Testing, Ka-Ching!


One of the most frustrating aspects of software testing is that it typically is viewed as an expense that should be minimized. Sure, you can argue until you drop that it is cheaper to find problems in test than it is in the field, but deep down everyone still wants to spend as little time and money on testing as they think they can get away with. That's why Linda Hayes always has been motivated to find a way to make testing a profit center. And it seems as if she just found her first real-life example. In this column, she describes how one company is positioning to make testing a profitable department.

If you could somehow tie testing to the top line so that it actually generates revenue, then that would turn the whole dynamic inside out. But most companies still are trying to get away with as little testing as possible. I have had a few tantalizing conversations with software companies that at least considered adding testing to their repertoire of products and services, but none of them ever came to fruition—until now.

A German juggernaut software developer, which took over the enterprise resource planning (ERP) market with packaged software that could be configured to adapt to each customer's unique needs, is launching an initiative to offer testing services and technology to its customers. And while this company no doubt plans to make a profit on these solutions, I don't think that is what it is really after.

This company refreshed its technology platform to take advantage of the latest in service-oriented architecture (SOA), and all of its new products have been developed on this platform. As a result, existing customers must upgrade to the new version before the company can realize add-on revenue. Unfortunately, its software supports such a broad spectrum of the enterprise's most critical business processes that many customers are loath to introduce change of any kind, because when they do, it is tedious, time-consuming, and costly.

In fact, when this company surveyed its customers to find out what the most challenging aspects of implementing upgrades were, testing came in at number one. The time, effort, and risk associated with testing such a highly configurable, tightly integrated, and widely used system encouraged customers to avoid making changes as long as possible.

In other words, this company discovered that testing is, in fact, tied to the top line, and it has to help its customers solve the testing problem in order to generate revenue from its new products. Done right, the company can generate revenue from the sale of testing solutions for upgrades, then generate even more from new products that can be sold after the upgrade. Suddenly, testing is an opportunity instead of an obstacle.

If this works, it could represent a profound shift in the way we look at testing. Instead of thinking of it as an expense to be minimized, look at it as revenue to be maximized. Not what's the least we can do, but what's the most?

Based on its track record, it would seem that it makes sense to watch what this German juggernaut of software development is doing and learn from it. Any software company whose product is configured or modified by its customers has the opportunity to turn testing into a top-line opportunity while creating happier customers faster by:

  • Generating direct revenue from pre-developed test cases, technology, and services
  • Generating indirect revenue by compressing the implementation cycle for new products and upgrades
  • Enabling future revenue by accelerating the adoption rate for new features and products
  • Creating customer satisfaction through improved reliability and confidence

There are also motivations that are not driven necessarily by the craven greed for money. Once testing generates revenue, more resources will be available to invest, so that overall test coverage and product quality will increase. And as customers coalesce around common test cases and technologies, it will become possible to share test assets, further expanding cooperation and leveraging the community.

Even these feel-good benefits have a potential revenue impact: The quality and functionality of the testing solution could become a competitive weapon in and of itself. Speed and efficiency of implementation, as well as customer satisfaction and community, are advantages that might differentiate otherwise feature equivalent offerings.

I realize that shifting the entire economic and organizational paradigm for testing is no trivial undertaking and will take a lot of time to unfurl, but I've waited twenty years so far. At least this company has broken ground.

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