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Tackling bugs and glitches

Tuesday November 20 2012

Software glitches and bugs cost High Street and online retailers dearly in terms of financials and reputational damage, according to software quality expert Peter Shieber

Software glitches and bugs cost High Street and online retailers dearly in terms of financials and reputational damage, according to software quality expert Peter Shieber


Glitches and bugs represent the downside of innovation. Driven by pressure on retailers to keep pace with increasingly higher customer expectations, retail technology has moved far beyond back office or point-of-sale (PoS) systems, according to Peter Shieber, head of UK performance and technical testing at software quality management provider SQS.


The ability to develop, integrate and manage new channels including online marketplaces and m-commerce is becoming key to differentiation. But Shieber highlighted how, unfortunately, increased risks are a by-product of the rapid innovation and adoption of sophisticated technologies. “Testing and software quality assurance (QA) can help mitigate those risks and increase confidence in delivering a new technology on schedule that’s right first time,” he said.


Retailers such as Specsavers know this only too well. SQS experts deliver end-to-end testing of Specsavers business applications, from performance through to automated regression testing, with focus on raising quality, reducing risk and increasing the throughput of change.


John Lister, chief information officer at Specsavers, commented: “With over 1,500 stores and 26,000 staff, Specsavers is a fast growing business that is dependent on robust and effective technology to enable us to provide great service to our customers. It’s therefore critical that we have a software testing and QA process that helps us to deliver quality software solutions that are great value for money, quickly and efficiently.”


Ticking the quality box


Shieber said new software quality challenges for retailers include a wider spread of applications, especially on smartphones, integration of new applications with legacy systems and the sheer diversity of consumer platforms. To meet these challenges, retailers invest in model store test-beds, test environments, performance testing and automated testing when replicating processes and testing on a large scale.


Critically, surveys have found that approximately 70% of errors in software projects occur at early analysis and design stages. Incomplete or inaccurate requirement specifications and inadequate testing can cause considerable rework and recovery costs. “Early error detection and correction can cut the resulting costs by up to 90%,” Shieber added.


With fundamental software quality practices in place, any knee-jerk reactions resulting from a critical defect can be avoided by implementing key procedures.


1. Testing Health Check – Up to 60% of IT projects fail to reach their targets and half overrun their budgets, while as many as 90% do not meet their schedules at all. A Health Check is an independent review of testing processes and procedures that can help reduce project risks and improve the quality of delivered applications.


2. Performance Testing – For online retailers, if a website fails to meet performance expectations customers will go elsewhere. Performance is subject to fluctuations according to external factors, such as the season, time of day and special offers, so continual performance testing is business-critical.


3. Operability Testing - Failure to meet product availability requirements interrupt retailers’ operating schedules, resulting in a potential loss of customers. There are many solutions that ensure high availability of servers, switches, databases, etc and testing functionality in the live environment is critical. These tests ensure, for example, that online ordering systems can be used by customers without any problems in the event of a component failure.


4. Regression Testing in Maintenance - Recently the number of test objects (component or system to be tested) has risen by an average 66% a year. The costs and risks of test procedures are also rising, including regression testing to check backward compatibility of new applications. Manual regression testing is increasingly unable to keep pace with the volume of tests when introducing a new application so Shieber said automated regression testing on an industrial scale, at facilities such as SQS’ Test Automation Factory, is becoming attractive to retailers.


“The pace of technology development and the rapid evolution in consumer behaviour places pressure on retailers to deliver innovation quickly,” concluded Shieber. “With robust software quality processes, retailers’ can safeguard business and IT processes, reduce costs and increase customer satisfaction.”