Your IT staff builds, maintains, upgrades and troubleshoots your company's IT hardware, ERP software and a myriad of other systems, but if you're not continuously monitoring and testing the results, can you actually be sure that mission serious systems are operational to their full possible for your business?
For all the speculation that companies spend on their in sequence technology (IT), once the systems are installed and up and running, there is an overwhelming tendency to immediately move on to the next project, or put out the next fire, rather than allocating time and budget toward monitoring, difficult or optimizing the available hardware and software to be sure it's running correctly or optimally. The "get it done and walk away from it to focus on the next thing on the to-do list strategy" falls short of achieving dependability and greatest IT ROI.
So how do under-resourced IT departments go about changing this approach? The idea, argues van Waayenburg, is that it's not just an IT function anymore. "As such, both software testing and superiority assurance is now a more and more imperative focus not just for the IT department, but also the broader business users," he explains. "Poor functionality can impact brand reputation and business revenue and can be very costly to rectify. System outages and downtime as a result of bugs in a software system are deplorable, especially to patrons, and can result in loss of service, revenues, customer trust and, in the case of some organizations' systems, can even be dangerous. In both the public and private sectors, around the world, quality of service is one of the most important factors that can affect business success. Quality declaration, therefore, should be one of the main pillars of any sound business strategy."
IT executive Cathy McClain, who has worked in IT for more than 20 years, including as a former CIO for the Chicago-based generous goods producer, Brunswick Corp., chimed within as well, saying that for her work, testing and retesting and testing again is completely, positively essential. "I'm a testing freak," she said. "You install a brand new system, and then when you have to change things, and you will, you do more testing. You want to do cradle to grave testing. Every change that you make will affect things from right to left. I almost fired someone because he didn't test enough."
Why is this so important? Because "you are going to ruin your business if you don't test," McClain answers.
A key to the process is to not only have the IT team do the testing, she said, but to bring in key business users to be convinced that you're testing the systems the way they are using them. "You have to bring in the business users because the IT team won't bring in every needed variable," McClain cautioned. "They simply can't. The business people know the little things, how the business is changing. The business people know when a process is important, or when it's going to mess up their lives. Then you will be able to start testing the systems in the approved manner. Those to whom it is significant will see the real value."
One category of users, ERP system users and financial staff, will see the value of such testing very clearly, she said, because they know that the accounting software or ERP systems have to work well 100% of the time and they have supplementary everyday jobs for regulatory compliance and other critical business processes. "They know it will ruin their lives" if testing isn't done appropriately and often and if the systems don't perform as required. "You have to do testing all the time.”It is a tedious task, but the ramifications for not doing it are overwhelming. Once you get into it, once you are into the groove, you can do this easily."
At Brunswick, they would even go a step farther, she said. "Once we were done testing, we would try to break the system" by over-stressing it and simulating impossible scenarios. "If those tests passed well, then it was fine."
The biggest lessons, though, come when you don't do such testing, she said with a laugh. "Once you don't do it and you find that your life is in turmoil because you chose not to do it, you'll learn the hard way to do it the next time," McClain said. "It's like when you worked on an Excel spreadsheet for a whole day and didn't save it, and then you walked away for a few hours and returned to find that the power is off. You'll never do that again."
So if you want not to add this to your previously long and growing list of "IT things you need to do and be concerned about," you may have a lot of explaining to do when your IT house of cards comes crashing down at the worst possible moment.