Is your bank cheating on its quality assurance tests?

By Mark Medlin, CTO, Paragon Application Systems

Mark Medlin, CTO, Paragon Application Systems

The payments landscape has grown increasingly more complex over the past decade.  A steep increase in the number and variety of endpoints, an expanding number of consumer devices and payment apps, the rising expectation of “always-on” availability and increased levels of regulatory scrutiny have all contributed to that fact. However, the testing methodologies used to ensure the payment systems remain available whenever and wherever they are needed have not kept pace with these changes.

"Financial institutions should heed the warning of their peers and proactively give testing the attention it needs"

Many financial services providers continue to risk relying on dated testing methods developed in the1980s. Without testing procedures that are specifically designed for today’s payments ecosystem, these organizations cannot ensure the consumers that rely on them will be able to conduct their daily lives without significant interruption. When a debit card or ATM transaction is interrupted, a large number of people are negatively impacted and whether these failures are minor annoyances or major issues, they inevitably erode consumer trust and damage the reputations of the companies involved.

Upgrading payments testing platforms and adopting a more advanced testing strategy can help lower risk and the possibility of these types of failures. Financial services executives should consider a move to a next generation payments testing strategy to increase code coverage, reduce inefficiencies and ultimately better serve customers.

The Benefits Of A Next Generation Testing Strategy

The majority of payments testing today involves quality assurance (QA) staff manually running isolated tests using desktop tools located in physical labs. With this approach, tests that may only last around 30 seconds can take anywhere from four to six hours to set up, resulting in high overhead and labor costs, as well as a painstakingly slow pace across the testing process. Because this manual method forces testers to conduct a wide array of tests in an attempt to locate critical errors – something akin to  shooting in the dark at times – only around 20 percent or less of the desired scenarios are actually tested, leaving entirely too much to chance.

Increasingly, financial institutions are conducting thorough self-assessments of their broad testing strategies, evaluating the amount of code they’re able to test using their current testing methods. Many are uncomfortable with the minimal level of code coverage they are realizing and the inefficiencies that complicate their already existing issues related to compressed resources and timelines for the overall testing process.  Financial services providers faced with these challenges are re-evaluating their overall testing process and implementing next generation testing solutions that address them.

Next generation testing solutions incorporate automation and virtualization to revolutionize the testing process. Automation liberates testing staff from repetitive tasks allowing them to focus on the more complex responsibilities they have been trained to do. This automation also provides a continuous testing environment that is better adapted to the agile development strategies many banks use where products are enhanced using compact release cycles of weeks and months rather than years. Virtualization, on the other hand, reduces the need for testers to be attached to device simulators and machines, like ATMs, that come in many “flavors.”

Looking to the Cloud

Next generation testing options are being typically employed using the cloud. This approach transforms the testing process by offering more access, efficiency and collaboration than traditional test labs that are isolated within physical infrastructures.  As an efficient, cost conscious model for outsourcing, cloud environments provide companies with the ability to utilize and coordinate remote teams located anywhere in the world setting up the capability to “test with the sun” as teams come online in various time zones. This flexibility also enables payments organizations to recruit the best talent without geographic restrictions.

Effective testing software should be configurable for both public and private cloud environments, as evolving circumstances could likely dictate a shift between these models. In a private cloud model, the company installs the testing platform on its hardware behind a firewall. In a public cloud approach, software can either be installed on a third party environment, or some companies may choose to have a third party manage the testing environment in a Software as a Service (SaaS) offering. Each method has its own unique set of advantages and limitations, so each organization must determine what works best for its unique business model.

A Mindset, Not a Plug-In

Dedication to a higher quality of testing requires more than a simple installation of new platforms or products. Next generation solutions must be accompanied by a coordinated strategy across the application development, testing and release disciplines that complements release cycles as noted above regarding the uptick in adoption of the agile development approach. Without this foundation, tools and testing automation will be piecemeal at best compromising the complete value that can be realized.

Organizations will need to promote the adoption of a continuous testing mindset which is materially different than the approach of testing a single software update or release.  This is a non-trivial requirement if a company wants to lower risk and inefficiencies associated with testing approaches that date back to the 1980s. These older approaches are built on processes with a finite beginning and end. As the term implies, continuous testing is never complete; it must adapt and run and adapt just as fast as today’s markets and regulations change.

Little Resistance to Change, For a Change

Even though any type of organizational change can be challenging, especially for longtime staffers, a move to next generation test systems is typically embraced by the IT and development staff. This is often because these are the very people repeatedly facing pressures to work within tighter timeframes and budgets while also testing more moving parts and increasing code coverage.

These professionals are often all too aware that an enhanced, updated working model is long overdue. When implemented properly, this new testing model can actually enhance their roles, relieving pressure while automating cumbersome, mundane tasks and liberating the staff to focus on more high-level, strategic duties such as creating test scenarios and offering new product enhancements.

So, the onus is on the C-level suite to provide reliable testing practices. Anything less is cheating yourself out of proper risk management. Unfortunately, these projects are often put on the back burner until something fails and, at that point, it’s too late. Financial institutions should heed the warning of their peers and proactively give testing the attention it needs. While adopting a next generation testing strategy isn’t an instant fix, it’s a strategic investment that will, over time, lower your organization’s risk profile and reduce inefficiencies in your processes while allowing you to better serve your customers.

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