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Stephen O'Reilly, SunGard Global Services
Stephen O'Reilly, SunGard Global Services
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Trying to Ease the Pressure: System Testers in the Spotlight

Following a few high-profile trading system failures, financial firms are placing more emphasis on testing, and pressure on personnel.

Earlier this year, SunGard Global Services conducted a survey (PDF) into the current state of system testing in financial services organizations. The aim was to understand a bit more about this often overlooked but critical part of day-to-day operations in the industry. What it revealed was a discipline under enormous pressure. And, it appears that the in-house staff are bearing the brunt of the pressure and pain.

Stephen O'Reilly, SunGard
Stephen O'Reilly, SunGard Global Services

Internal IT environments are becoming ever more complex, making the testing of IT systems increasingly difficult. This, coupled with the fact that these IT systems are more mission critical than ever, makes for a potent combination. Finding the most efficient and effective methods of conducting system testing is therefore a key concern for all organizations. One of the main findings of the survey, however, is the lack of a clear consensus amongst testers of how to go about this.

The survey found that the importance of system testing is now being reflected in the extra resources that is typically being allocated to it. However, with no clear agreement between survey respondents on the best way to carry out system testing. It's perhaps no surprise that this increased budget isn't seen as enough. It's not uncommon in such situations for more and more money to be thrown at a problem in an attempt to solve it, but in current economic conditions, the amount of money available for these things isn't endless.

The expertise of the typical employee tasked with system testing appears to bear this situation out. The survey revealed that the second largest group of testers is internal staff, who are untrained for the tasks they have been asked to do. By contrast, external contractors (independent experts in Testing) made up the smallest group. Given that 78% of respondents said that testing once under way had a medium to high impact on day-to-day business operations, there is clearly an extraordinary amount of pressure on untrained, in-house staff. Small wonder then that they feel the need to request more budget to ensure they get things right.

Given this, and the clear appetite by the survey respondents to improve how system testing is completed, it's interesting to see that many were considering outsourcing part or all of their system testing needs. The average size of an internal system testing team is between one and five people. By outsourcing to experts, institutions might be able to improve efficiency but also free up already limited internal resource to concentrate on other areas. System testing really seems a classic example of where everyone involved can benefit from bringing in outside expertise for all, or part, of the process.

Stephen O'Reilly is Quality Assurance & Testing Practice Lead at Sungard Global Services.

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Greg MacSweeney
Greg MacSweeney,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/30/2013 | 3:07:28 PM
re: Trying to Ease the Pressure: System Testers in the Spotlight
Agreed. Most organizations underestimate the time it takes to test. Most plans account for 1 or 2 testing cycles before the project is complete, and most people hope the 1st test will go cleanly and then the software can go to production. However, as we know, that rarely happens.

Every time a bug is found, it has to be fixed, and the test has to be run again. Find, fix, run test again. Find, fix, run test again. Find, fix, run test again. Find, fix, run test again.

So, yes, testing often does take much longer than the actual development time.
User Rank: Apprentice
5/30/2013 | 8:14:38 AM
re: Trying to Ease the Pressure: System Testers in the Spotlight
Internal staff will usually have a role to play and that is in the final acceptance of the system. If using expert resources either from internal IT Teams or outsourcing then the key is those people being involved early on in the process. They should understand the key areas of risk from a Business perspective and also from a technical perspective.

Estimation models that provide some reliable estimates as to man days of testing required are also lacking. Investment in automation tools can save time but its important to understand from the outset where they will add value and tests reusable and where manual methods are more suitable to the task.

Most project Managers underestimate when it comes to the testing effort required. A simple rule of thumb that allocates say, 50% of the development time as a testing estimate is no good any more and testing on complex financial systems can take much longer than the development time.

Understanding the Requirements is key and making sure at the outset they are reviewed by stakeholders and approved. The testing team needs to spend a reasonable amount of time analyzing those requirements in preparation for designing the tests.

IT People will never understand exactly how a user might decide to interact with a new piece of functionality e.g. a Trader and so its important to get user input before go live.
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