Testing is IT's elephant in the room: Micro Focus

For a growing number of organisations today, their software is the first or only means of interaction with their customers. It is, therefore, essential that it works.

Most organisations have now realised that the effect of poor or insufficient testing can be disastrous. A 2002 study conducted by the US-based National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) calculated that software errors account for $US59.5 billion worth of loss each year in the US alone. But the cost of defective software is not only financial. The effects of poor testing now stretch way beyond the back office, to the boardroom and even to the brand.

Toyota’s recent recall of hundreds of thousands of its hybrid vehicles (such as the successful Prius model) due to a problem with braking is one such example. What was believed to be little more than a small software glitch not only left the car giant over $US2 billion out of pocket, but also risked the brand’s reputation on a global scale. The effect this may have had on the brand’s long-term standing will not be truly understood for at least another decade.

Software testing is no longer the domain purely of large organisations running major enterprise systems. From independent software vendors through to one-man-band developers, testing is now an essential element of the IT function. The potential cost of IT failure is simply too high to be ignored.

A new generation of software testers

With software testing growing in stature, it is little surprise that the typical profile of a tester is changing.

In the past, the common misconception was often that software testers were lower-skilled than other IT professionals such as developers. However, professional qualifications in testing are now commonplace and the majority of today’s practitioners are degree-educated.

The emergence of a new generation of highly-skilled and educated testers across the globe is proof of the industry’s growing importance. With testing now being incorporated into agile development practices, quality is becoming a critical element of any software development effort.

According to a benchmarking report by NATA accredited software testing firm, KJ Ross Associates, the IT skills shortage continues to plague executives and developers alike and could lead to significant delays in the development of software and systems. The 2010 Ross Report found that there will likely be an increase in demand for an extra 1500 to 2000 software testers in Australia over the next two years.

Gartner Inc. has estimated that, within non-software companies, the highest ratios of testers to developers is around 1:3, meaning that many companies may have a ratio of four or five to one, or even more. When one considers that between a third and a half of the total cost of application development is accounted for by the testing process, this seems ominously low. Such discrepancies between demand and supply show why the testing stage often becomes a bottleneck in the software development lifecycle.

More co-operation is needed to address skill shortages

While automation tools are capable of reducing much of the tester’s workload, it is clear that software testing, as a growing area of the IT industry, will require more skilled professionals in the years ahead. While the growing status of the industry will no doubt help in attracting new graduates and school leavers into the profession, as with all skills shortages, this will not be solved overnight.

Rather, it will require the co-operation of government, business and academia to identify the areas in which shortfalls are the highest and to then tailor curricula to meet these needs. While this shortfall is being addressed, responsibility for ensuring software quality will fall upon the shoulders of every stakeholder involved in the project, from analysts through to developers.

We need to jointly work on improving the ratio of testers to developers; otherwise there is a serious risk of software testing becoming stifled by a lack of available talent. Identifying and tackling skills shortages in testing will be deciding factors in whether the sector flourishes over the coming decade.

Bruce Craig is Micro Focus’ country general manager for Australia and New Zealand. Based in Sydney, Bruce is responsible for further extending the company’s healthy foothold in the application modernisation market into new growth areas such as application testing and ASQ (Application Software Quality).

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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