The digitization of everything is disrupting business models, processes and strategies. Amid this business-technology sea change, three constants remain on the corporate stakeholder agenda: cost, time-to-market and customer experience. While their priority order can change over time, today’s imperative is first and foremost customer experience.
These changes in focus and priority are now subtly but surely rippling into quality assurance. Historically, quality assurance has meant certifying the functionality of software, hardware or networking components, with no attention to the customer experience. Today, the customer experience represents the brand, the company and the individuals within it. This shift is forcing QA organizations to consider, from the get-go, the social and psychological impacts of the customer experience that the company’s products and services deliver, simultaneously with the functionalities under development.
Another change to QA is that while it has always focused on value delivery, the proposition has shifted to accelerated time-to-value. Writing requirements and designing, building and deploying code are all considered to be “active” (productive) time, while validation is considered to be “wait” (nonproductive) time. QA professionals are now trying to increase the efficiency of the QA lifecycle by eliminating “wait” time and accelerating value-adding activities. The new attitude is that if it’s done right the first time, there is no need to validate. Emerging technologies and methodologies have introduced both challenges and opportunities to this goal; hence, a well-defined digital transformation strategy is absolutely essential to the QA function.
New Mandates for QA
To understand the implications of digital transformation on QA and arrive at the next generation of quality assurance, organizations should address the following broad mandates:
Ensure a seamless and consistent customer experience.
Gartner predicts that by 2020, 25 billion “things” will be connected to the Internet1 – a phenomenon that could make the business and social implications of the Industrial Revolution pale in comparison. Due to this explosion of devices, ensuring the compatibility of applications across the plethora of networks, devices and interfaces is imperative for digital businesses to deliver a rich and meaningful user experience. As a result, ensuring impeccable quality and a consistent customer experience is pushing companies to expand the frontiers of QA.
Speed time-to-market and business alignment through Agile development methodologies.
The importance – and implications – of digital connectivity today cannot be overstated. Along with the constant connectivity of consumers, businesses and devices, new apps and functionalities are continuously being developed; additionally, at any given moment, our smartphone apps are either updating for more recent versions of software or are fixing bugs we do not even realize exist.
Such developments require modern-day QA techniques to not only find and fix defects but also work closely with stakeholders to prevent such defects from reoccurring. Better stakeholder collaboration can be enabled through the use of Agile techniques, such as fast prototyping, frequent iteration and the creation of user stories, replacing isolated development processes, lengthy requirements gathering and formal status meetings.
Meanwhile, increased digital connectivity has also shrunk software lifecycles drastically, even as it has expanded the number of touchpoints between initial customer engagement and after-sales service. Combined with an increased focus on the business value of technology, the shorter timeframes are blurring the demarcation between technology and the business, only adding to the mandate for Agile adoption.
One particular Agile methodology, DevOps,2 combines development and operations functions to help businesses respond quickly and effectively to the fast pace of digital evolution. A goal of DevOps is to “build quality within” rather than ensuring quality after the fact, as QA processes are integrated into every phase of the software development lifecycle.
DevOps is not just pushing the boundaries of developing superior software; it is also ensuring impeccable accuracy and stringent quality in the products being developed, while drastically reducing cost. Its techniques have led the QA function to move away from a pure-play validation role to a contextual testing mode, thereby bucking the conventional trend of risking quality for faster-time-to-market. This is known as digital assurance.
Deliver business value by addressing the risks that emerge across the digital ecosystem.
Gartner predicts that by 2020, 60% of digital businesses will suffer a major service failure because of IT teams’ inability to manage digital risks in new technology and use cases.3 Today, every business is vulnerable to the risks inherent to digitization, such as cyber theft, fraud and data loss, as nearly all organizations now interact with customers through a digital interface and increasingly depend on digital technologies for growth.
Digital risk comes in many forms, including defects that are not easily uncovered due to configuration errors, faulty integration procedures and workflow failings. Moreover, with increased customer preference for digital channels, businesses need to maintain the highest digital assurance possible to avoid irreparable damage to their reputation and bottom line.