Outsourced Testing: Coming to a site near you

Over the past five years or so, organisations have chosen to outsource many of their computer-related activities to concentrate on their core business.

Pressures on the demand-side include the early 'nineties fads for Business Process Re-Engineering. Downsizing and Corporate Refocusing as well as the government's Market Testing initiative aimed at privatising non-governmental activities.

On the supply side, the large IT service-oriented companies quickly realised that outsourcing presented a tremendous opportunity for rapid revenue growth with the stability that long-term contracts provide.

Outsourcing contracts tend to be for technically oriented activities. System development, implementation and support, facilities and service management deals seem to prevail. Outsourced testing arrangements seem to comprise a small minority of outsourcing deals.

In this article, we’d like to explore the reasons why this has been the case. Then we suggest that testing might be the next activity to be outsourced in a very big way and what specialist, outsourced testing organisations must offer if they are to satisfy the demand.

Why have organisations been reluctant to outsource their testing? One reason is that testing has traditionally been perceived as a non-technical activity that could not be delegated to outsiders.

Where user requirements are perceived to be poor when handed over to outsourced development companies, the natural fallback is to use acceptance testing to determine whether the 'right system' has been built and delivered. Surely only the users can judge this?

The view that testing was a non-technical activity that could be delegated to end-users, business analysts and untrained armies of testers prevailed in most comical organisations. Who needed to outsource their testing in these circumstances?

We think things are about to change.

Over the past five years or so, the image of testing (and testers) has changed. In the UK, the BCS SIG in Software Testing has consistently grown in popularity and influence. In parallel, the annual EuroSTAR conferences attract greater numbers of testers and managers. Companies offering training courses and consultancy in testing are seeing a strong growth in demand for their services.

Demand for contract testers and testing teams has increased and the recognition that technical testing expertise can successfully complement in-house business knowledge has taken root.

Large organisations are developing long term relationships with contract agencies and the testing body shops that are pursuing growth strategies based on this trend. The market for contract test teams will grow, but as the market matures, companies will demand a more service-oriented approach from their testing suppliers. To satisfy this demand, what must the outsourced testing companies offer?

The outsource companies must recognise the varying needs of their customers. Clients outsource their testing for many reasons: to cut costs, to speed testing, to improve their testing, to save office space, acquire test environment facilities, to release in-house staff to take on development activities.

The outsource company must offer a solution-oriented service, not just bodies. They must expand the scope of their services and provide test strategy, front-loaded testing and independent testing services in addition to skilled resources.

Clients must be confident that the outsource company's testing approach is appropriate to the system to be tested. Given the rapidly changing technical environment, the growing complexity of requirements and technical solutions and the pressure to deliver quickly, the outsource company must be capable of formulating an effective and viable test strategy.

Clients have long persevered with poor requirements. The view that the early testing of requirements can be the single most effective risk reduction activity is gaining ground.

Outsource companies offering a requirements or functional specification review service give client organisations the opportunity to achieve high levels of 'front-door' quality to complement the less 'back door' quality practices that many organisations struggle with.

Outsource companies must offer a professionally packaged, managed and independent testing service. Clients expect an outsourced testing service to integrate with their organisation and the outsourced development company.

The outsourced testing company must be seen to be at least as organised and disciplined as the developers, but must also display the professional integrity to match the trust that the client puts in them.

Testing companies who can offer these capabilities will be very successful indeed.

Paul Gerrard, Business Development Manager, Systeme Evolutif Limited