Regardless of sector, all companies are having to become software focused, as applications can help them to create a key differentiator for themselves in a highly competitive marketplace. However, it has to be said that where a good (or brilliant) app can make a business, a bad (or glitchy) app can break it.
Applications are everywhere and are central to all IT environments, regardless of whether they're in the telecommunications, motor vehicle manufacturing or mining sector. Quality assurance (QA) and testing are key to developing successful apps, and The World Quality Report outlines how this has become a business-critical function for most modern organisations, regardless of sector or region.
Natasha Simitci, DevOps Portfolio Manager at Micro Focus, says, "In South Africa, we benchmark ourselves against what's happening in the United States and Europe. These markets not only guide us in future planning, but also show how mature we are in the quality assurance domain."
It's all about staying ahead of the curve and knowing that your quality testing processes are on the right track, she continues.
Global trends such as digital transformation, DevOps, agile and artificial intelligence are all equally relevant to South African businesses. Quality assurance and testing has shifted away from being a function of IT to a business imperative with very real consequences for the bottom line. This is aligned with technology permeating pretty much everything that the business does.
Simitci continues: "Applications are at the core of technology today. The quality of an app can make or break a business's brand and have a massive impact on productivity and bottom line. But this isn't only true for companies in the technology sector. Non-IT companies like car manufacturers, for example, have millions of lines of codes in their vehicles, despite not being software companies. Yet software is vital to the success of their business.
Paul Cripsey, Pre-Sales Director at Micro Focus, agrees, saying applications aren't always something tangible that a user might interface with, such as a banking or social media app. "It could also be software that operates in the background, controlling your motor vehicle's management and operating system, for example."
The latter example underlines just how vital a role applications play: it's one thing if an app on your desktop crashes, it's quite another if it's an app that's involved in a vehicle's braking system, for example. "Applications underpin everything," says Cripsey.
"Car manufacturers have mastered the production line; a car is pretty much a car. Today, key differentiators are all about the smart features, such as parking assist, steering assist and predictive maintenance, all of which are enabled by apps."
Companies that were traditionally manufacturing automobiles are now also software companies.
"The average car has 11 computers on board, each of which has several apps associated with it," he says.
This is why it's essential to be able to quality test them as early in the process as possible, continues Simitci. She cites a concrete example: "A large automobile manufacturer was able to almost halve the time that it takes to get a new vehicle into production from seven years to just four, by enhancing the app quality testing process. That represents an immense cost saving for the motor manufacturing group. Shortening the time to market of new releases is vital in such a highly competitive sector."
Quality assurance is key at all stages in the manufacturing process, from software development through to vehicle development, configuration and production. Thus, quality becomes everyone's responsibility, from the designer and the developer to the analyst and tester. This means business units are working more closely than ever before, disparate silos are breaking down and customer experience is everything to everyone, all of which is enabled (or not) by applications.
"At the end of the day and regardless of the use case, the ultimate goal is an error-free experience for the user. A poor user experience can cause immeasurable reputational harm to the business."
Simitci says there were two main concerns highlighted in the report. "Firstly, businesses are wanting to identify defects before they start production, because the cost increases exponentially the later you find the defect. It's better to uncover problems in the test phase rather than in production.
"Secondly, end-user satisfaction is critical and almost as important as the first concern. Quality assessment is aligned with the business and is directly linked to the brand."
The increasing use of apps in the automotive sector is placing increasing pressure on manufacturers to carry out quality assurance and testing at pace. "However," says Cripsey, "it's not possible to manually test all of the apps. The quality testing process needs to be automated and it must be possible to replicate that for the next model and incorporate lessons learnt along the way. This is where correctly applied artificial intelligence and automation can optimise the process."
And automotive manufacturers are clearly realising this, as only 5% of automotive sector participants in the survey said they didn't work with an IOT environment or the associated quality testing processes.
Cripsey says: "AI and automation are important elements of quality testing as you're no longer relying on a person saying what aspects need to be tested. Instead, it's about adapting and changing the testing process based on what's been learnt from tests already run."
Simitci says: "Many businesses don't know yet where to use the AI in their quality assessment and testing environment; it's a buzzword and not everyone knows how to apply it to best effect. There's a huge opportunity for companies to learn from each other. DevOps is about creating a community, both internal and external to the business. It's about learning from one other's experiences and understanding where you can apply AI and where you shouldn't. Introducing AI is an expensive and lengthy process, so you need to know where to focus."
The automotive sector is facing pretty much the same challenges as all sectors; the drive to introduce and implement new applications on an ongoing basis, while ensuring that legacy apps are still relevant. The adoption of agile, DevOps and automation is key to meeting this challenge.
You can download the World Quality Report 2018-2019 here.