the key aspects for the CIO of using the services of a quality assuror is being able to share responsibility. If the quality assuror officially vouchsafes for its expert opinion, the CIO can rely on the service performed by it. KÜRT agreed to share responsibility in this manner, but this made it essential that it participate in the project virtually from start to finish and in virtually all the tasks that were involved.
Part of the mandate involved the regular monitoring of the performance of the developed system, which required continuous control of the work of the developers – and the success of the mandate is clearly illustrated by the fact that this monitoring resulted in a steady reduction in SQL response times. Another concrete example: due to the reports that arrived from the helpdesk regarding the slowness of the overall system, KÜRT performed measurements on the network lines and connections. It transpired that the bandwidth of lines outside of Budapest had not been sufficiently increased in accordance with the requirements of the project and the new system, and this had resulted in slower user access despite the fact that there were no problems on the server side or within the system. This is a phenomenon similar to that experienced in digital TV broadcasting where the user only has an analogue receiver and complains that he cannot see the digital programming.
“The cooperation with KÜRT had several important advantages both for me and for the NDA. Quality assurance is an effective tool for reducing costs, because for the same fee I can expect more and better results from the supplier and can achieve lower average cost. KÜRT helped solve the majority of the problems that existed two years ago when the IT Department was established”, said Gábor Dányi, CIO of the NDA.
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