A Department of Commerce study has concluded that software bugs, or errors, cost the U.S. economy an estimated $59.5 billion annually, but not everyone agrees that the blame lies entirely with software vendors.
According to the study–commissioned by the Gaithersburg, Md.-based National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), a part of DOC–at the national level, more than half the costs of such errors are borne by software users, with the remainder falling on software developers and vendors.
Released in June, the study was funded by NIST and conducted by the Research Triangle Institute in North Carolina.
The studyThe Economic Impacts of Inadequate Infrastructure for Software Testingalso found that although not all errors are likely to be removed, more than a third of these costs ($22.5 billion) could be eliminated by an improved testing infrastructure that enables earlier and more effective identification and removal of software defects by vendors.
“These are the savings associated with finding an increased percentage (but not 100%) of errors closer to the development stages in which they are introduced,” says NIST. “Currently, over half of all errors are not found until downstream in the development process or during post-sale software use.”
“The impact of software errors is enormous, because virtually every business in the United States now depends on software for the development, production, distribution and after-sales support of products and services,” states NIST Director Arden Bement.
According to NIST, software is “error-ridden” in part because it is growing in complexity. “The size of software products is no longer measured in thousands of lines of code, but in millions,” the agency says. “Software developers already spend approximately 80% of development costs on identifying and correcting defects, and yet few products of any type other than software are shipped with such high levels of errors.”
Indeed, if software companies were automobile makers, “they might be out of business from product liability suits,” states Gregory Tassey, senior economist at NIST. Software “has way more errors in what is delivered to users than the vast majority of products you run across.”
For the study, two industries–transportation equipment and financial services–were examined in depth, says NIST. In financial services, data was collected from four industry software developers, as well as 98 users (primarily banks and credit unions).
According to NIST, about two-thirds of the users reported experiencing “major software errors” in the previous year.
Major errors, says Tassey, include those that result in systems shutdown, loss of data, or need for significant systems reconfiguration.
Respondents who did have major errors reported an average of 40 major and 49 minor software bugs per year in their clearinghouse software systems, says NIST. Typical problems encountered due to bugs were: increased person-hours needed to correct posting errors, temporary shutdown leading to lost transactions, and delay of transaction processing.
NIST estimates the total cost of inadequate software testing in financial services to be $3.3 billion. Potential cost reduction from “feasible” infrastructure improvements is $1.5 billion.