How to innovate in an imperfect economy

Today’s applications have to support increasingly complex business processes. Not surprisingly, applications are becoming more intricate and inter-connected.  In a survey conducted by Capgemini and commissioned by HP, an overwhelming majority (88%) of survey respondents agree that software systems have increased in complexity.

Clive Brindley, Channel Manager, HP Software, South Africa

Previously, organisations have been able to deal with increased workloads by adding resources to their quality management teams; but, with reduced IT spending, companies are looking at alternate ways of keeping pace with growing complexity – such as streamlining the quality process, increasing the degree of test automation and outsourcing testing activities.

However, despite weak economic conditions and limited resources, IT organisations still seem to have experienced a steady increase in software quality over the last two years; over 80% of respondents said that quality is actually improving. This can be attributed to the fact that a growing number of organisations are finally treating application quality as a formal process – incorporating quality methodology into their application lifecycle.

To go back to the survey results, nearly three quarters of respondents in the survey adhere to a defined Quality Assurance (QA) methodology that they follow in the majority of their IT projects. This can be seen as a sign that application quality will continue to improve and keep up with the increased complexity of business applications.

One of the main reasons it seems companies have failed to fully leverage their test automation solutions has been the lack of planning and inadequate funding needed to deliver key services around the deployment of automation tools, training and mentoring of resources – something we hear a lot when it comes to innovation within IT.

The question is, why?

In order to cut costs at the time of technology acquisition, purchasing departments often veto service-line items that would help with the planning and successful implementation of enterprise-level technologies. In some cases, the organisation may purchase services for a successful initial implementation, but underfund ongoing maintenance and mentoring, thereby undercutting the future success of the investment.

In other cases, turnover in resources and project champions can cause automation efforts to slow down or completely stall, with QA teams reverting back to creating manual test cases using word processing applications. In extreme circumstances, QA teams diligently create thousands of automated scripts without a clear strategic plan, only to find that their efforts go to waste due to drastic changes in the platforms and the functionality of applications under test.

Don’t let us forget that simply learning how to use the automation tool is not enough. To successfully implement a test automation project, it is essential to have a deep understanding of automation strategies, frameworks and tools.

What does this mean for the future of application development?

The survey also indicates that new and increased investment needs to be considered for automation throughout application lifecycle management, particularly for requirements visualisation, test environments, data management and business modelling. Investment in these areas is expected to generate higher quality applications, reduce rework, and decrease the cost of testing and defect management later in the application lifecycle.

One route for consideration is virtualisation technologies, which are helping companies increase the efficiency of their IT infrastructure by hosting applications on the cloud. They can increase application capacity and plan for peak loads without increasing the size of their data centres and associated maintenance costs. The same survey data indicates that, across all industries and geographies, companies are leveraging cloud testing and are planning to increase the number of hosted applications over the next three years.

In conclusion

Despite the challenging economic times, companies seem to still be continuing to invest in new application development projects.  However, the focus is shifting from complex multi-year systems to quick and nimble applications aimed at improving the company’s competitive edge and generating quick return on investment (ROI).

Traditional application development methods cannot support building, testing and deploying an application in six months. However, new agile methods can prove project ROI much earlier in the application lifecycle and allow companies to quickly adapt to changing market needs, while reducing waste. A growing number of companies across all industries are beginning to adopt agile methods – at least for a portion of their projects. Although agile delivery practices have been around for over 10 years, the economic downturn and the need to focus on faster returns is renewing interest in agile and fuelling its rapid adoption.

Finally, having an experienced champion mentoring the project will increase the organisation’s chances of meeting their quality objectives. In practice, it takes at least three to five years of direct, hands-on experience to develop automation skills that resemble a champion. In order to fully leverage their investment in test automation, enterprises need to look at the big picture when acquiring and deploying tools.

A well-defined implementation, integration and adoption strategy with qualified professional services and training for internal staff can help push a technology investment to exceed expected results and move the organisation closer towards their commitment to quality. QA teams need to learn to look at IT investments in the same way business investments are considered and implemented – that’s when they will see a real ROI from their IT systems.

Clive Brindley, Channel Manager, HP Software, South Africa