QA is evolving from serving as an independent function within software delivery organizations to become an integral and inclusive part of the team and delivery lifecycle as digital transformation efforts expand. QA pros are no longer solely responsible for testing and finding defects, but now must take pains to ensure that the rest of the software delivery team instills quality in their work, according to this year’s World Quality Report 2020-21 (WQR).
But those QA teams are also being asked to do a lot more with much less. That has forced them to innovate and become more efficient, and they’re having to adjust to new ways of working as a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Here’s more about that key takeaway, as well as other key highlights from the report that your QA team needs to know.
Agile, DevOps adoption is steadily increasing
Agile and DevOps adoption continues to increase, also boosted by COVID-19, and digital transformation efforts are also up. This is pushing QA to speed up and optimize testing within agile and DevOps development, and 40% of respondents said that nearly one-third of their project effort is devoted to testing.
There are significant regional variations, though: only 4% of UK respondents devote more than one-third of their project effort to testing, while almost half of US respondents do.
QA is being pushed to be even more connected to the needs of the business. As the complexity of software development increases, QA teams are on the hook to keep quality high across a broad range of attributes—functional, performance, security, usability, and more—and they are becoming orchestrators of quality within the organization.
Interest in AI in testing is increasing
Almost 90% of respondents claim that testing with AI and testing of AI are the biggest areas of growth planned in their organizations, and 80% intend to increase the number of AI-based trials and proofs of concept.
Figure 2. To what degree do the following statements reflect your plans to utilize AI in QA activities? Source: World Quality Report 2020-21
When QA organizations evaluate their tool sets, they are adding AI as a key criterion, according to 86% of respondents.
While this sounds high, it might be expected to be even higher, the report authors state. But this can be explained by regional variations, such as the relatively low number of Japanese respondents, only 60% of whom consider AI when selecting new QA solutions.
Pressure on QA budgets has increased
The proportion of budget allocated to QA has continued to fall, from a peak of 35% in 2015 to just 22% this year. That means that as digital business grows, organizations must become more efficient, especially in sectors such as retail, e-commerce, and healthcare.
This year, COVID-19 has had a direct economic impact and increased QA teams’ remit. With new projects being put on hold, IT spend has been reduced, and QA budgets have been affected.
Meanwhile, the pandemic has accelerated digital transformation in many sectors. The combination of reduced IT budget and a shift of focus to digital is driving organizations to innovate and become more efficient.
Automation is gaining momentum
The trend toward test automation continues to escalate, with 68% of respondents saying that they have the automation tool sets that they need, and 63% saying they have enough time to build and maintain automated tests.
But only 18% are automating their user acceptance tests and unit testing. While that’s an increase of 3% over last year, the overall test automation rate of 15% leaves considerable room for improvement.
It’s difficult to reconcile these findings, given that in last year’s WQR, 65% of respondents said that applications change too frequently for them to keep up. That was up 2% from the previous year. Given the turmoil of 2020, we might have expected an even more significant increase this year.
Would the results have been different if team members had been asked the question, rather than executives? The report’s authors think so, stating that the respondents may have been unwilling to admit that their teams are pressed for time.
This year’s report also shows an increase in benefits from test automation, such as better control and transparency of test activities, and a reduction in test cycle time. Nevertheless, only 37% of respondents claimed an ROI in automation, perhaps because of maintenance efforts, which could be offset by more adoption of AI and scriptless automation tools.
Pandemic accelerated DX, normalized working from home
The most powerful impact of the pandemic has been on legacy organizations that hadn’t yet made the move to the cloud. That made it hard for employees to work from home, especially in the manufacturing and financial service sectors. Others, particularly in industry sectors such as brick-and-mortar retailers, were forced to pivot to online sales.
Enterprises with supply chains are intensifying their digital transformation programs and migrating to new architectures such as SAP S/4HANA, the report says, to build fast, flexible, and comprehensive supply chains that will help them deliver value effectively moving forward.
Figure 3. How has your focus changed toward QA activities to meet the challenges caused by COVID-19? Source: World Quality Report 2020-21
With more teams working from home, collaboration tools have become ubiquitous. These tools are helping team members communicate with each other and offer more visibility into QA activities. While teams have increased their focus on customer experience and usability testing, many organizations were initially stymied because they couldn’t access their environments from home. These included mobile devices used for testing that could be accessed physically only from the office.
On the other hand, enabling work-from-home environments has increased the number of data breaches and cyberattacks. This is having a direct effect on security testing, with 83% of CIOs and IT directors noting an increase in security concerns over the last year.
While 2020 has been a year of tremendous upheaval, the reaction to the pandemic has catalyzed organizations to make far-reaching changes to continue to be productive.
How to get ready for 2021
Here are four ways the WQR recommends that your QA teams prepare for 2021.
Spread the message
Quality is everyone’s business. QA engineers might be experts in testing and quality practices, but the entire team should be accountable for quality, and quality must become part of their way of thinking. QA team members should take an active role in helping colleagues across the business be quality-aware—educating them on techniques, advising on tools, and making quality-related metrics available via dashboards.
Organizations are still struggling to automate their testing activities, despite clear potential benefits. To increase automation rates, your teams must become smarter by improving their skill sets. They must leverage smarter tools that include artificial intelligence, machine learning, and analytics. And they must deploy smarter testing frameworks that can self-deploy test environments and provision test data.
Up your infrastructure game
A center of excellence can provide know-how and frameworks for the organization, and manage test environments, test data, and test environment virtualization. You can optimize even further by moving test environments to the cloud, which allows you to quickly spin up an entire environment when you need it, and dispose of it when you’re done.
The pandemic has taught us not to take anything for granted. You need to have business continuity plans in place, and you should schedule disaster planning and mitigation sessions. Check that your teams have remote access to the systems and environments they need to do their jobs.
And because remote systems are more vulnerable to attack, you should increase awareness of security to prevent incidents from happening in the first place—and be prepared to respond quickly if there is a breach.
Digital transformation needs effective QA
Going forward, follow the recommendations that were detailed above:
- Share responsibility for quality across the organization.
- Improve your skill sets and adopt next-level tools to become a smarter organization overall.
- Optimize your investment in infrastructure.
- Implement a robust, tried-and-tested business continuity plan that will see you through future disruptions.
A successful digital transformation depends on the contribution of QA. But with ever-decreasing budgets, QA teams continue to be pushed to do more with less. The global pandemic has pressed organizations to accelerate their digital transformation initiatives, which has pushed teams even harder.
The result is that organizations are reevaluating their approach to QA, increasing their adoption of cloud infrastructures, and putting extra emphasis on security.
Read next: For the full results and a more in-depth analysis of these trends, read the full World Quality Report 2020-21 here.