Embedded Software in Electronic Products Results in Quality Crisis

9/15/2004 - Huge quality problems are dogging the embedded software industry and have taken it to crisis point, according to a sector-wide study undertaken by Verum Consultants. The three degrees of failure are that products are delivered late, over budget and with unpredictable error rates.

Verum analysed embedded software development in the European and US automotive, telecom, medical systems, consumer electronics and manufacturing sectors. Verum found that across all industry sectors manufacturers face a polarised challenge of increasing software use to deliver differentiation, allied against decreasing product development cycles.

Current methods of software development are unable to meet the demands of involuntary software use, particularly in the automotive and consumer sectors. In these sectors, consumers are normally unaware of the fact that a product is reliant on embedded software.

Crucially, software flaws were found to be responsible for a rising tide of high-profile incidents involving product failures leading to costly product recalls and warranty compensation schemes.

"The three degrees of failure are wholly unacceptable, yet they are day-to-day reality for the embedded software development industry. Software development needs to grow up and move beyond a craft to a become rigorous engineering discipline," said Robert Howe, CEO, Verum Consultants.

The Verum Embedded Software Industry Trends study identified eight software design issues common to varying degrees, to all industry sectors, and that the embedded software industry is in need of rigorous methods to deal with these challenges.

Increased connectivity is presenting a challenge across all sectors, whether this be in medical systems with issues of legacy interfaces and centralised patient records, the need to connect a camera to a pc via a home network or the high availability required of an integrated manufacturing network that may span the world.

Availability and reliability
Society expects uninterrupted service from many of the systems that it employs, such as credit card verification networks and integrated manufacturing systems. Embedded software designers are being asked more often to create systems that run reliably to the degree that they're in service 99.999 percent of the time (termed 'five-nines' availability), which is equivalent to less than one second of downtime per day.

Software process
Embedded software design and development practices need to be as good as they can be, because the competitive playing field is often so even and so fiercely contested. Software bugs are now both the biggest and fastest growing source for claims against warranties, and costs are spiralling. Warranty claims also affect perceptions about brand quality that eventually leads to an erosion of market share.

In certain sectors there is an increased reliance on systems that are deemed safety critical. Safety critical systems require specialist skills in their design and implementation, are often heavily regulated and must pass through a certification process.

Stakeholder communication
It has been found that across all sectors the communication of design information to project stakeholders is a problem. Abstraction will play a more important role in software design. The increasing levels of abstraction will need notations that can be explained to all project stakeholders.

Abnormal situation management
Between normal operation and shutdown, manufacturing processes can deviate into abnormal situations lasting a few minutes, or several days. Often deviations are undetected because automatic control readjusts the process.

Time to market
Time to market pressure is present in all sectors and is really an indicator of the competition faced by companies in all sectors.

The size and complexity of the software in individual products are increasing rapidly. Embedded software roughly follows Moore's law, doubling in size every two years. The solution is not necessarily hiring more software engineers since they are not readily available and if they were experience shows that adding more engineers to a software project increases the lead time due to communication overheads.

Verum reports that the cooperation between academia and industry experts has resulted in the availability of formal methods that can be practically applied in an industrial software development environment.

The application of formal verification techniques ensures the correctness of designs, resulting in drastic improvements in time to market, reliability and quality, while positively impacting cost through significant reduction in re-work.

Verum believes that formal verification techniques will enable the embedded software industry to make the required quantum leap in complexity, efficiency and effectiveness to make the next generation of embedded systems successful.

The Embedded Software Industry Trends study by Verum Consultants and can be downloaded from www.verum.com.

About Verum
Verum was founded in 2003 by Guy Broadfoot and Robert Howe two veterans of the software development industry. The company specialises in the mathematical design and verification of complex software for the original equipment (OEM), automotive, medical and telecoms markets.

Verum has developed a technique called Analytical Software Design (ASD) that enables software specifications to be described and verified mathematically prior to development. In addition ASD produces data sets that can be used for statistical testing of the end result.

Verum adds this element to a client's own engineering process by working closely with the client's software architects and designers. For further information please visit www.verum.com.

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