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Critical Issues to Consider

Assessing offshore vendors can be a confusing, challenging task. It can also be time-consuming due to the data collection, travel, and due diligence required to make the right decision. Companies can streamline the process by paying close attention to the seven issues that follow.

Vendor Focus

Before you embark on any QA or testing project that will affect your company, examine the vendor's business focus. You will typically run into two types of vendors: the first offers only QA services, while the second provides a mix of development and QA services. Understanding the motivations of both types is a necessary first step.

You also need to determine whether the vendor is capable of conducting the type of testing that interests you. The universe of software testing is large and ever-expanding:

  • Black-box testing
  • White-box testing
  • Unit testing
  • Integration testing
  • GUI testing
  • Migration testing
  • Installation testing
  • Functional testing
  • System testing
  • Regression testing
  • Acceptance testing
  • Automated testing
  • Localization testing
  • Load testing
  • Stress testing
  • Performance testing
  • Usability testing
  • Recovery testing
  • Security testing
  • Compatibility testing
  • Alpha testing
  • Beta testing

Experience and Expertise

What domain and testing experience does your vendor's testing staff have? Before you sign a contract, it's important to determine the skills and experience of the employees who will staff your project, as individual abilities can vary widely. For example, your project could be staffed with new employees fresh from college who learned about testing fundamentals in an introductory software-engineering course. In contrast, you could be assigned experienced employees who have worked on multiple projects for a broad range of companies, kept abreast of developments within the testing world, and taken specialized classes offered by organizations such as Software Quality Engineering.

In addition, you need to make sure that the people staffed on your project are experienced in the relevant environment or platform; possess the appropriate testing skills, such as manual execution, test-case development and automation, and regression; and are comfortable working with the appropriate testing tools.

Tools and Test Automation

Test tools, or test automation, can improve the productivity of the overall testing process and provide consistent results. The organization you select ideally should own the licenses for multiple test tools suitable for different environments, as well as have employees on staff well-versed in test automation and in applying the tools to a range of projects. If your company selects a vendor that offers only testing services, the vendor should have considerable experience with third-party tools such as the samples in the following list, and possibly a library of customized tools that it has developed gradually.

  • Mercury Quality Center
  • Alchemy CATALYST
  • Segue tools
  • Norton Ghost
  • Wise for Windows Installer
  • Rational Suite
  • Microsoft Visual SourceSafe
  • RadView tools

Specialization

Whether your QA and testing processes have to comply with government regulations such as HIPAA and Sarbanes-Oxley, foreign language requirements for global markets, or industry specifications, chances are that a testing firm offers this specialization. More commonly, testing companies are helpful simply because they have the manpower to dedicate to unforeseen regulatory requirements, temporary projects, or compressed testing schedules. Offshore firms can dedicate consecutive daily shifts to a project if necessary.

Security

With the FTC recording more than 500,000 reports of identity theft in 2003 alone (the latest date for which figures are available), information security and customer privacy are of paramount importance to consumers and the companies with which they do business. Make sure that you understand the implications for companies that outsource software testing in the production environment. The best thing to do is to avoid testing with real data and work as much as possible with dummy data—false names, social security numbers, addresses, and so on.

Currently, the laws regarding data privacy are unclear. Companies take a risk any time they send sensitive customer data or proprietary information outside their walls. The obvious difference between sending data to a testing company based in the United States and one located in another country is that the two nations will have different data security laws; however, to mitigate client concerns, some offshore providers, such as Infosys, sign all contracts under the legal jurisdiction of the country in which their clients are based.

Pilot Project Experience

Once you've chosen a testing organization, take it slow and start with a pilot project. For example, your company could outsource the functional testing of a small piece of the proposed software and provide the relevant test cases and data. After the vendor completes the pilot, your in-house testing team would follow up to see whether the vendor executed all the test cases provided, and verify a sample of the test data generated. When the pilot is finished, your company would meet with the testing organization to go over what did and didn't work, incorporating the agreed-upon process modifications if your company decides to move forward with the engagement.

Project Management and Communication

At some point in its lifecycle, every project comes perilously close to being delayed for reasons as varied as the employees involved in it. Companies that add an offshore dimension to their project have to pay even more attention to the critical issue of communication. Often they rely on two lines of communication with the offshore testing company once the project begins: the first being between their own project coordinator and the vendor's project coordinator, and the second being between the vendor's project coordinator and the vendor's project test lead.

The vendor's coordinator generally will log all the technical and administrative queries related to the project, delivering periodic status reports. Midway through the project, the vendor and the customer may sit down together to ensure that project expectations have been met and to determine whether project goals can be achieved more efficiently. After the project closes, both groups review the project, and the vendor presents data analysis for the complete project.

Whatever your chosen methodology, talk early and often (at least weekly) with the tester's team, posing detailed questions. Asking whether the testing is "on schedule" is insufficient. Insist on the vendor reporting progress and setbacks in detail to avoid costly surprises at the project's end.

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