e-business Concepts  «Prev  Next»

Lesson 6 Quality factors
ObjectiveExplain how an architect can determine qualitative requirements.

Architecture and Qualitative Requirements

As the owner of an e-commerce company, understanding the influence of stakeholders on the e-business architecture, particularly in determining qualitative requirements, is crucial for aligning your digital strategy with broader business objectives. Stakeholders, including customers, employees, investors, suppliers, and regulatory bodies, each bring unique perspectives and needs that shape the qualitative aspects of your e-business architecture.
  1. Customer Needs and Expectations: Customers are primary stakeholders whose needs and expectations drive many qualitative requirements. Their preferences for user experience, ease of navigation, website design, and accessibility directly influence decisions regarding the user interface and customer journey on the e-commerce platform. Feedback mechanisms, such as surveys or user testing sessions, can be valuable tools for gathering customer insights.
  2. Employee Input and Efficiency: Employees, particularly those involved in managing the e-commerce platform, provide insights into the operational efficiency and usability of the system. Their feedback can lead to improvements in backend systems, inventory management, and order processing capabilities, ensuring a smoother workflow and better employee satisfaction.
  3. Investor and Shareholder Interests: Investors and shareholders typically focus on the profitability and growth potential of the e-commerce platform. Their perspectives might influence qualitative requirements related to scalability, security, and data analytics capabilities, ensuring that the platform can support business growth and provide valuable insights for strategic decision-making.
  4. Supplier and Partner Collaboration: Suppliers and business partners may require integration of their systems with your e-commerce platform for efficient supply chain management. This necessitates a focus on compatibility, integration capabilities, and real-time data exchange, influencing the architectural decisions related to system interoperability and data sharing.
  5. Regulatory Compliance and Security: Regulatory bodies impose requirements related to data protection, privacy, and transaction security. Compliance with these regulations is a critical qualitative requirement, influencing aspects such as data encryption, secure payment processing, and user data management.
  6. Community and Social Responsibility: Broader societal concerns, like environmental impact and ethical sourcing, can also influence qualitative requirements. This might lead to the implementation of features that promote sustainable products or transparent business practices.

Influencing the e-business architect to incorporate these diverse qualitative requirements involves a process of stakeholder analysis, regular communication, and iterative feedback. This process ensures that the architecture not only supports technical and functional needs but also aligns with the broader values and objectives of all stakeholders involved. As a business leader, fostering a culture of open dialogue and collaboration among stakeholders is key to achieving a holistic and effective e-business strategy.

An architect translates the concerns of stakeholders into requirements by identifying the "quality factors" valued by each constituency. You have probably experienced quality factors yourself when using a system.
  1. Is the system reliable?
  2. Is it fast?
  3. How many concurrent users can the system handle before response time drops off?
  4. What makes a system good or good enough?
  5. Who is asking?

Software quality is improved by separating concerns into tiers.

Fourth-generation Web Application and Parallel Servers

Large websites implement the application server as a collection of application servers that operate in parallel. Likewise, web servers are often clusters of computers that work together to serve requests from large numbers of users. Application servers interact with one or more database servers, often running a commercial database such as Oracle or DB2. The client–server interaction uses the Internet. The Web servers and application servers are connected by middleware (such as Corba), which are packages obtained from software vendors to handle functions such as communication, data translation, and process distribution. Middleware is sometimes as simple as (JDBC) Java Data Base Connectivity, whereas other middleware packages are large and solve complicated problems. Likewise, the application-database servers often interact through middleware.
Figure 2 -6 illustrates a typical configuration for a fourth-generation Web application.

Configuration for a fourth-generation Web application
Configuration for a fourth-generation Web application

Web Software Engineering Quality Factors

Although software engineering researchers, educators, and practitioners have spent years focusing on developing processes and technologies to improve software quality attributes, much of the software industry has had little motivation to improve the quality of their software. Software is often sold with relatively low-quality requirements. The combination of 1) user expectations and 2) market realities has been such that increasing quality usually has not increased profits. A combination of time-to-market and marketing strategies has almost always determined whether traditional software products succeed competitively. As an example, software contractors for government agencies are often paid the same regardless of the quality of the delivered software. Despite the positive impacts of the capability maturity model, many contractors are still given additional resources to correct problems of their own making. Commercial software companies are usually driven almost entirely by time-to-market. It is almost invariably more lucrative to deliver poor-quality products sooner than high-quality products later. It is a well-known truism that companies can often sell poor-quality first versions of software applications and then make more money by charging for upgrades that contain more bug fixes than new features. For most applications, there has traditionally been little economic motivation for producing high quality software. In fact, there have often been economic disincentives for creating high-quality software products.

Separation of Concerns | Architect's Definition of Quality

Specification of the "right" architecture depends on the accuracy of translation from qualitative stakeholder expectations into objective "quality" requirements.
  1. In today's marketplace, solution functionality and affordability are rarely differentiating; when they are it is only for a short period of time.
  2. Quality is the attribute that drives individuals to select one alternative over another despite relative similarities i functionality and cost.
  3. Architects must be able to establish and promote the definition of "quality" for a given set of objectives.

Some Factors that drive Architecture and Design Quality are:

  1. Architecture Stability and Flexibility: The quality of the architecture definitions that are defined in architecture documents and supported by system management.
  2. Analysis and Design Capability: The skill and experience level of architecture and design teams. This includes the capability of communication and cooperation between the teams.
  3. Root Cause Analysis: Capability to learn from defects found during development, (e.g., analyzing defects, determining common causes (related to processes, tools and development environment, capabilities, management and organization, etc), and defining actions to prevent them from recurring).
  4. Requirements Performance: Result of the previous phase (i.e., specifying the products to be developed and the supporting activities such as requirements clarifications, reviews and inspections, and tracing).
  5. Project Management Performance: Definition, planning, tracking, and control of quality in the development projects and the delivered products.
  6. Process Management Performance: Defining and baselining the processes to be used for management and technical work. The support in operational usage of the processes for training, instructions, tools and templates and the availability of websites and experienced personnel.
  7. Architecture and Design Process Maturity: The quality of the defined and baselined architecture and design processes, including all supporting material such as training and templates.
These quality factors ultimately translate into quantitative requirements. They are the performance metrics by which the solution is evaluated. The architect must manage trade-offs between ideal quality requirements and other factors such as schedule, cost, or feasibility.

Quality Factors - Graphics versus Performance

A classic trade-off in Web site design is graphics versus download time. The marketing department wants lots of graphics to improve the visual appeal of the site. The systems engineer knows that performance (in the eyes of the user) could suffer. Both viewpoints reflect different quality factors.
An architect would consider alternative approaches to satisfy the marketing department and the systems engineer.
  1. Could the image files be compressed?
  2. Could the files be distributed across multiple servers to decrease the load?
The architect's challenge is to determine a solution that satisfies as many stakeholders as possible.

What about this other card that is not on the list?
Question: How do I know if it is a good deal or not?
This will happen. In fact, because inventory levels and prices change quickly, it is guaranteed to happen. So how do you know if that card you have got your eye on is a good buy in its price range?
Here is a resource to help you judge if a card is a good buy or not. The graphics card hierarchy chart groups graphics cards with similar overall performance levels into tiers. The top tier contains the highest-performing cards available, and performance decreases as you go down the tiers from there. You can use this hierarchy to compare the pricing between two cards, to see which one is a better deal, and also to determine if an upgrade is worthwhile. I do not recommend upgrading your graphics card unless the replacement card is at least three tiers higher. Otherwise, the upgrade is somewhat parallel, and you may not even notice any worthwhile difference in performance.
At the request of readers, we've added mobile graphics and integrated chipsets to the hierarchy chart. We want to make it clear that there is very little performance data available for these graphics solutions. While the discrete video cards in the chart are placed in tiers based on a lot of information, many of the mobile and integrated devices in the chart are guesstimates based on their specifications. At worst, we doubt they are more than one tier away from their actual performance, but this is something to keep in mind when considering mobile graphics chipsets.

Ad Competitive Landscape
For example, high availability is a quality factor often sacrificed to cost and schedule considerations. Achievement of 99.99 percent availability usually presents a cost burden few organizations are willing to bear. But 99.5 percent availability may be good enough. Architects can explain the impact of these alternatives on the business. They can also determine whether the investment to achieve the higher availability is cost-justified.
As mentioned earlier, "The extra effort and expense associated with architecture almost always results in lower downstream operation costs." By identifying quality factors up front, the architect prevents conflicts later on— conflicts which often result in re-design, delays, and a potentially unhappy client/customer. It is often difficult to determine quality factors, for the following reasons:
  1. Quality is a moving target. In e-Business the bar is raised weekly, sometimes daily.
    Are we adding new products and services as quickly as we can?
  2. Some quality factors are unique to e-Business.
    How secure does it need to be? What is the penetration risk?
  3. Some quality factors are not very intuitive.
    Is your portal site similar to Yahoo, AOL, MSNBC?

The architect articulates a common vision based on the quality factors important to each stakeholder. In so doing, she provides some insurance against the evolutionary nature of the e-Business world.

SEMrush Software