Why software testing is increasingly being outsourced and what should businesses consider?

Business critical applications are increasingly being tested by third party suppliers as businesses strive to reduce the high costs associated with software failure, without the huge investments needed for rigorous in-house testing processes.

The digitisation of business has created an increasing reliance on software for internal and customer facing activities. This in turn has increased the focus on software testing within the development process. This in turn is increasing costs in terms of time, money and human resources. This in turn is accelerating the outsourcing of software testing.

According to research from software quality tester Cast, the average big application costs an extra £2.23m as a result of problems with the code that need to be fixed after software goes live.

Software is becoming increasingly important because the web offers businesses new ways of servicing customers and linking with third parties. Failures in these systems can be costly. Banks are perhaps the companies that spend the most on software development and, although not necessarily outsourcing, they are investing in improving their testing processes to cut losses from failures after production.

HBOS has invested in testing to set benchmark for itself and suppliers. The bank carried out the TMMi software testing methodology processes across three of its four major IT departments in a programme designed to reduce the number of errors in thousands of applications it builds every year. It will use the knowledge and processes gained for a reference point, either to help them improve processes or use it as a way to get their development partners to meet their standards.

Meanwhile Nationwide has invested in a virtual testing environment as part of a $1bn IT transformation that is seeing core software platforms replaced.

But not all businesses have the resources to do their own testing.

Software testing is one of the most important tasks for 91% of IT departments and almost all believe it is crucial to outsource this activity, according to a recent report from analyst company Pierre Audoin Consultants (PAC). It also revealed that three-quarters of companies already use service providers with onshore and offshore capabilities to provide testing services.

According to analyst Nelson Hall, the global testing services market was $8.4bn in 2011, and although 2012 is expected to be flat, it predicts an average 9% growth every year over the next five years.

The challenge of introducing large numbers of applications to deadline is a challenge that drive energy provider Centrica to outsourced testing to dedicated testing firm Software Quality Systems (SQS). The company’s software testing requirement increased because it is working on programmes related to introduction of smart metering applications in relation to the governments Smart Meter Implementation Programme. Utility companies have a deadline to offer smart metering services to 53 million consumers by 2019. Software to collect and analyse huge volumes of data will require rigorous testing before going live because failures will be headline news.

Through the deal with SQS Centrica will gain access to testing resources locally and offshore through SQS’s software testing resources in India and South Africa.

Deutsche Bank is also taking advantage of SQS’s service. SQS will test the bank’s applications until the end of 2013 with integration testing the primary challenge. This will be delivered via the near- and onshore test centres in Görlitz, Germany and Cairo, Egypt, with the target of expanding it to the test centres in Pune and Durban.

Dominique Raviart, analyst at Nelson Hall, says software testing is an increasingly important discipline that requires more focus. As a result it lends itself to dedicated organisations.

“Cost savings are a major driver and also the need to do testing in a more professional manner. Testing has become more professionalized and now requires significant investment in terms of tools, people recruitment and automation,” he says. He adds that in the UK there is a shortage of the right skills. “…finding onshore testing professionals is difficult: there are very few testing classes in universities and when there are, they are about quality, rather than on test execution.”

He says as a result not only is software testing being outsourced but offshored. “…testing is a human resource intensive activity: in spite of all automation work, it requires people. And India therefore looks like good alternative for performing testing work.” He says there are about 165,000 career testers in the world. Nelson Hall expects Indian-offshore based delivered testing services are to grow by 8% in 2012 while onshore-delivered testing services are to decline by 5%.

As well as offering cost savings though centralisation and the introduction of common processes as well as reduced human resources Raviart says a focus on testing will build up a level of expertise. He says there are about 165,000 career testers in the world and adds that application developers/business analysts perform testing as part of their work.

IDC told Computer Weekly last year that software testers are increasingly in demand. In the past software testing has been bundled with projects and often done at the end of the software development lifecycle, but businesses are increasingly contracting independent software testers to test throughout software development, according to Jennifer Thomson, software testing researcher at IDC.

“There is a lot more interest in standalone testing across Europe because there is a focus on quality. When we started looking at software testing, it was predominantly a process that was added at the end. It was often a reaction to a business requirement rather than a sound methodology.”

Suppliers are reacting to this trend. Capgemini, for example, integrated its software testing resources to help it compete with pure-play software testers. The French IT services provider integrated its specialist software testing arm Sogeti with its other testing resources. This bolstered the resources and footprint of the Sogeti business to help Capgemini compete with large software testing specialists.

Geoff Thomson, is chairman of the UK Testing Board and consultancy director at Experimentus, which runs a TMMi accreditation programme. He is a proponent of ingraining testing in the development process. He says there is a trend seeing more and more suppliers are going through accreditation and end user businesses are also doing so to, like HBOS, benchmark suppliers.

Thomson says he is seeing outsourcing of testing of software in terms of does it do what it should and its performance, security and capacity but he says there is a shortage of user testing.

He says while outsourcing is on the up he warns businesses that currently ” most of the really good outsource deals seem to happen after at least two failed attempts, when eventually lessons are learnt and lead to good partnership arrangements.”

 “…overall I see outsourcing of testing as a positive thing that with the right focus and experience can create real value for the customer and supplier. In simple terms a true partnership rather than customer/supplier.”

He says many suppliers are buying into this but he says businesses must not lose control when they outsource. “I also see some suppliers who see the value of a real relationship with the customer and spend time nurturing and supporting their customer to achieve a bigger bang for their buck but there are also a lot who still push the land and expand approach regardless of the client’s wishes.

“I also see stupid customers who see their role as policing the contract to the finest detail creating an adversarial atmosphere which is in no way conducive to lo ng term success.”

He warns that outsourcing is not almost the fastest and cheapest way to test. “In a lot of instances the failures are still due to a belief that outsourcing will reduce costs – in some instances I have seen increases in the actual resources needed to deliver the outsourced service, some as high as a 10 fold increase. In some companies I have seen the recreation of the company test team to retest everything that comes back from the outsourcer, in one company the number of internal testers now is larger than it was before testing was outsourced. How can that be good?”

He says there are common mistakes when outsourcing testing. These include testing providers not being able to contribute to the software development process, businesses outsourcing accountability and responsibility rather than just the testing itself and suppliers putting their best resources on projects initially but then downgrading them later.

Software runs our lives today. We use hundreds of applications without noticing them. Businesses will only prosper if their internal business, their customers and their partners have software that does what it should when it needs to. Failure is expensive. But so too is embedding testing within an organisation. If testing processes can be implemented once by a supplier and used by numerous suppliers the cost savings are obvious as well as the gains in efficiency and effectiveness gleaned through experience by focussed testing organisations.