QA has always been a "second class" citizen in IT—and it's not getting any easier today with the demanding speeds of app deployment. Yet, there are now strong arguments that CIOs should reconsider QA's "back seat" role. This is what's happening in testing now—and here are some steps progressive shops are taking.
#1-QA is not just technical anymore.
Applications must be thoroughly checked technically before placing them into production, because businesses can't afford downtime. But in today's work environment, application users also expect ease of use and pleasing user interfaces. Progressive IT departments take this seriously and actually have their QA functions operating on two levels. One area of QA checks out the application to make sure that it works correctly from a technical standpoint. The other side of QA verifies that the application is easy for users to use. The application only gets a passing grade for being production-ready if it meets both technical correctness and usability tests.
#2-QA is involved throughout the application development life cycle.
There are still many IT departments that don't engage QA in the application development process until the application is complete and ready to test. When they do this, they miss opportunities to design superior elements into their apps which QA could provide if it were included upfront in the application design process. Because QA works closely with the IT help desk, it already knows from direct experience which areas of application design don't work well for end users. QA also has a good handle on the technical "weak spots" of systems that new apps have to interface with. Including QA at the beginning of the application design process enables QA to plan its test batteries in advance of receiving the application for testing, and to ensure that apps are run in scenarios that test for vulnerabilities. Progressive IT departments do this.
#3-QA thinks beyond the boundaries of the application itself.
Especially with mobile apps, there is no telling what environmental conditions end users might be operating in. If the end user works at a distribution center and spends the majority of his time on concrete loading platforms, an application on a ruggedized handheld device might be preferable to a mobile app on an iPhone, which is likely to break if it gets dropped on concrete. QA works effectively with end users and can bring these environmental conditions early into the application design process.
#4-QA is actively involved with end users.
Some corporate IT organizations have done very creative work by teaming end users with QA professionals in final application checkouts for usability and ergonomics. The move has been instrumental in speeding user acceptance of new applications.
#5-QA has a career path.
Historically, it has been difficult for QA professionals to develop long-term careers with advancement opportunities if they stay in QA. The fact is, QA is an extremely demanding IT specialty with its own set of tools, methodologies and test construction demands. Not everyone can do this job. Yet, IT departments continue to see their best QA professionals leave for areas like application development or technical systems because these are the areas where higher salaries are paid and more promotions are available. Now, some visionary CIOs are changing this. They are developing executive career paths for QA professionals and application and system testing is no longer taking a back seat to other IT disciplines.
Not every CIO is going to change the way that QA works (or is regarded) in IT. But CIOs who value high levels of user satisfaction that result from applications that are "right the first time" are going to reassess the role that QA plays. CIOs who are concerned about productive use of IT staff time will also take a hard look-because we are still in a period when over 50 percent of the time IT spends is on application and systems maintenance. More time on maintenance means less time for technical innovations that make competitive differences for companies. Greater upfront quality in the apps IT delivers can change that, which is why a forward-thinking QA strategy is so important.
Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President of Product Research and Software Development for Summit Information Systems, a computer software company; and Vice President of Strategic Planning and Technology at FSI International, a multinational manufacturing company in the semiconductor industry. Mary is a keynote speaker and has more than 1,000 articles, research studies, and technology publications in print.