Specialist software consultants should be used for project and testing purposes, says Omar Sharif.
IT consultancy firms are in business to maximise their returns, but in the more unscrupulous firms, this pursuit will often drive them to exploit their clients' weaknesses; primarily, their lack of IT knowledge and skills. One of the best examples of this is the use of super-users during software testing.
Super-users are the client's own employees. Therefore they understand their own business processes and have been provided with limited software training. They are by no means software experts or specialists, but consultancy firms will often try to convince the client that their business knowledge gives them super powers.
Typically, an IT consultancy firm will advise its client that super-users should be used for software testing for the following reasons:
- Super-users already understand the business
- The client can save money as the testing will involve less consultancy time
- The testing will act as a training ground for super-users and end-users.
Software testing is a very stressful time. All the stakeholders are under pressure to meet the impending deadline and super-users can often find themselves working extra hours without reward or appreciation.
The result can be that the super-users are given the responsibility to sign off test scripts, which can sometimes mean that failed tests are signed off as successes. When this problem arises, an argument ensues between all concerned, which leads to more money for the consultancy firm because they have to delay the project and fix the problem.
After the project has gone live, the problems related to the inadequate testing will arise. The finger of blame is pointed at the super-user and it is now time for the IT consultancy firm to reap extra fees from requests for changes to the project.
The super-user has now lost all of their super powers, so how can they save face? When so many friends have become foes, it is time to jump ship.
As a result, the client has lost a valuable employee and their skills, not to mention their irreplaceable knowledge. They are now at the mercy of the IT consultancy firm, but fortunately, they have a solution: a consultant at premium rate.
Software testing is a profession; it requires skilled people with software expertise and a knowledge of business processes.
Super-users should be used to provide low-level training, support, and act a medium of communication to fellow end-users.
Independent specialist software consultants must be used for testing purposes; they will work with the client in an advisory role and the consultancy firm in an inspection role. The responsibility of ensuring all parties work together in harmony must be with the client.
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Omar Sharif is a SAP consultant at 3G telecoms firm Mobisphere
This was first published in February 2004