Mobile revolution brings user experience testers to the fore

The unglamorous user experience testing function is at the centre of business strategy in the mobile computing age

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The frequency of operating system (OS) updates and the regular launch of devices in the mobile computing age have put the unglamorous user experience testing function at the centre of business strategy. It has also increased the propensity for user experience software testing to be carried out by third parties.

As customers increasingly demand to be served via their mobile devices, sectors such as banking and retail need to have mobile business strategies if they are to survive.

User experience is arguably the most important measure of any app. The only thing worse than not offering a customer “an app for that” is offering them one that is slow or doesn’t work.

Many brands have been tainted by a storm of criticism on Twitter when customers have had trouble accessing and using a mobile app. 

In the days before 24/7 mobile interaction was mainstream and the arrival of social media, a bank could have had some downtime of online systems and only a few people would know about it. But today, even the shortest period of downtime is revealed to the world by news websites within minutes of customers crying foul through social media.

Investing in software testing

User experience testing, where companies regularly test out how apps are performing for customers, is therefore an area in which businesses must invest time and resources like never before.

It adds weight to an already growing software testing industry. According to IDC, spending on discrete software testing in Europe will grow by an average of 13.7% each year from 2014 to 2018. Spending reached reach about $5.8bn in 2013 and will hit $11bn by 2018, it has predicted.

"The impact of digital transformation [and technologies such as mobile] places increasing pressure on IT organisations to meet the ever-increasing needs of the business," said Jennifer Thomson, director of IDC European Services. 

"The time to market of quality applications is critical, but developing and delivering software releases and new customer-facing applications on time is a growing challenge. We find the shift to a digital and mobile world fuels demand for discrete application testing services across Europe," she added.

Benefits of outsourcing

Shoreditch-based mobile app developer Red C has developed more than 100 mobile apps over the past five years, for organisations including Save the Children and utilities infrastructure services provider PN Daily.

Rob Sturgess, managing director of Red C, said mobile apps need to be constantly tested because of new operating systems, new releases and new devices.

Independent testers are more thorough than the developers, and they will find problems that the developers would not

Red C has outsourced its testing. “It is pretty much impossible to test everything internally, so we outsource it,” said Sturgess.

But outsourcing testing is not just about bolstering resources. Sturgess said independent testers are more thorough than the developers, and they will find problems that the developers would not.

“When you build something, you build it in a certain way and test it in the same way. But users who do not understand the app might not use it right,” he said.

Sturgess said that due to the labour-intensive nature of user experience testing in the past, where people tested apps out by using them, applications were unlikely to have been tested on more than five devices.

Red C uses specialist software testing firm Testing Performance, a company that grew out of BT when three senior architects left to set up on their own. BT became a customer.

Automated user experience testing

Testing Performance has automated user experience testing through software. Rather than people having to test all parts of an app on a device, the software can be connected to multiple devices to test the user experience and report any possible problems. This eliminates the drain on human resources and allows the app to be tested on multiple devices at the same time.

User experience is arguably the most important measure of any app. The only thing worse than not offering a customer 'an app for that' is offering them one that is slow or doesn't work

Testing Performance director Sascha McDonald said user experience testing for mobile apps is very challenging for businesses because there are so many devices, operating systems and network profiles to test. But automation software enables Testing Performance to increase testing volumes without the need to add people.

The labour-intensive nature of user experience testing makes it an ideal function to outsource, but businesses are looking for more than just full-time equivalents testing the apps on devices.

Improving the testing process

IDC's Thomson says attitudes to external application testing services are evolving. “Research suggests a huge shift in focus from tactical – that is reactive, or "as and when" needed – to strategic quality assurance, with a growing number of enterprises realising the value of a more structured approach.”

Martin Adcock, managing director of consultancy Experimentus, agreed. He said there is evidence that more companies are bringing testing in-house but working in partnership with testing specialists. 

“Companies that are outsourcing are becoming more savvy and are looking at managed testing services and are putting better metrics in place to measure what service providers are delivering,” he said. 

Businesses are looking at service providers to help them improve their own testing processes, he added.

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