Fit for Purpose, Mission Critical Scenarios

map.gifThis last weekend has been a long weekend here in the UK with both Friday and Monday being public holidays. This has caused a lot of people to go out walking. I heard news on the radio that our mountain rescue services have seen a huge rise in rescue calls due to people relying on smartphone mapping. The problem is that the maps aren’t detailed enough, people lose battery power and in many cases there isn’t mobile coverage in remote places. This made me think about this some more and some implications for developers.

First of all, the walkers are using something, in a life critical situation, that isn’t fit for purpose. Whos responsibility is it to ensure it is fit for purpose? The user or the developer? You could argue the walkers are stupid for relying on connected device services in the first place. However, most of them don’t realise what ‘connected’ really means – they just see it as a map that has stopped working. Alternatively, you could argue Google, Nokia, Apple et al are negligent because they don’t provide mapping that works disconnected nor provide adequate warnings. Then again, they can’t predict, test and guarantee every user scenario.

Users tend to be dumb. Developers sometimes take shortcuts due to commercial or technical concerns. I think this has some wider implications where apps are used unwittingly for mission citical or life threatening usecases. For example, what if a calculator (app) fails when used by doctor? Who is at fault? Does the doctor have a responsibility to ensure the tool is up to the task? Can they sensibly evaluate this?

Lots of questions. Here are some observations. First of all, it’s ironic that GPS PND manufacturers are failing when their replacement is clearly an inferior product. Next, the trend for increased dependence on the cloud (and maybe web apps) has some serious limitations and implications that people maybe should be questioning. Finally, who is ultimately responsible? I guess in some cases it could be argued it’s the developer. So, if you are a developer, do you have liability insurance? If you are using the services of a developer do they have liability insurance?