Critical sectors invest significantly in testing: Rajesh Sundararajan, Marlabs Software
To understand the dynamics of the testing services industry, I had the benefit of a conversation with Rajesh Sundararajan, Practice Head, Testing services, Marlabs Software, Bangalore. In this interview, over telephone and email, Rajesh takes on questions about the evolution of the testing industry, scope for innovation in the testing services, examples of how the testing services industry creates value for customers, and also the hot themes at conferences and seminars concerning his industry, in recent times. Read on.
Give us an idea about the testing services industry.
Testing service has been one of the fastest growing sectors in the software industry. The worldwide software testing outsourcing market is expected to grow from $30 billion in 2010 to $50 billion in according to a NASSCOM report published in 2011.
Software testing goes by various names, such as testing services, quality assurance, and validation and verification. Though there are subtle differences between each of these terms, they are often used interchangeably in the industry.
It is a service or discipline which specifically focuses on ensuring that the functional and non-functional requirements of the end users are met by software applications. It has been an extremely process driven service with its own methodologies, life-cycles, tools, techniques and processes. In an increasingly competitive and customer-focused business environment, it is no wonder that quality has become extremely important leading to the rapid growth of this sector.
The custom development nature of the software services industry leads to unique challenges and opportunities for testing. Because each application is different and unique, the challenges of ensuring quality are that much more, compared to mass-produced goods in many other industries.
This challenge has been converted into an opportunity by the major software service providers, most of whom have, or have had, business units exclusively focused on providing testing services. The presence of many companies focused exclusively on software testing is also a testimony to the potential of this service.
How has it evolved over time, and what are the current challenges that the testing services industry faces?
There have been multiple trends in the testing services industry; they can be broadly summarised under:
1) Automation: Testing has seen the extensive use of automation to increase operational efficiencies, reduce manual effort, and improve agility and quality.
2) Technology-driven changes: Newer technology trends have spawned their respective specialised testing areas. For example, application of technologies like DWH BI, enterprise mobility, middleware technologies, and cloud has led to the growth of their corresponding testing services having their own unique techniques, methodologies, tools, and value proposition.
3) Execution models: The software testing industry has been a major adopter of outsourcing including off-shoring to countries like India. We have also had the trend of testing teams operating as centralised shared services (TCoE, test factory models), to focus on competency building and improve operational efficiencies.
4) Alignment to business: We are increasingly seeing the trend of testing teams focusing on business assurance apart from quality assurance, test specialists becoming business domain experts from just being application experts, and testing teams getting involved as equal partners early on, in the software development life cycle, along with the development team.
Where do you see the scope for innovation in the testing services?
There are 2 -3 fundamental elements test organisations need to address:
1) Ensure quality (functional and non-functional): Innovative methods of accurately capturing requirements (using functional and workload modelling, for example), and innovative test design techniques (there are many examples of functional and statistical techniques) to test all aspects of the customer requirements effectively. Innovative testing of and “around” the expected functionality is always a value-add from the tester.
2) Operational efficiency: There is always a push to optimise the cost of testing while ensuring faster turnaround time. Innovative use of automation tools, reusable test artifacts and frameworks, and risk-based test optimisations contribute to achieving these goals.
The next generation of test professionals can push the bar further in addressing these fundamental needs in the changed technology and business circumstances. One line of thought could be in adopting some of the tried and tested techniques or concepts from more mature industries and exploring their application in the software industry.
Can you mention a few examples of how the testing services industry creates value for customers?
Let us look at examples from some of the critical business sectors like banking and financial services.
a) We have a securities trading application, supporting thousands of users performing millions of trades, aggregating, netting and making the settlement at the end of the cycle. Imagine the consequences of wrong trading actions performed by the system, or system unavailability for a few minutes, or incorrect settlement and transfer of funds to the parties concerned. Apart from the immediate financial loss, this would be disastrous for the reputation of the brand and its legal standing.
b) Similarly, a treasury and payments system which processes a huge number of domestic and international payments, within and outside the financial entity needs to comply with various regulatory guidelines. Any breach of this process means severe financial and legal repercussions.
In complex financial systems, the testing or QA process is what ensures application quality, stability and reliability in the live production environment. That is why critical sectors like banking and financial services invest significantly in testing.
A common observation is that the cost of fixing a defect goes up manifold when the defect is detected towards the later phases of the software development cycle. So, the cost of detecting a defect is much less in the requirements and design phase compared to the progressive increase in cost of fixing the defect when it is identified in subsequent stages. So, in recent times, the trend has been to involve the QA team right at the requirements stage itself to reduce overall costs and improve quality.
What have been some of the hot themes at conferences and seminars concerning your industry, in recent times?
A lot of interest is focused on emerging technologies and how to test for them, such as mobile testing, cloud testing – both as a platform to be tested and as a delivery mechanism, big data testing.
Newer business and software models also generate interest in topics such as testing of social media, testing in an agile environment.
Other topics which attract focus, targeted towards a more senior audience, deal with how testing can create strategic value, alignment with and impact on business, test delivery models, and transformational testing engagements.
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