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Business and Technology Insights

Why Utilities Need Test Factories and How to Setup One

 
January 17, 2017

Like all other sectors, the utilities industry too must manage uncertainties, formulate the right strategies, take smart financial decisions, and most importantly, adapt to global economic changes. In their attempt to proactively plan for future, utilities companies are adopting emerging technology, regulatory, business and customer behavior trends, and deploying smart solutions comprising intelligent grids, smart meters, drones and robots. With these advancements, modern utilities applications are a lot more complex than their traditional counterparts. Coupled with this complexity is the need to improve speed to market with accelerated releases.

Most CIOs tend to respond with an army of Rapid Application Development (RAD) tools and Agile methodologies. While technology deployment adequately addresses the acceleration challenge, its only part of the solution. The solution complexity challenge must also be addressed with equally smart quality assurance (QA) and testing and that too without interrupting business operations.

Can assurance and testing borrow from the manufacturing industrys factory approach? Think mass production and conveyor belts! How about a dedicated Test Factory for your organization?

The manufacturing shop floor comprises people, equipment and processes, working in unison to produce good quality output in large volume. Similarly, the Software Test Factory is your companys dedicated and flexible testing unit, with the ability to manage large workloads, and scale up or down on demand. Just like a manufacturing plant, the Test Factory too is powered by people (multi-skilled QA professionals), equipment (frameworks, tools, accelerators, and others), and processes (robust governance, maintenance, and delivery methods).

With these in place, the Test Factory can service development projects with on-demand scalability and flexible inter-departmental pricing. Projects can request services from the factory, which in turn estimates and provisions adequate resources, infrastructure and service delivery methods. As the factory grows in size and volume, a dedicated Test Factory Management Office (TFMO) keeps tab on business volume, forecasts demand, streamlines operations, drives process improvements, captures learning and best practices, facilitates reuse, and provisions resources to ensure flexibility and on-demand scalability all while continuously tracking and improving service levels. Just as the typical manufacturing plant has different sections assembly, painting, packaging and distribution, the test factory too can be configured for various service lines such as functional, performance, mobility, usability, security, automation and other niche testing.

At first sight, the Test Factory might appear like any other departmental IT function, specializing in testing. And beyond doubt, testing specialization is at the heart of a Test Factory. However, the real differentiator of the Test Factory is its flexible resource model the true enabler of on-demand scalability. While infrastructure scalability is easily achievable with the cloud, resource flexibility calls for good staffing practices such as continuous competency development and knowledge retention – especially during lean periods, clear definition of career path, and associate empowerment and motivation. Good governance, combined with robust change management drives process flexibility resulting in truly agile and responsive processes that can be tweaked and tailored for specific business contexts. With these attributes, the test factory mimics the clouds service model, and therefore is also labeled as Testing as a Service.

Factories must procure raw material for production and transport finished goods to their destination, and the role of intelligent supply chain is a critical success factor. Test Factories too derive their success from testing and assurance specialists and technology service providers. Systems integrators have a role to play in setting up the intelligent supply chain for test services delivery by setting up secure networks and tunnels for seamless information exchange between the Test Factory and its customers – the organizational departmental units seeking testing services.

Establishing test factories requires careful planning and execution. CIOs and Heads of QA & Testing teams must first evaluate maturity of their current IT landscape and development models, and assess the ability to adopt rapid development approaches such as Agile and DevOps. When done right, the benefits can be overwhelming and Test Factories have resulted in tangible business benefits for companies. By assigning infrastructure provisioning and testing tasks to the Test Factory, subject matter and domain experts have more time for strategizing and business development. With experts validating output at each phase of the Software Testing Lifecycle (STLC), release quality is significantly improved. Other benefits include specialized testing with accelerated releases and faster go to market. Finally, consolidation of testing resources and infrastructure means optimal resource utilization and reuse, and reduced total cost of ownership (TCO).

Are you thinking of setting up a Test Factory in your organization? Dont take the big bang approach. Start with a small pilot and gradually increase scope and coverage of the Test Factory to the enterprise. Remember, Rome wasnt built in a day and factories too, cant be commissioned overnight.

Abhisek Bharadwaj has worked in IT and Market Analytics for over 6 years. He has completed his MBA in Marketing and Systems from XIM, Bhubaneswar. He has held several roles in IT sales, pre-sales, consulting, data analytics and primary market research.