Offshoring Development – Testing the Water

2 Oct 2006 12:00 AM | Anonymous

Companies the UK over have been flocking in their droves to offshore processes such as IT services provision, call centre work and HR administration. From India to China, the Philippines to Mauritius, it seems that every country in the developing world has an offshoring proposition to tempt UK and European countries to engage with foreign suppliers. Offshore software development is another area that is taking off. Rather than resourcing a development capability in house, or outsourcing it to a local supplier, more and more IT houses, attracted by considerable cost savings are turning to offshore suppliers for their development requirements.

Opting for offshoring with cost savings in mind is all very well, but companies are often too absorbed in the economies of scale to judge the risks and threats of offshore development from an objective standpoint. The risks can be multiple, which highlights the necessity for sound testing and quality assurance procedures.

The geographical distance makes offshoring development a far riskier prospect. The time difference, the language and cultural differences can all impact on the quality of service that is being delivered. There is also the argument that development that is handled at an offshore location is much more difficult to control and manage. The disconnect between the local and the offshore operations can be considerable therefore it is essential that the company has stringent management practices in place and it increases the need for thorough specification and failsafe project controls.

Offshoring also limits a “working together” ethic, which can be useful in development projects –where it comes to analysing prototypes, for example, it can be difficult to bridge the gaps between local business analysts and offshore developers. Other risks arise from the fact that where offshore suppliers are very adept from a technical perspective, they are rarely au fait with the business issues that the organisation may be facing. Therefore due to the distance between the local and remote operations, there can be a substantial risk that the business application and the requirement could be misunderstood in design, development and testing terms – there can be lots of to-ing and fro-ing between the disparate offices, which can be problematic when you take the time difference into account.

Whilst the issues around outsourcing are evident, the benefits are undisputed. So how can organisations improve the way they do offshoring? When mitigating offshoring risk through sound testing and quality assurance procedures, the first rule of thumb is to establish an onshore, local operation that deals with the end user organisation as well as the offshore developer. They can ensure that the project undergoes thorough specification, which should then be clearly documented and communicated – this will give tight guidelines for the offshore operation to work within and as far as possible, will help to limit errors.

With offshore risk management, it is critical that quality gate controls at the customer organisation are established and an airtight quality plan is developed, led by the onshore operation. This is essential in order to ensure that all parties involved on the supplier and end user sides are singing from the same hymn sheet and up to speed with what is expected from them from a quality deliverance perspective.

The local operation also needs to concentrate on acceptance testing and business integration testing. And if the offshore operation is not as up to speed as necessary with the business issues, it is vital that the local operation has some procedure in place to mitigate this risk – this can often involve having representatives on site, in order to oversee development, or at least regular visitations and meetings to ensure the project is on track.

In our experience, the geographical distance in offshoring arrangements means that managing defects and deliveries back into the offshoring organisation can be really problematic. By the time the onshore operation assesses the work and feeds back to offshore operation, the offshore set up will have moved on to the next stage, as is typical of a production line. This means that both parties can be on the back foot with regards to dealing with defects – this can hinder the whole operation and can make the process very costly. Having appropriate and highly visible quality assurance in place will ensure that all defects are spotted and dealt with as effectively as possible and all deliveries are managed tightly. An infallible defect management system and clear communication about defects are also vital.

Before the project is even embarked upon, it is essential that quality assurance and testing procedures are outlined in the contract. It is highly beneficial if the offshoring contract details quality assurance and testing at each stage of the lifecycle linked to formal acceptance criteria. It is key that the offshoring operation is transparent so the local customer operation retains some control over the project lifecycle, so they can have visibility of the project design, development process and also, critically, of the testing procedures. This will ensure the end user organisation can review or witness the test and test audit trail to increase assurance before the product is delivered.

Box out

Some pointers that organisations need to bear in mind when testing offshore processes:

• Lack of strategic perception around testing: testing and quality assurance should be about the verification of a solution to fit the business. It is often regarded as an operational, tick box function and this is when flaws occur.

• Leaving it too late: generally the many types of testing required, which includes security testing, are only conducted prior to go live in offshoring projects. If problems are detected at an early stage, they can be corrected straight away minimising their effect on the contract overall.

• Deadline pressure: suppliers are often under serious pressure in offshoring contracts. Having to adhere to deadlines, fall within budget and meet stringent SLAs often means that security design and system testing takes a backseat.

• Where the responsibility lies: the offshoring environment can also cloud where the responsibility for testing lies. This could have been an issue for these financial companies and their suppliers.

• Testing and quality assurance in the contract: offshoring contracts should detail testing at each stage of the lifecycle linked to formal acceptance criteria. This will ensure that testing practices are conducted at regular intervals and adhered to throughout the course of the contract. This can flag up any problems and highlight areas where security flaws could exist.

End box out

Whilst the benefits of offshoring are undisputed in terms of cost and quality of service, it is essential that ironclad quality assurance and testing procedures are put in place. Cost effective offshoring may be, but if a software development project goes awry due to bad management and insufficient testing, it could cost the local customer organisation a good deal more in the long run.

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