TCOE: The New Framework for Quality in Business Process Validation
A growing trend. Today, many large enterprises are embracing a “center of excellence” model by forming teams whose charter is to accelerate the deployment of innovation and ensure the quality of business processes and systems. Typically, these teams fall within an IT or Quality organization and are managed as a budgeted line item. This trend marks a radical departure from the past where business process validation and software quality assurance were managed on a “one-off ” project basis – or not at all.
What is triggering the growth in centers of excellence? Now more than ever enterprises are tasked with introducing innovative technologies and new systems at record speed – SAP HANA® in-memory databases, mobility, portal, and cloud technologies are in demand and driving the pace of innovation. This pressure is forcing enterprises to validate business processes and systems at faster rates, even as budget and staff constraints push IT teams to reduce costs. The trend also means increased emphasis on end-to-end business process validation to minimize business disruption when technology changes are introduced. Shortcuts can lead to quality issues and operational problems that organizations need to avoid.
Real business benefits. A center of excellence for software testing provides a framework to speed business process validation, eliminate redundancies, ensure high business process quality, and reduce risk to the organization. In a recent industry survey, over 40% of the companies that use SAP® currently have a Testing Center of Excellence (TCOE) in place or have plans to start one. For many Fortune 1000 firms, it’s the best approach to reduce IT costs, accelerate innovation, sharpen your competency in testing, and improve the quality of business systems – all at the same time.
The goal of a testing center of excellence is to accelerate the delivery of innovation across an enterprise, while driving down the risk and cost of change.
Moving Up the Maturity Curve
Large initiatives don’t work in today’s business and investment climate – and that applies to TCOEs as well. Most organizations don’t invest broadly in a new area until they prove the value on an initial project. The best strategy is to achieve success incrementally, grow initiatives wisely, and mature your organization as you gain competency in automated business process validation.
Perhaps you’ve been doing manual testing for a while, but know you need a change. Maybe your workload has become intractable, or the budget is under pressure. Maybe you’ve just completed a project and had a critical business outage.
No matter what led you to the crossroad, the experience of others can be beneficial in helping you navigate the path forward. Worksoft has seen many companies move along a proven path in establishing testing as a competency and achieving enterprise adoption – along with the dramatic business benefits that result.
Step 1 Set the Proper Foundation: Understand Current Conditions and Objectives
A first step is to understand how your organization is ensuring the quality of systems and business processes today. When and how are systems being tested? How are end-to-end business processes validated? When new technology is deployed, how does your organization know that critical business processes will continue to work as intended? What levels of staffing are in place and what is the level of experience with test automation?
This self-assessment really focuses on three aspects of your preparedness:
- People – How do we create the skills in our organization and grow those skills over time from our current baseline?
- Process – What processes should be altered or added as we establish a formal testing competency to improve business performance?
- Technology – What enabling technologies should we use as a part of this competency?
In addition to preparedness, it’s also a good time to clarify objectives. What project drivers are most immediate?
- SAP HANA® or major SAP® upgrades; other enterprise system deployments
- Acquisition, merger, reorganization or consolidation
- New mobility, cloud or web business applications
- Streamlining systems maintenance or budget reduction initiatives
What risks are of greatest concern that a TCOE can mitigate?
- Business process disruption caused by a software technology problem
- Project failure or lack of adoption of new technology
- Project delays or budget overruns
What are your most important objectives for a TCOE?
- Faster projects and on-time, on-budget execution
- Increased business process quality; catching more defects early before they impact
- Lower technology risk
- Faster deployment of required legal, HR, and compliance updates
- Increased pace of innovation
- Lower staff costs, systems maintenance costs and increased staff efficiency
- Lower stress, increased staff job satisfaction, higher retention, and greater productivity
Step 2 Start with a Project: Learn, Prove and Succeed – Incrementally
Most large companies today want to prove a new approach before making a large scale investment. So the best way to do that is to identify an initial project to demonstrate the value of end-to-end business process validation for a specific project. Fortunately, it’s not difficult to demonstrate the value of automated business process validation – and today’s automation solutions make that a straightforward proposition.
For the typical technology deployment project, you will usually address each of the following areas:
- Install and configure the enabling technology to be used for automated business process validation and functional testing, such as Worksoft Certify®
- Identify the critical business processes to be validated and tested end-to-end
- Educate your team on the automation technology
- Determine which business processes to test using automation, and where to test scenarios manually
- Capture the processes in the automation system and design the functional tests
- Validate the business processes again and again during the course of the project
- Use the business process documents (automatically generated by Worksoft Certify) for staff training, compliance, and other business purposes
Typically, one project is all that is required to demonstrate success and the value of test automation – and to gain the organizational support for investing in testing as a competency.
This Fortune 500 manufacturer releases critical changes and enhancements to its SAP® system once per year. After a recent release, its largest international distribution center could not ship product for 12 hours. The problem was traced back to less-than-thorough testing of the international shipping business process. The awareness of the issue reached the CEO.
Since then, the manufacturer has developed a competency in automated business process validation. The earlier quality assurance processes have been replaced by comprehensive endto- end business process validation. This approach has dramatically expanded the coverage of their quality assurance activites to more than 700 business processes across geographies. To date, they have reduced the time required to test business processes from 14 days and 55 unique testers to about one day with one tester. Going forward, they are well prepared for their regular software release cycles, and with the new approach the risk of business disruption due to technology updates has been dramatically reduced.
Step 3 Build a TCOE Program
Establish Automated Business Process Validation as a Competency
Organizations that build a competency in end-to-end business process validation do so to maximize the ROI for enterprise software QA expenditures, increase the capacity of critical resources, minimize business disruption, reduce time‐to‐market for new products or applications, and change the quality culture within the enterprise.
To achieve business value and innovation, the work of the TCOE must be managed like any other business asset – as an integrated set of repeatable activities focused on producing a positive business outcome. Building a TCOE involves building a competency in testing and entails adopting an approach and a technology across an organization. More expansive than building skills alone, it includes people, processes, and technology.
Several factors are vital to the success of a TCOE program:
- Put in place a leadership structure with an executive sponsor, steering committee, IT and business subject matter experts, and team members dedicated to enabling others in your organization.
- Bring in top ranked automation technology for business process validation, such as Worksoft Certify®, and prepare hardware.
- Manage the TCOE like a project in itself with a project charter, success criteria, clear role definitions, and objectives.
- Manage the test portfolio and identify the next target projects. After completing an initial project, organizations will have an initial business process validation test bed with which to work. This test bed should be leveraged for re-use, but also for determining what to pursue next.
- View the automation portfolio of business processes (and the testing competency itself) as corporate assets. For companies that adopt testing as a competency, automated business process validation is viewed as an asset with a positive business outcome.
- Establish an organizational structure that facilitates the division of labor. Most organizations elect to centralize some element of the competency through a TCOE and then deploy some degree of a federated model depending on the competency and organization. When will the TCOE enable other parts of the organization to become proficient in test automation on their own? When will the TCOE actually build and execute automation for the business?
- Learn through delivery and develop best practices. As the TCOE staff gain experience, be sure to document and communicate best practices in the areas of naming conventions, change management, and the design and execution of automated business process validation.
Step 4 Adopt Across the Enterprise
Establish executive sponsorship. The single most important success factor in enterprise adoption of testing as a competency and the TCOE is strong executive sponsorship and an execution champion. The roles aren’t full time, but they are crucial. Broad enterprise success cannot be achieved without strong sponsorship and leadership.
Prioritize key projects. Building a program and broad adoption also requires identifying the projects, effecting change, quantifying the value and having active support from senior leadership. The way to evolve from a Project to a Program with broad adoption is through finding important projects and driving change. It’s an active process.
Communicate capabilities. Make sure the worldwide organization is aware of the TCOE capability. Develop a “roadmap,” or inventory of work that can be addressed with the testing competency. As part of developing the roadmap, prioritize and begin to develop an organizational talent map. This talent map will be important in managing the TCOE team.
Measure results. Maintaining a portfolio of end-to-end business process scenarios and leveraging them across regression, projects, and performance testing is widely understood. However, where many companies fall short is in measurement and metrics. Are you trending defect rates and quality measures? Are you increasing business process coverage of automation?
Don’t forget to tell the stories of success. Nothing speeds the adoption of new methods like success. Cost savings, efficiency gains, stories of on-time projects, faster innovation, and technology land mines identified in advance and avoided. A steady stream of successful projects and widely communicated successes will ramp up the momentum, recognition, and adoption of the TCOE approach.
Organizations that adopt the TCOE model typically realize dramatic business benefits:
- Significant cost savings, sometimes in the millions of dollars annually with automated business process validation
- Lower technology risk, less chance of business disruption with technology changes, and fewer defects in production
- Shorter project timelines, fewer project delays, and faster deployment of innovation
- Higher staff job satisfaction through greater career path opportunities, elimination of highly repetitive tasks and greater focus on higher value added activities
Like most competitive advantages, there is a window of opportunity now for operating companies to seize the benefits of automated business process validation more quickly than their peers and competitors. That window will likely close in the medium term, as automation becomes broadly adopted, raising the bar for all industry players as it becomes standard “must have” technology over the next 5 years.