Staying Ahead of the Game: The Future of Innovation

Siva Ganesan, Vice President and Global Head of Assurance Services, Tata Consultancy Services, gives insight on the complete reimagination of the assurance space and the innovations that are fulfilling the changing corporate and customer expectations.

It might seem like a cliché that testing and quality assurance (QA) have moved away from being a reactive pursuit. But it is definitively important to reiterate and reinforce that the philosophy of testing today is unequivocally proactive. Whether it be in the use of tools and methodologies, or in testing consumption patterns, QA organisations are now involved right at the outset of the product’s (or services’) lifecycle in assuring end user satisfaction and fulfilment.

The shift in focus on customer experience has led to a fundamental change in the delivery of products and services. Digitisation has become the norm. Brands are being consumed in many different digital guises with omni-channel at the forefront of such consumption. Using this new knowledge of how products and services are consumed, QA specialists are simultaneously engineering to deliver to product quality and a fulfilling experience. Customer feedback and sentiment has, in fact, become critical in deciding on the ‘official’ version of the product. Assurance now means considering the customer’s experience from the beginning.

It sounds controversial, and perhaps a little preservationist, but without this evolution to the modern proactive assurance model, there would be no marketplace left for testing alone. There simply isn’t room for forces that slow down delivery today. Gone are the days when the QA focus was merely on preserving KPIs!

Therefore, as we see speed to market growing in influence, we find assurance specialists innovating and keeping pace; which is why it’s all about the business impact and the customer experience now. And powering these imperatives is a complete reimagination of QA – intelligent automation, agile assurance, DevOps, and a whole new generation of QA tools and frameworks.

It is with this backdrop that we can discuss the innovations in the assurance sphere. While the term innovation means many different things to different stakeholders, this article will summarise some key assurance innovations from process, tool and people perspectives.

Shifting left the right way

The most talked about concept in testing in recent times – shift left – is also the most important innovation in quality assurance. There has been a huge change in attitude towards and within testing through the adoption of this trend. It has had a far reaching impact not only on the time taken for testing, but it has also helped bring down costs, increase overall quality through early detection and fixing, and helped breathe life into rapid release cycles (which are critical for a number of businesses today).

On the face of it, shift left is a fairly straightforward process change. But just like most ideas, it is deceptively simple to understand, yet gloriously difficult to execute. While it espouses early performance testing and more unit testing, it requires the right combination of business, development and testing knowledge. Which is why most QA folks do not shift left the right way!

Under the hood structural quality

Another innovation in testing has been the introduction of structural quality, which has contributed immensely to optimisation in cost of quality. By analysing the cracks prevalent in the code itself, testing and assurance have taken on a proactive role at the building block level, carrying out pre-emptive checks and fixing problems even before they can arise. Structural quality assurance has aided in acceleration and velocity of production in a big way. Today, there are plenty of tools in the market which help QA organisations look for structural anomalies in the existing ecosystem.

Velocity-wise service virtualisation and intelligent testing

Two of the most exciting innovations have been that of service virtualisation and intelligent testing. Through the power of virtualisation, QA organisations can carry out end-to-end testing, without the erstwhile need to wait for someone or a system to process the request on the assembly line. Service virtualisation has enabled a greater number of testing cycles to run in the same amount of time. It has ensured that testing and QA are no longer obstacles or impediments to business.

When meeting today’s speed to market demands, this aid to acceleration has been a vital innovation, along with the evolution of intelligent testing. New automated tools have completely reimagined the way QA organisations provision test data and how they handle test analysis. With elements of automated test bed preparation, self-generating and self-rectifying test scenarios from requirements, completely independent test data and test case preparation and of course, rapid test execution, intelligent testing systems are all set to become the norm.

The two together have increased test coverage considerably and have helped secure a lifelike production environment. They are assisting assurance professionals in safeguarding quality with much more accuracy than ever before.

The DevOps continuum

The most recent development in the QA arena has been that of DevOps. Adding a whole new dimension to ‘shift left’, DevOps takes the concept to an entirely different plane. It not only has an impact on the QA organisation, but to ensure maximum gain, needs to envelop the entire IT organisation as well. The potential of this innovation in process and people aspects is gaining ground.

The assurance people tree

And now, perhaps the most under rated development in testing: the way in which assurance professionals have reinvented themselves. From rapid skilling beyond traditional testing methods to equipping themselves to cope with the need for agile methods in delivering to the contours of quality and speed to market, assurance professionals have redefined what it means to be in QA. The shift isn’t just in the development lifecycle; it is a shift in mind set as well – from reactive to proactive, from detection to prevention, from manual to automated, from bugs to business! Multi-disciplinary teams with techno-functional expertise and skills around assuring customer experience are being created. And a career of choice in this discipline is seen as a viable proposition for many engineers.

Future of assurance innovation

Looking ahead, it is clear that a wide world of possible innovation awaits us all. There is disruption in the air, from new products, new emerging industries and new ways of thinking about assurance. Robotics has become more mainstream, and when you consider the world of smart devices, wearables and the internet of things (IoT), we’re seeing a different ball game altogether. Whether you’re dealing with products that are worn on human bodies, or smart technologies inside the private sphere, there is opportunity for testing and QA to innovate.

It is already at a stage where it is no longer just about assurance for requirements, design, test cases and test data. It is now getting into the realm of virtual reality with more simulations of real life scenarios taking place. Cognitive and behavioural sciences too, along with hardware, software and firmware are coming together to create the most optimum testing arena for the best consumer experience.

The future will also see a change in how we deliver solutions. Cloud services have become popular, and will become the default. Brands and consumers alike will expect no delay in delivery, and the first time right mentality will prevail.

Changes across the different market sectors

As the future looms, we see varied patterns in different market and industry segments. By approaching assurance as a business unit, you get to see both sides of the coin. At TCS we can analyse and evaluate both the similarities and differences in the markets.

There is already a lot of development in the omni-channel space, which offers significant opportunities for brands in the retail and banking sectors. We are seeing a change in how these companies and e-Commerce sites are connecting with different demographics of consumers, and taking full advantage of digitisation and cloud technology. By using predictive analytics, the omni-channel environment can successfully implement forces such as focused advertising, instant social feedback, cross selling and upselling.

In the insurance industry the advent of IoT will have massive repercussions. There will be new product considerations out there, and new ways of dynamically computing insurance calculations. For insurance companies, IoT offers sophisticated ways for real-time claims settlement and a direct link between the insurer and the consumer. This new direct channel will lead to a whole host of exciting opportunities.

The healthcare and wellness sector will also be radically changed in the coming years, as more digital technology is brought in. Regulatory and compliance challenges will ensue, but once taken care of, a new revolution in personal individual healthcare will progress. Digital devices will connect consumers to medical professionals, and metrics and data can be used in everything from calculating personalised tariffs to increasing incentive programmes.

In the telecoms/media/entertainment sector one key change is the mass adoption of digitalised consumer content. We’re already seeing the vast popularity of streaming services such as Netflix and Spotify. This new business model of leasing content to consumers while selling metrics, patterns and analytics directly to advertisers will continue to disrupt the more traditional entertainment industry.

What’s the role of assurance in all this?

Certainly it’s not about test cases and test defects and experience alone. Instead, as the value chain across different industries is being reimagined, the role of assurance will be to ensure that the integrity of this value chain is preserved. Assurance is about making sure there is no dilution in terms of dissemination of information flow from consumer to company.

There is a need for stronger advocacy for the usage of assurance, and to continually push these best practices to the market. A few IT firms recognised early on that while testing was always going to be necessary, today’s fast pace and changing user consumption patterns mean that ‘checklist’ testing or any form of QA that could be considered a hindrance or slowing down of product development and release was going to fall out of fashion, quickly.

Conclusion

The practice of quality assurance lies at the convergence of what the brand wants and what the consumer wants. And it will only get more important as future technology gets developed and more areas of our lives become digitised. Technology disruptions in the future promise complexity for those who want to avoid it and opportunity for those who embrace it. It is important to stay grounded and to listen to the market forces around us.

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