by December 31, 2000 0 comments

Analysts say that the only constant in the world of IT is
change. They are partially correct. In fact, there are two constants in the
world of IT. The second constant is perpetual dissatisfaction with the Quality
of Service (QoS) offered by IT vendors. Most users are constantly disgusted with
the service they receive–be it from an assembler or a leading multinational.
Which is surprising, as poor service is normally the hallmark of sectors that
suffer from too little competition. The IT market, on the other hand, is
probably the most competitive business in the world. Strangely enough, this
paradox arises because of too much competition in IT.

The IT marketplace is characterized by two things: (1)
Relatively low barriers to entry and (2) Very fast commoditization of products
and services. The low entry barriers create a situation where dozens of new
companies are set up every day. Potential entrepreneurs see a huge market and
start ventures at the drop of a hat. The mindset seems to be ‘so what if there’s
competition. We will offer better quality/customer care/products, etc. This
brings us to the second point above–no matter what you offer it’ill soon
become a commodity. Most IT companies soon reach a point where they no longer
have a USP to offer. They become one of the dozens of similar companies. The
only way to get a customer seems to be to offer the moon where service is

Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that the average buyer
has very little idea of the product that he is buying. Being unable to assess
the technical aspects of the situation the buyer starts playing one supplier
against the other on service parameters. Sellers soon realize that they are in
no position to refuse. For instance, if the customer insists on a response time
of four hours then the only thing for the seller to do is to say yes, and for
the customer to do is to hope for the best.

The seller has little fear of the repercussions of making a
wild claim. In most cases he has no way of calculating what his response time is
anyway. The response time depends on a host of parameters and a vendor has
little control over most of them. An assembler may employ 15 people, handle 100
sites, and be able to claim a response time of six hours for hardware
breakdowns. His future response time will depend on what his site to personnel
ratio is at that point of time. Even more dramatic is the case of a software
developer promising that an application will have a response time of less than a
minute. Designing applications to predefined response times is a very demanding
task and can double the cost of an application. But the developer thinks it’s
better to mislead the customer on a key parameter and gain the order rather than
be honest and lose the order.

One way out of this mess is to have the vendor sign a Service
Level Agreement (SLA). A SLA spells out parameters on which service will be
measured and the criteria that will be used to decide deficiency in service.
Unfortunately, this route is available only to large organizations because
drafting SLA’s takes a long time and they make sense when the purchase is
hefty. Enforcing an SLA is equally difficult because one has to continuously
measure and monitor the parameters that define the QoS. There is also the risk
of using the wrong parameter. For instance, I might define response time to
hardware failure as a parameter and measure this parameter by noting the time
between the time of complaint and the arrival of a technician. It’s another
matter altogether that the technician might be totally incompetent and unable to
fix the problem. In a hypothetical case the vendor might conform to every clause
in the SLA and yet provide terrible QoS.

The only real fix to the problem is to educate both buyers
and sellers. Buyers must become more capable of separating the wheat from the
chaff and concentrating on the basics. Sellers must realize that nonsensical
claims hurt them in the long run. Sellers should not buckle down and give-in to
the absurd demands of the customer. Only then will the QoS improve.

The bottom line One can but hope that the IT industry’s QoS
will improve as the industry matures.

Gautama Ahuja, a
contributing editor of PC Quest, runs a turnkey software development company,
AHC Infotek, in Delhi

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