We may well be in a recession, but the markets are still hugely competitive. Efficiency and agility are everything in Financial Services. How quickly can this new and innovative business capability or that new service be launched, scaled up, or brought to full profitability? This speed-to-market remains a key board demand, even more so in the teeth of the recession – when the efficient allocation of costly resources is permanently under the microscope.
We must view this need for agility in the context of the ever developing technological capability which is, I believe, reshaping the financial services competitive landscape far more radically than the current recession. Off shoring and automation are rewriting the economics and releasing the potential for real agility in the back office engine room.
The essence of the competitive game has not really changed post economic meltdown – it lies in the mobilisation of the IT resources required to deliver new and innovative business capabilities. But all the factors to be woven into each project now combine to demand a high level of professionalism in programme and project management. The complex array of factors includes the competitive pressures for speed, resource effectiveness and efficiency (we are, after all, in the era of lean business initiatives), and the business requirements for flexibility and responsiveness as market circumstances shift and change.
Testing – a new professionalism in an old practice
The effective exploitation of best contemporary software testing practice now makes a vital contribution to this mobilisation of IT resources. And there is a new professionalism in the old practice of software testing that the board needs to sit up and take notice of.
There are times when key IT developments that have long been regarded as arcane aspects of the work of the technical experts need to be brought into full daylight and explained in business language. They become not only fit for board discussion, but genuinely need to be well understood by contemporary business leadership.
And here is the real kernel of my story – that contemporary software testing is about risk management – in the fullest sense. If one lesson stands out in the current banking crisis it is that in contemporary software testing, effective risk management through heightened levels of quality in the testing process is now a critical differentiator. So within this process, we must never underestimate the importance of quality control to ensure that what is being tested is truly fit for purpose. It can ensure that the new product or service will reliably deliver the intended outcomes when it goes live, without failure, within budget, and on time.
Articulating the value of embedding quality into testing software processes is an essential part of gaining board recognition for the vital role testing plays in reducing business risk. Currently, testing can account for almost 50% of project spend – something that will surely seize the board's attention.
Effective testing is about ensuring the delivery of fault free solutions offering high quality and reliable customer experiences – it's about learning along the way and preventing faults before they arise rather than waiting until after development has taken place. It's about focusing on quality all the way through the process – and saving cost.
Getting it right – first time – on time
Contemporary software testing brings an applied intelligence and an effective discipline at the heart of the software and system creative process – vital to the deft management of complex IT programmes and projects. This keeps them tightly on track for delivery, within budget and on time, noting that the cost of rectifying a problem post development is significantly more than at an earlier stage in the testing process.
Testing maintains focus on the effectiveness of the project team – it is in the business of preventing problems rather than detecting them for a later fix, keeping the team away from resource-wasting detours. It maintains focus on the efficiency and quality of the project team, ensuring that it works its costly business resource productively. Because, in the words of the great Peter Drucker, 'there is nothing as useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done in the first place'! This is about resources doing the right things at the right time.
Perhaps even more importantly in an era of fast moving markets and suddenly shifting competitive emphasis, is that effective testing enables the agility and responsiveness today's project teams must demonstrate. They need to be able to readjust to changing delivery parameters and project objectives even while 'in flight'. The board expects miracles, of course, and at no extra cost - and with effective testing in place, miracles may just be possible.
Successful competition is often about confidence in outcomes – and a vital aspect of this new professionalism is that it demonstrably both enables and reinforces 'get it right first time' behaviours. Outcome-based commercial constructs, where reward hinges on delivery of the required business outcomes, can now be negotiated with confidence.
A transformed software testing profession – focused on quality
Contemporary testing professionals – doing their jobs effectively – provide the board with the reassurance and confidence that the significant investment being made in the development process is robustly on course to deliver the innovative products and services that will help drive the business forward – and if not, that there is the clarity of intelligence and analysis required to get the investment back on track.
Qualifications are evolving to provide a surer foundation for practitioners, led now by the work of the ISTQB (International Software Testing Qualifications Board). The three layers of professional competency (Test Manager, Test Analysts and Technical Test Analysts) are now well established and the requisite training courses and examinations are themselves now well tested. This is about foundations of education and verification thereof – but realistically it's only a starting point in the same way that perhaps a newly qualified doctor emerging from med school into the mayhem of an Accident & Emergency department still has a long way to go in his journey of medical discovery.
Internationally recognised standards, such as BS79525 (the British Standard for Software Component Testing) and the IEEE829 (the Test Documentation standard) are well established and provide excellent process models for exploitation. Work is well advanced on the new ISO29119 that will provide a comprehensive and genuinely international Software Testing Standard. Strong and effective foundations are now in place.
As the capabilities for software creation and development evolve and accelerate, the tools that can be used to probe and test are similarly being created, evolved and marketed hard. [No surprise there!] The emerging recognition is straight from the world of master spy George Smiley – the ability to gather data and information is one thing, the ability to process and present real intelligence is another. Dashboards in their variety are a step in that direction, but the reality is that tools are only as good as the professional hands that wield them.
Perhaps the most important development has been in the arena of test maturity models. Most testing consultancies have their own models, drawing on their own experience and enshrining their expertise – but risk being seen as a sales and marketing vehicle. So the emergence of the new TMMi model, developed by the TMMi Foundation (www.tmmifoundation.org), is a very positive development. It has been designed and structured to parallel the CMMi '5 levels of maturity' that have done so much to bring the quality revolution into the heart of the software creation process. Here is a broadly accepted independent reference standard that can be used to qualify 'professionalism at work'.
Professionalism is about how people work and deliver
Qualifications, tools and standards provide the foundations and the means of delivery – but true testing professionalism is rooted more deeply in experience, in the ability to articulate, communicate, influence, and in the ability to deliver intelligence and business-relevant insight from the complexities of a fast moving project with a diversity of strands and elements.
So we are back with what is really now the recurring theme of today's wider drive for a modern professionalism in IT – quality. It's all about the quality of the people involved and the methodology they follow. And this is what makes Steria's recently announced new partnership with the Software Quality Management consultants Experimentus all the more interesting.
Steria is a leading and expert Financial Services solutions provider with a strong record of success. Its business is to ensure that its clients flourish. And Yvonne Spalding as the Managing Director for Steria's Financial Services Sector is clear that "Steria recognises that financial services companies live or die by how quickly and cost effectively they can roll out innovative business capabilities with tight risk management. Our partnership with Experimentus brings the best of contemporary software testing practices to the heart of our client operations as one key element of our commitment to their success."
Steria's Testing Practice is well established with a range of focused, niche solutions able to offer real, tangible quality and value. Its geographic footprint, with strong European and global operations, gives it both a fully competitive cost base and the ability to easily integrate with the diversity of client projects that Steria's Financial Services arm has underway at any one time.
Experimentus is a small but well established specialist provider of software quality management solutions. The company is currently one of only two organisations worldwide to be accredited by the TMMi Foundation for its in-house developed TMMi assessment approach and was the first organisation in the world to have its consultants accredited by TMMi Foundation.
Through its ability to provide effective training, to advise on the development and implementation of contemporary testing best practices, and to mobilise the practiced experience of its twenty or so consultants, Experimentus is adding a new element to Steria's Testing practice. In the words of Experimentus' Geoff Thompson: "Testing is a vital component of software development process – and contemporary testing best practice is about professional delivery of speed, agility, and risk management to the sinews of that process."
Seen as a key business capability in its own right, software testing is a worldwide market estimated at $13bn. However, the major part of the market (88%) is held in house, and only 12% is contracted out. It is vital that the professionalism of these in house teams is constantly challenged to keep them ahead in the competitive game.
World class standards – as standard
Here is genuine customer commitment – commitment that a key Steria capability lying at the core of its ability to deliver its clients' projects with consummate skill is achieving world class standards. The delivery of effective risk management, business reassurance and board confidence – and the ability to be fast and confident on your feet – is now very much an achievable ambition in the competitive battle to win in today's Financial Services market place.