A staggering amount of capital expenditure today is spent on software and systems. It was only a matter of time before difficult questions were asked about the quality of those systems and ultimately the return on investment.
In today's demanding business environment, what can the IT department offer as an answer to these questions and to measure return on investment effectively? I believe independent software testing has a growing part to play.
Five years ago, who would have thought that auditors and their consultancy practices would be separating? That KPMG Consulting would break away to combine with Atos Origin and PWC Consulting with IBM? In a recent Mori poll, three out of five auditors expressed concern that their independence and impartiality is jeopardised when lucrative consultancy revenues flow from the same client.
It is this "independence" that board rooms across the country are now seeking. Increasingly, regulatory bodies too, such as the Financial Services Authority, are in search of assurance that an organisation's systems and procedures comply with legally enforceable regulations.
Certainly, the independent testing theme has captured the imagination of the people at Intellect, the new name for the recently merged Computer Services & Software Association and the Federation of the Electronics Industry. A testing group within Intellect has been formed, with founding members primarily from the service and software testing tools sectors. The aim of the group is to raise the awareness of testing and develop a common set of testing standards. It can't be any accident either that the largest specialist interest group within the British Computer Society is focused on software testing.
This is an area within IT that has grown rapidly in recent years and it is gaining attention. Looking forward, Gareth Johnson, analyst at Ovum, says, "Testing service revenues are expected to grow substantially from 2004 onwards and at a higher rate than products."
The benefits of a professional approach to software testing have also been understood by many major corporations as they create centralised testing teams to provide some level of quality control to the development, roll-out and ongoing enhancement of key IT systems.
In my experience, testing professionals have no interest in beating their development peers around the head. They simply want to contribute to the success of a development or integration project and be recognised as specialists in their own right.
Testing is now woven into the fabric of most major IT programmes and as well as addressing functional issues, is enjoying the limelight in performance testing. For example, when two corporations merge they have to make a decision as to which system to roll out across the new, enlarged entity. In this scenario or when any new system is implemented, how will it behave with thousands of users?
Online developments catapulted performance testing onto the centre stage but performance, load and stress testing are now evident in most substantial IT projects today. Of course, security testing is another new high-profile area, with organisations mindful of their vulnerability to internal, malicious or even terrorist attack across their global networks.
Johnson believes that outsourcing to a specialist is particularly "cost effective when there is a short-term need for a specific type of testing that requires expensive tools and hardware". And when reputational risk is at the top of the list for many organisations, independent testing makes even more sense.
Testing also has a part to play in the growing appetite for offshore software development. It is one thing to present a case for aggressive cost cutting, but quite another to be convinced that the quality of your application is not being compromised. However, the possibility to combine a cost-effective offshore development shop with an independent onshore testing partner, underwriting quality assurance at the outset and quality control at the end of the process, is very compelling.
As outsourcing continues to grow unabated, senior IT directors and procurement managers may want to consider outsourcing testing services to a third party, specialist testing provider. In doing so they create a "gamekeeper" to watch over the "poacher" and while regulatory bodies will not allow organisations to absolve themselves of responsibility for their systems, independent testing could provide an enhanced approach to risk management.
Where systems are developed or sourced and implemented by systems integrators, how comfortable are we with the same integrator giving us an assurance as to quality or fitness for purpose? Of course, introducing another third party into your plans may not be a prospect to relish. However, testing solutions providers see themselves as the "mortar between the bricks", underpinning the quality of each supplier and system deliverable.
Tony Wells is chief executive of Mission Testing