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Updated: July 30, 2011 19:06 IST

Growth of specialised software testing

D. Murali
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The outsourced ‘testing’ market, which was virtually non-existent in 1998, grew to USD 10 billion by 2010, notes A. V. Asvini Kumar, Managing Director, Thinksoft, Chennai (http://bit.ly/F4TAsviniK). Citing a NASSCOM report on the software testing industry, that the portion outsourced to India has grown from zero to USD 3.5 billion employing nearly 65,000 people, he adds that about one half of this would be for the BFSI sector. “There is a steady growth forecast at 17 per cent CAGR until the year 2020. In 2010 about 75-80 per cent of the services related to basic functional testing, while the rest was of a specialised nature – performance testing, test consulting, domain /product specific test repositories and frameworks, test process consulting, test portals, test automation etc.,” informs Asvini, during the course of a recent interaction with Business Line.

“My own sense is that this may change to the following by 2020: 40 per cent basic functional testing, 30 per cent specialised work as described above, and another 30 per cent from newer offerings yet to be innovated,” he foresees. “In terms of the market for specialised independent testing service providers for the BFSI sector, I see this as a USD 4.3 billion market, in 2020, from the current USD 800 million.” We continue our conversation over the email.

Excerpts from the interview.

Can you trace the evolution of specialised software testing over the years?

In the early days of computer adoption, it was largely an era of standalone applications developed largely in-house for very specific needs. It was the arrival of the personal computer that provided the conditions that made IT ubiquitous.

Soon the emphasis shifted to software and there was an explosive growth in this area. From a few hundred lines of code, we moved to million of lines of code. This complexity fostered the need for systematic testing as a discipline, within the software development community.

But soon, further technological advances, coupled with the arrival of the World Wide Web, caused an even more rapid proliferation of IT. Failures would now cripple businesses and testing started to become more and more specialised.

For instance:

* Internet-based applications have hundreds of thousands of users who could simultaneously use an application. This raised the whole area of performance testing to a new level.

* Test automation tools industry took shape with the intent to capitalise on the need for improved productivity in the test execution phase, which was seen to have a ‘drudgery’ component.

* As applications became functionally complex and integrated with third-party systems, having ‘domain knowledge’ became a very important condition in order to have a comprehensive test strategy, design, planning and scheduling.

* Newer paradigms like cloud platforms are further ‘democratising’ the testing space, by levelling the playing field for small and medium sized firms. So is the adoption of ‘open source’ approach.

* Future scenarios include ‘model-based testing’ and ‘domain-specific languages’ which will further make the testing process more reliable and speedier.

Would you like to highlight the value that financial software testing adds?

A couple of empirical studies have shown that, when viewed over a 7-year period, the technical effort related to design and development is only 40 per cent of IT application lifecycle total costs, while all other work, a large part being testing, could be as high as 60 per cent. Of this, a significant portion is the “avoidable rework” component, arising mainly due to repetitive testing necessitated by software defects being re-injected throughout the lifecycle. A structured and rigorous testing methodology based on domain knowledge and appropriately automated frameworks can go a long way in mitigating this situation.

Today the buzz word is ‘green’ and, in a manner of speaking, adequate software testing lowers the level of overall effort and resources used up in IT application lifecycle and hence can qualify for being environment-friendly.

Your observations on the security threats faced by financial sector organisations.

There is a worldwide organised data cyber-crime industry which is working overtime to commit various levels of fraud – right from selling personal demographic data, to actually wrongfully transacting on stolen credit card data. The recent security violation for the Sony Playstation is a case in point where thousands of credit cards were compromised.

Cyber criminals have created malware programs that work at a speed of billions of comparisons per second in an effort to break open your passwords and decipher your encryptions.

The (PCI-DSS) Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard, and the BITS AUP standard are some of the initiatives being taken to mitigate data theft. But, this is only the tip of the iceberg and there is a case to take things on a war footing.

How comfortable is India in terms of talent required?

According to the NASSCOM report on software testing industry, the total workforce in this market increased from 31,000 people in 2006 to 63,000 people in 2010, growing at 18.73 per cent CAGR.

Further, extrapolating from the revenue/ employee ratio in 2010, we arrive at a total workforce requirement of 2,68,000 for the year 2020, which means a massive increase of more than 2,00,000 people coming in.

Take the case of the BFSI sector, which accounts for almost 50 per cent of the testing business and where additional ‘domain related expertise and competencies’ are a ‘must-have’ skill. The task looks very daunting in a situation where almost 75 per cent of the fledgling graduates are “unemployable” and have to be put through at a least a year of further specialised training and coaching on the job.

The only way out in this scenario is for the financial sector and the testing sector to collaborate and go all out and create a specialised curriculum including an on-the-job training framework leading to a post-graduate diploma is financial software testing. Agencies like NASSCOM and NSDC (National Skill Development Corporation) could take the lead in this by collaborating with the industry stakeholders to come out with a blueprint to create at least 25,000 “software testing professionals” every year, at least 30 per cent of whom should be specialists.

What are some of the challenges before the managements of software testing companies?

A formidable set of challenges faces the management teams in charge, as follows:

* Creating a productive, competent, responsive and skilled workforce.

* IP-based offerings to deepen specialisation, enhance productivity, and achieve scalability.

* Leveraging technological trends to drive newer business models.

* Branding and positioning the business to meet customer expectations.

Given the fact that customers will exert great pressure on lowering their total costs year-on-year, combined with steady increase in wages in India, the workforce has to get a lot more productive; otherwise, there will be a shortage of qualified and capable people and a danger of losing out on the business growth and opportunities.

This can only be achieved by a drive towards specialisation, using a combination of increased application of domain expertise, large scale test automation frameworks, leveraging of newer paradigms like cloud computing and development of specialised methodologies and techniques. This necessarily means that a lot of attention and efforts have to go into methodology research, innovation, tool creation and knowledge management systems.

Any other points of interest.

A note of caution would be apt. The recent NASSCOM report on software testing talks about how customer demands are evolving from “staff augmentation to managed centres of excellence” and how there is a move from “cost orientation to business orientation”. While this may be true of a few “enlightened “customers, the reality is quite the opposite.

Businesses need to achieve growth in the face of competition, regulations and spiralling costs. Service innovation, use of technology, and outsourcing are some of the important tools available to them for this. Today, business stakeholders delegate everything to the IT department/ CIO/ CTO – right from product choice, vendor selection, project management, delivered quality, pricing etc. And, this results in grossly sub-optimal outcomes for the business.

Instead, they need to get more involved as business stakeholders and have a well-defined role in the governance of innovation, technology and outsourcing. They should clearly articulate the strategy, goals of outsourcing and ensure they get the outcomes desired. After all, it is their budget, and the IT department/ CIO/ CTO are only an enabling and supporting plank.

Finally, to reiterate, customer behaviour will drive outcomes, and not tools, technology, or service provider intentions. Only the emergence of such newer business- and customer-driven paradigms will propel the outsourced testing services industry to put into place all the necessary methodologies, tools, technology environments, business models, governance structures etc. And drive it towards creating the workforce which can live up to these expectations.

**

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