Innovation is the lifeblood of organisations: it is where new opportunities lie and allows the organisation to rejuvenate itself and respond to change. However with greater pressure on IT teams to deliver and reduce cost, the steps to achieve innovation are littered with challenges.
Nimbus Ninety members gathered online to discuss how to optimise and reduce costs while responding rapidly to changing business priorities as a result of COVID-19.
BREAKING DOWN BARRIERS TO INNOVATION
What happens when an immovable force meets an unstoppable force? This is the question that the Joker posed to Batman in the popular film series, but also the question that Chris Trueman, SVP Product Management from Tricentis, posed to the audience of Nimbus Ninety members.
The parallel to business is clear: all too often, IT teams are caught between the two forces of the CIO and the CFO. They are caught between the “immovable” pressure of increasing innovation output and the “unstoppable” pressure of reducing cost. With constant drives to maximise quality and minimise risk, laying the path to innovation is not just about following a process and having great ideas: it is riddled with challenges and bumps in the road.
Chris dived into examining these challenges from an enterprise testing standpoint. Looking at the time and effort taken for each stage of delivering innovative software, testing repeatedly comes out as the primary barrier to speed and agility. For SAP customers in particular, often the key users of the applications are the ones that bear the burden of this.
This burden comes in the form of hypercare. Chris explained that hypercare was often like pulling bodies out of the river without going upstream to find out who is throwing them in: in short, it doesn’t address the root cause. Indeed, for large sophisticated products, it’s hard to know what to test which often results in inaccurate testing and very expensive defects in production.
Chris broke down the components of effective software testing into three parts: understanding what to test, making it last and running it fast. Part of understanding what to test is carrying out successful Change Impact Analysis, as well as Risk-based Testing. He argued that if we just test what we know, we won’t necessarily be testing the right thing. Secondly, in order to make it last, Chris recommended Model-based Test Automation. Finally, running the tests fast is necessary to keep the testing up to speed with the rest of the process: for this, Chris recommended Distributed Execution which collapses the natural time it takes to go through a test.
We then heard from Ian Stubbings, platform engineering lead at bp, on the acceleration of innovation within the organisation. He explained the bp SAP landscape and the vast number of systems operating within it to keep the business running. A few use cases of live projects were shared as well, including a SAP deep dive within the Oil and Gas Benchmarking Group. This involved data extraction across the previous year over a number of metrics and hundreds of systems. In order to extract the data needed, Ian described how a series of workflows were built and previous data models were supplemented.
LESSONS LEARNT: ACCELERATING TOWARDS INNOVATION
The discussion groups focused on several areas, including addressing the key challenges around innovative software development, looking at how AI can improve testing processes and examining culture.
For many members, the big challenge in the development cycle was the limited bandwidth of the organisation to deliver to business expectations. There was also discussion on the consistency in the process that is used, and building into that process the ability to test as you go in order to improve the speed of delivery releases. It is important to note that the minimum viable product is not the end product: it has to evolve.
The role of AI and machine learning in the testing process was a significant point of discussion as well. The potential of AI at the early stages of development was lauded as key in making products testable even in production, to save time and effort. However, the levels of scepticism around AI’s capability reinforced the importance of human presence alongside the AI. One member likened it to the robots that fly an airplane: the pilot is still there for comfort, even though the robot is doing most of the flying. In three to five years’ time, we may see the human stepping back but for the time being, they are very much present.
Another aspect of the AI discussion was creating the business case. For many members, the difficulty was getting board-level sponsorship for part of the AI budget going into testing. Making an effective business case for the long-term benefit for investing in testing is critical, when you consider the vast potential AI has to speed up and streamline testing processes. Part of this business case is also understanding the risk and potential cost to the business if, for example, a product broke due to poor testing.
Finally, culture plays a huge part in the wider discussion on accelerating innovation. Building a culture of development innovation is important, but the key thing is ensuring that cross-functional teams are brought together and empowered to bring ideas from across the business. One member highlighted the importance of really implementing the lessons learnt, and not just writing them down in a notebook.
With the right processes and priorities in place, responding to the pressures coming from all sides for the IT team is not only possible, but can accelerate the route to innovation. The challenge now is to take action.
This event was in partnership with Tricentis, an software testing and quality assurance solutions provider.