Are Mobile Apps Leaving Quality Assurance Practices Behind?

Consumerization of IT and BYOD have increasingly put IT organizations on the hook to deliver continuous access to employees and customers. But despite the focus on mobility, quality assurance of mobile apps is being left behind.

Enterprises everywhere these days are struggling with the consumerization of IT and especially the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) phenomenon. Mobility is changing the way people play and work, and IT organizations are being asked to deliver continuous access to employees and customers using an astonishing array of devices. But despite the importance of mobility, when it comes to quality assurance (QA) of mobile apps, most enterprises are falling behind the curve.

In general, QA has been quietly evolving from in-house testing generalists into a structured and efficient discipline, says Charlie Li, vice president, Global Service Line Testing, at consulting firm Capgemini. QA is exerting more influence on the application development lifecycle. But that holds true only for traditional QA. Most organizations today don't even test their mobile apps, Li says: Only 31 percent of organizations today currently test mobile applications, according to a recent report by Capgemini, its subsidiary Sogeti and HP.

The 2012-2013 World Quality Report was based on 1,553 detailed interviews with senior executives from a range of IT and business-related functions in medium and large companies, government and public sector organizations across 25 countries.

QA Lacks Tools for Mobility Testing

"We found that a large number of organizations out there today do not have the right tools or processes to do mobility testing," says Li, co-author of the World Quality Report.

Sixty-five percent of organizations say they do not have the right tools to test mobile applications, and 52 percent say they do not have access to the required devices. In addition, 34 percent of organizations say they lack the necessary testing methodologies and processes, and 29 percent say they lack the specialist expertise to effectively certify mobile applications.

[eBook: Strategic Guide to Enterprise Mobile Applications]

"Really, from a development perspective, developing for mobile isn't all that different," Li says. "But QA has been kind of left in the dark. How do you simulate a network, especially a roaming network? How do I get India and China to test a mobile phone roaming in France? What happens when consumers take a device outside the country and begin roaming in a different country? Not all mobile networks are built the same. You have different technologies, speeds and security parameters."

BYOD Exacerbates IT's Problem

The BYOD culture exacerbates the problem, Li says, by dramatically increasing the number of possible combinations that organizations need to consider. After all, in the U.S. you have four carriers, a plethora of operating systems and a multitude of firmware versions.

This issue has influenced how organizations select external partners to assist with mobile testing, Li says. The number one criterion (62 percent) cited by firms when selecting an external partner was the capacity to test across several networks.

Li explains that organizations that do conduct mobile testing appear to have a different set of quality standards for mobile testing than they do for traditional testing. In traditional testing, functionality and security tend to top the list of priorities, but efficiency of performance was the focus of mobile testing activity for 64 percent of firms. Functionality was only a priority for 48 percent of firms and security was only a priority for 18 percent of organizations.

[Related: CIO Challenge: Mobile App Vendors Bypass IT]

"This does not mean that companies are no longer concerned with security, but rather that the perspective on security has changed with the bring-your-own-device culture and method of disseminating apps," the report said. "Unlike with traditional desktops, companies cannot control what apps are installed on personal devices, so the concept of security is shifting from a denial of access to the protection of sensitive data and ability to wipe clean apps or data."

Mobile Testing Needs to Be an Integrated Element of QA

But organizations need to take it further, Li says. Mobile testing needs to become a fully integrated element of the QA discipline so the enterprise's mobile strategy takes testing into account from the start of any development project.

"The strategy should consider the objectives of the business owner, how the mobile app is delivered, and the target user for the app whether that be customers, suppliers or employees," the report said. "Organizations need to accept the paradigm shift brought about by mobility and embrace the new notion of quality for mobile apps, which is a departure from traditional standards applied to desktop applications."

[Related: Feds Probe Mobile App Privacy Safeguards]

"No doubt, the standardization of devices will ease the complexity over time, but in the short term, proliferation of smartphone and mobile devices, the roll-out of 4G, and use of social media will only continue to exacerbate the situation. As will the need to focus on the user experience and functionality testing as well as performance. If organizations are to turn the mobile opportunity into a business advantage, some will need to "skill up" or "skill out."

Thor Olavsrud covers IT Security, Big Data, Open Source, Microsoft Tools and Servers for CIO.com. Follow Thor on Twitter @ThorOlavsrud. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Thor at tolavsrud@cio.com

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