By Jurudoe Harris Martin, Director at Capgemini Financial Services
When I use an application as a consumer, the experience can either reassure me about my relationship with that organization or call it into question. For example, when an application is about to timeout, and I select the button to extend the session, the session should continue. When I submit the form, but it tells me that it timed out anyway, that’s not a good user experience. I might wonder if there are other issues hidden within the application.
Businesses don’t want questions and doubts in their customers’ minds. As a VAR, you can help your clients build an excellent customer experience by making the quality assurance process a top priority. The essence of quality assurance is to ensure that the business requirements, including the exact needs of the end user and of your client, are met. And integration can be an even bigger issue than the quality of a single application. You might have several products that work great on their own, but when they’re put together as a system, things fall apart. As a reseller, you can really help your clients with integration because you know the lay of the land through experience with other customers.
I’d like to share several ways that you can add substantial value by establishing a quality assurance process.
1. Integrate QA Fully Into Development
Make QA an integral part of your software or system development life cycle. Don’t let quality assurance be an afterthought, let it be foremost in your mind. QA should be part and parcel of all your product offerings. When you deliver, you must ensure that your product has been vetted, tested, and is market ready—free of any bugs, at least as much as humanly possible.
Clients often purchase products with the intention of using them together. So, how do we integrate them? First, find the integration points, then determine if there is a prebuilt integration or if you need to develop a custom connection.
Then, to make sure the integration is vetted and fully tested, you not only need to ensure that product A can speak to product B, you also must ensure the output from the integration is exactly what the client requires.
In other words, testing should match development, requirement by requirement.
2. Schedule Adequate Time for Testing
Integrating QA into the software development life cycle is the first step, but it does not help if inadequate time is allocated for testing. If your quality assurance process is just a rubber stamp to say that a product has “gone through QA,” it’s not enough. That’s always been my pet peeve. You must allow sufficient time for QA to happen and allocate time to fix any issues.
3. Define the Requirements Thoroughly
The adage “garbage in, garbage out” still stands true. To ensure quality, you need to work on the front end to make sure the product you deliver meets the client’s specific requirements. Those requirements should be verified before any work begins. If your client doesn’t provide the correct information with adequate specificity, you are not going to know what to look for when testing. Here are some examples of specific client requirements:
- This field must be blue.
- I need to move to this field next.
- This is an alphanumeric text field.
Everything that’s required for any type of application must be clearly defined. Don’t assume that a developer will guess correctly.
4. Don’t Rush Into Production
Do not ever push anything into production that has to be customer- or client-facing without having it totally vetted. If it needs more time for testing and fixes, take the time. Your reputation—and your client’s—is on the line.
5. Set Up Testing for the Real World
Make sure that the user experience being tested resembles the real world and is not just an abstract technical specification. Develop scenarios and test against how users really will use the application—not only one field at a time—and on the devices that they will use to access the application. Test at peak times and test on cell phones if that is required. Don’t do all your testing on a device that your customers rarely use.
This is easier than some might think. We use an analytics tool monthly to report access via web and mobile web applications. The tool reports the number of laptop users, iPhone users, and so on, for any given period. You can then break it down further. For example, how many users are on iPhone 8? Ten users? Now we know not to spend time testing on iPhone 8, but on iPhone 13, which is what most are using. The tool also identifies peak usage, so you don’t bring the system down for maintenance during that time.
This is a critical part of your testing strategy. You should be able to say to your client, “Okay, we’re rolling this thing out, we’re putting it into production. These are the best times to perform any required maintenance based on this analytical tool.”
Quality Assurance Doesn’t Stop with Development
As a VAR, you are in a unique position to add value by providing additional guidance to create a great user experience driven by quality. In fact, I sell the importance of quality to all my clients. I always stress that this product that we’re going to be rolling out will be fully tested and vetted. I know they have an internal acceptance team that will test the application, which is great, but I like to let every client know how important quality assurance is to me.
After all integrations are vetted and tested, you can help clients further by ensuring that sanctioned, tested applications are included in a single sign-on portal. Additionally, it is important that clients identify non-sanctioned applications that could have negative effects on areas such as security, compliance, or privacy.
Create a Single Sign-on Portal
Applications that are easy to access and use give a feeling of quality. When users can get to confidential information seamlessly but also securely, they feel good about the experience and get the most value from your IT product. When integrating systems for a client, you can create a single sign-on portal, which not only improves the customer experience, but security, too. When someone logs into a secure portal, they can accomplish a variety of tasks that require security, such as requesting time off or accessing performance review and salary data. But if your portal requires VPN access, consider separating less-sensitive applications, such as email or meetings, so that users don’t need to go through a portal to access them.
Evaluate Shadow IT
Shadow IT is what users install on their machines without permission to get their work done. Sometimes, it’s OK to leave it, but a process should be in place to evaluate when you allow an application into your system or a client’s system.
For example, many companies exclusively used Microsoft Teams for conference calls pre-COVID—and largely for internal meetings. During the pandemic, demand from customers to meet virtually using non-sanctioned software, such as Zoom, rose. One way to solve this without interfering with internal systems is to allow Zoom as a web client only—no software is installed. When software is not on the corporate single sign-on portal it can’t affect anything there.
This is the type of evaluation every company should make. Maybe allow an application if it stands alone and does not interact with other core systems or cause a security or privacy risk. A regular QA process should be in place to disallow applications that have not been vetted, but if you can allow a thoroughly vetted application, maybe you should—it’s more friendly.
Quality Assurance Is a Core Requirement
While your clients dream up features for the applications they need, you can emphasize that quality baked into the process is central to the project’s ultimate success. It can be considered a core feature to help build and maintain your client’s reputation.
Jurudoe-Ann Harris Martin is an avid Information Technology professional with standout achievements in project management, test management, system implementation, process improvements, and consulting in the IT arena. She is currently a Director of Quality Assurance at Capgemini. Jurudoe is a mentor to several IT professionals and seeks to encourage young women to pursue their professional dreams. Jurudoe holds an MBA from the Pennsylvania State University’s Smeal Graduate School of Business. She also holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Finance from Providence College.