In an age when many businesses are pursuing digital transformation initiatives, quality assurance (QA) is a bigger deal than ever before. In fact, assurance of system availability, performance and usability is now a critical part of maintaining a business’s reputation and delivering top- and bottom-line results.
That’s why QA needs to shift its focus from testing individual IT components, to ensuring that the IT infrastructure contributes to desired business outcomes and stakeholder satisfaction. To create solutions and services that meet the quality standards driven by digital, businesses need to take a new approach to QA, which we call business process assurance (BPA).
Quality Assurance vs. Business Process Assurance
Meeting business goals through digital transformation requires more than just a passing product grade. With BPA, organizations take a holistic approach to QA that helps them achieve their business objectives, meet regulatory requirements and align the technical and operational components of digital transformation.
To better understand this, consider how QA and BPA compare (see Figure 1).
Third-party research confirms the importance of business process assurance over traditional QA. McKinsey and Oxford University report that among IT projects valued at more than $15 million, 45% are over budget, 7% are late, and 56% fall short of the defined benefits.
Poor planning, inadequate business processes, technical complexity and skills shortages are all cited as key reasons for failure. The most common causes of budget overruns are unclear objectives and a lack of business focus. While technologies may meet delivery requirements, the capabilities delivered do not consistently align closely enough with operational and business process needs, the report found. Companies can avoid these issues and safeguard their brands by concentrating on the business side of quality from the very beginning.
Building a BPA Program
Achieving and sustaining true business process assurance requires a five-step approach for validating and implementing digital processes (see interactive Figure 2).
Develop a program strategy that reflects the far-reaching technological and operational impacts of digital transformation. Begin by clearly communicating and aligning business goals. Work with stakeholders to identify affected processes and conduct a risk analysis. Sequence processes according to business priority. Develop a strategy to ensure a friction-free implementation, with automated, reusable components.
Perform business process modeling (BPM) to confirm which processes will serve as a key reference throughout the delivery lifecycle. Use industry-standard models, when available, to jumpstart BPM efforts. Choose toolsets that support ongoing maintenance and enhancement of these BPM models, and integrate with downstream technologies. Use BPM models as input for software development methodologies to create user stories and use cases, specify requirements, confirm functional needs and track business process components. Establish a traceability method that incorporates business risk analysis and delivery sequencing. Develop high-level business scenarios to validate outcomes and mitigate risk.
Align technology and operational requirements to ensure the right components are in place, such as operations, procedures and training, and that they are focused on supporting business processes. Use a model-based approach to develop business and technology processes and allow for rapid adjustments, reuse and analysis.
Establish a process-aligned approach that prioritizes business risks, sequences delivery, and aligns IT and operational components to assure an end-to-end business process. Repeat for additional processes until the entire solution is realized.
Employ outcome-based validation. This is where companies achieve true business process assurance — moving beyond traditional system compliance to a process-driven framework that validates not only systems but also daily operational activities. This is a good time to perform “what-if” analyses and see how processes will perform and comply in real-world settings. Results can then be measured against critical business directives.
After completing these steps, QA organizations will need to apply analytics to guide ongoing business process improvements, ensure that IT and operational components are aligned and validated, and quickly identify and resolve issues stemming from internal and external functions.
In today’s digital age, quickly bringing new applications and services to market is not enough. Digital transformation is not only about the IT “plumbing” that supports a business but also the customer-facing applications, processes and services that differentiate the enterprise, enhance the customer experience and distinguish the brand. Companies that view quality assurance in this context will prosper in the digital world.