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Achieving Six-Sigma

Every so often we come across industry articles about how to apply Six-Sigma techniques to the enterprise software arena.

For those who don't know, Six-Sigma is a strategy for improving quality to less than 3.4 defects per million. It's very popular in manufacturing. And rightfully so.

But wait. Let's do a reality check. Anyone who knows a thing or two about the enterprise software industry also knows how often new deployments fail -- some say fifty percent of the time. Perhaps writers placing Six-Sigma and enterprise software in the same article should be focusing on other issues? As Arsenio Hall used to say, "It makes you say hmmm..."

Thankfully, Aestiva is not your "normal" enterprise software company. We may deploy enterprise software but we believe in "simple" and "low-maintenance." Our deployment success rate is close to 100%. For us, quality is a primary concern. It's not second to "Will this ever get deployed?"

Now, to be accurate, we don't do Six-Sigma. We custom assemble solutions and Six-Sigma does not apply to that situation. But the quest to achieve high quality levels is something we share.

The Aestiva Quality Process
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Aestiva's technology is how quality was engineered into it. It was never an after-thought. Aestiva products are built on a three-tier approach. Each tier has its own quality mechanisms. The tiers are called Array, Power Office, and Production. We explain below.

Aestiva's Array engine is the most fundamental tier. It is a product that's installed on servers and in hosting accounts. The engine includes programming, database, data processing, and dozens of other technologies -- all built into it. The same engine is used by all our customers.

We achieved "six-sigma" levels of quality by minimizing our reliance on external applications. Today, almost all failures relate to the 3rd-party applications Aestiva cannot control (the external email server, operating system, or web server). We still see some failures on our side but very few. We are working to achieve levels of failures lower than "once per decade."

The tier above Array is called Power Office. This is a "paperwork automation" engine built with the Array engine. Like Array, the same Power Office engine is used by all our customers. But unlike Array, it serves a different functional purpose. Power Office contains reporting systems, configuration screens for application administrators, interfaces for managing the production of electronic forms, and hundreds of paperwork automation sub-systems.

Unlike Aestiva Array, which experiences few changes, Power Office is still growing. Rapidly. The challenge is to achieve high quality while rapidly improving and expanding the system.

Aestiva achieves this feat by never engaging in major upgrades.The Aestiva development model is a Just-In-Time (JIT) model. Changes are releases to only a dozen or so customers at a time. Bugs (known as Defects-After-Arrival) are minimal and solved quickly. The Power Office system is tightly controlled by an internal Power Office development team. Like Aestiva Array, Power Office is not open source. Its code is off-limits - even to Aestiva's own production crew. This allows the highest quality levels to be maintained.

The third level of Power Office is called the "Production Level." This level is open to our general production crew. This is where most defects originate. After all, this is the level where customization work is done. Defects can be caused by many scenarios. To increase quality levels we take some extraordinary steps. Here are a few.

First, we measure defects at all levels. Defects made by those assembling solutions. By those inspecting solutions. By those captured by the AC team prior to delivery. And of course, those delivered to the customer. The result, we capture and identify issues at the earliest possible stage so installations go smoothly.

Aestiva's internal quality programs have been very successful. Customer satisfaction is high. Is there more work to do? Yes. At Aestiva our quest for quality never ceases.

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