Flow says that, without the availability of Web-savvy integration testing tools, Frontier's entire application portfolio would be at risk. "If we didn't have these automated tools, we simply couldn't do the testing," he says. "We'd be in a world of hurt right now."
Certainly automated testing tools can ease the pain of integration testing and help ensure a site's ability to withstand heavy user loads, the likes of which no legacy IT app has ever been asked to sustain.
But not one of the automated testing tools available today can replace the need to beta test, using qualified users culled from the application's target audience. It's the only engineering process known that can isolate bad user interfaces.
It's also a process that ISVs live and die by, and that IT has historically sworn off. But that too is changing as IT organizations rise to meet the challenges, and reap the rewards, of today's wired world.
"As a [testing tool] vendor, I hate to say that our tools can't perform a certain function, but the truth is, usability testing is the one thing no automated tool can do," says Diane Hagglund, senior manager for e-business product marketing at Mercury Interactive.
Hagglund says usability testing might never be automated, because it has to do with responding to human emotions--something that has yet to be computerized. "We're seeing more and more traditional IT shops doing what ISVs would call beta testing, under the guise of usability testing," she says.
Banking on the beta
That's exactly what's happening at Acentris Wireless Communications, a telco services reseller in Seattle. There the beta-test process has been integrated into the overall development lifecycle, with a core group of developers, internal users, and customers comprising Acentris' beta test team.
The company recently migrated from its legacy VB4 client/server system to a fully distributed platform. The new system is built in VB6 and leverages several beta technologies itself, including a COM+ framework and Windows 2000 Beta 3 RC1 servers.
"We prototyped the Web UI first, and sent it out to a small group of customers and internal users for beta testing," says Acentris VP Darren Lang. "That gave us a huge head start, because we were able to fine-tune the user experience and hand the UI off to the programmers early in the development process."
Acentris' development team was then free to focus on the migration's nuts and bolts, and use automated tools to stress and regression test the application architecture, knowing usability was already in hand.
"The reputation of the IT department no longer rides on how well they manage the printers, back up the servers, or get a new PC on your desk," says Michael Marquardt, president of Internet Operations Center Inc., an e-commerce application hosting company in Southfield, Mich. "It's now the software development arm of the business, and that means we need to think and act more like ISVs, and less like islands of technology." IJ
About the author:
Rich Levin covers IT for CBS Radio and the Coast to Coast Radio Network. He can be reached at RBLevin@RBLevin.net, hit his Web site at http://www.RBLevin.net, or visit his BBS at http://www.RBLevin.net/BBS.