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In Quest of tele-quality

The telecom industry is advancing like never before. Bandwidth is becoming abundant, and newer technologies combined with liberalization are opening up the remotest areas into the global tele-network.

But not all is blissful for the telecom operators and equipment providers. Cut throat competition and demanding customers are pushing telecom companies against a granite wall. Product life cycles are shrinking and simultaneously increasing the risks associated with any new product or service launch. This is also stoking the merger and acquisition activities along with the formation of big consortiums to maximize market share and minimize risks. In light of these developments in the telecom market, what telcos need is highly reliable equipment that can withstand the maximum rigors of the network. Apart from sturdy hardware and software, there is also a need for software life cycle management, since new developments are creating the demand for new software all the time.

In April 1996, a core group of telecommunications service providers, including Bell Atlantic, BellSouth, Pacific Bell, and Southwestern Bell, initiated the idea of standardizing quality requirements for the industry. As a result of this meeting, the QuEST Forum was formed in October 1997. Work began at the inaugural meeting in January 1998.

The Quality Excellence for Suppliers of Telecommunications (QuEST) Forum is a unique partnership of telecommunications suppliers and service providers.

QuEST Forum Vision is a key force in the global telecommunications industry to improve the quality of products for customers through the collaborative efforts of service providers and suppliers. The value proposition is that the quality of the telecommunications industry could be improved if an industry association encouraged uniform quality requirements and standard quality cost and performance based metrics and reporting.

TL 9000
TL 9000 is a common set of quality system requirements and metrics designed specifically for the telecom industry, encompassing ISO 9001 and other best practices covering hardware, software and services. The TL 9000 requirement strategy is threefold:

  • To eliminate overlapping requirements.
  • To eliminate inconsequential requirements.
  • To select "performance impacting" requirements.

The TL 9000 goal is to meet the quality requirement needs of the telcos.

TL 9000 defines the telecommunications quality management system requirements for the design, development, production, delivery, installation, and maintenance of products and services. Included in TL 9000 are cost and performance-based measurements of reliability and quality performance of the products and services. TL 9000 is based on the following sources of quality standards: ISO9000-3, ISO9001-1994, ISO 12207, SEI CMM, CSQP GR 179,1252,1202, RQMS GR929 and existing report cards. In addition to ISO 9001, 520 requirements were considered and finally only 83 were selected.

TL 9000 metrics is the most useful product from the forum. It is unique to the TL 9000 quality system, providing quality feedback data in terms of best, worst and average. This is useful for both telcos and their suppliers. Telcos use it to measure and compare, while suppliers use it for decision making and pushing for continuous improvement. QuEST ensures that when the metrics results are published, the suppliers are not identified at all. Nor is there any kind of supplier ranking. Hence the metrics data cannot be used to rate suppliers.

TL 9000 metrics provides the industry benchmarks, thereby identifying improvement opportunities for every telco and its suppliers. TL 9000 addresses telecommunications needs for reliability designed in, life cycle management through planning, customer-supplier communications enhanced and customer-supplier quality improvement programs. The TL 9000 standards are being translated from English into Japanese, Spanish, Korean, Portuguese, French, German, Italian and Swedish.

The benefits of TL 9000 Certification are:

  • Improved service to customers.
  • Enhanced customer-supplier relationships.
  • Obtain comparable data.
  • Standardize requirements and metrics.
  • Best practice quality system is in place.

QuEST forum's strategic plan is as follows:

  • Improve measurable industry quality performance.
  • Establish world class forum infrastructure.
  • Develop and publish TL 9000 handbooks
  • Companies registered to TL 9000
  • Grow forum membership

To increase the forum membership, QuEST has been organizing a number of conferences: Brussels in May 1999, Paris in May 2000, Yokohama in June 2000 and London in October 2000. TL 9000 registration may be granted to a company, an organizational unit/facility or a limited defined product line. Scope of registration may be for hardware, software, services or any combination thereof.

TL 9000 companies with registered sites include ADTRAN, Alcatel USA, Complas, Fujitsu Network Communications, Lucent Technologies, Marconi, Access Systems, Motorola, NEC, Nortel Networks and Pirelli Cables and Systems.

TIL 9000 metrics cover the following areas:

  • Problem reports
  • Response time
  • On-time delivery
  • Systems outage
  • Return Rates
  • Software update quality
  • Release application aborts
  • Corrective & Feature Patch Quality
  • Service quality

Problem Reports Metrics
Problem Reports Metric is the number of reports per system (or other unit) per month. Problem Reports are defined as customer originated reports that are indicative of the quality of the product delivered. For hardware and software products, they examine the severity, i.e critical, major or minor.

Problem Report Fix Response Time Metrics
Response time metrics measure the percentage of hardware and software problems fixed in one month and in six months. For services, the measurement is the percentage of problems fixed in time. This helps determine the overall responsiveness of a supplier to major and minor problems. Critical problems are not included as they are worked on a high priority basis.

On Time Delivery
On Time Delivery matrices measure suppliers' performance in meeting customers' needs for product delivery and end-customer expectations. It determines percentage of delivery based on customer request date.

System Outage
System Outage Metric for each product category determines annualized outage frequency, annualized downtime, annualized supplier attributable outage frequency and annualized supplier attributable downtime. System outage applies to both hardware and software, and is a measure of complete loss of functionality of partial or total system.

Return Rates
Return Rate Metric for each product category determines the first year percentage returns.

Software Update Quality
Software Update Quality Metric is the cumulative percentage of defective updates for each of the three latest most dominant releases for each product category. The objective is to evaluate the level of defective software in order to minimize the associated customer risks.

Release Application Aborts
Release Application Aborts Metric is a percentage of systems with aborts for each of the three latest most dominant releases for each product category. The objective is to minimize the service provider's risk of aborts when applying a software release.

Corrective and Feature Patch Quality
Patch Quality Metric is the percentage of defective patches per month for each product category. The objective is to minimize the service provider's risk of failure.

Service Quality

  • Service Quality Metric is specific to service the product category.
  • Percentage of conforming installation audits.
  • Percentage of successful maintenance visits without callbacks.
  • Percentage of successful repairs.
  • Percentage of conforming call center calls resolved within the agreed upon time.
  • Percentage of support service transactions without a defect.

The objective is to provide information to evaluate and improve the service product.
These nine metrics can help a telecom equipment vendor and service provider benchmark their products and services versus their competition, and take actions accordingly to achieve market leadership in their chosen segment.

Milind Kamat, Country Manager-India, Accton Technology Corporation, can be reached at accton@bom2.vsnl.net.in

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