Richard Hartshorne, Business Unit Lead – Enterprise Markets, Expleo
Richard welcomes the rapid emergence of the new ER&D sector – and the opportunities this provides to service providers. In particular, digital technologies such as automation allow manufacturers to broaden the influence of quality assurance: from ‘at-the-end’ to ‘end-to-end’ testing. Your speed to market relies on it.
ER&D (engineering research and development) isn’t exactly new. George Stephenson, the Wright Brothers, Louis Renault: they all made their name with it. As the major transport and manufacturing firms of the 20th Century put down their roots, they developed massive R&D sections based in top-secret bunkers, hangers and test tracks, where the next big innovations took shape. Over the last 40 years, software engineers in Silicon Valley and far beyond have sparked the digital revolution through their own futuristic ER&D.
More recently, of course, these two branches of engineering have converged. Fuelled by a global hunger for better digital experiences, the race to upgrade existing products and build new ones has caused an explosion in ER&D, with corporate spend reaching in excess of 1.2 trillion dollars. This boom has created a brand new sector for service providers that have the end-to-end ability and global scope to combine traditional engineering and software development expertise. Those service providers that can keep their clients in step with the rapid pace of change will emerge as leaders in this bold new sector.
Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, IoT, simulation, virtual reality and automation – and whatever comes next – offer huge opportunities to increase speed to market, drive down costs and improve the end user experience. From my experience, by applying quality across all of these areas is key for success. Traditionally in the IT industry quality assurance (QA) and testing comes last in the sequence after design, build and delivery. It’s the rear guard that makes sure the product is safe and effective. Previously, firms invested considerable time in getting this essential bit right. But with the growing financial imperative behind speed to market, it’s increasingly important that your products are ready to go by the time they reach the end of the production line. This is increasing pressure on testing cycle times and often causing them to be reduced despite the increased risk.
Get it right first time
My personal business philosophy is: always do the right things right, at the right time. In the ER&D context, that means integrating quality within the design, build and delivery stages as engineering companies have been doing for decades. Instead of using QA experts to check for potential faults at the end, it makes sense to harness their insights from the start. After all, they know the difference between ‘good-to-go’ and just poor quality. If you involve them throughout, they will have the chance to influence the final outcome.
Think of it like a 3-star Michelin kitchen. Every step of making a dish is quality controlled and taste tested, from choosing the ingredients at the market through to the cooking and then plating up. By the time it leaves the ‘pass’, it is perfection. Service!
The digital advances in QA and testing – especially around automation – mean that this niche area can make a sizeable impression to your bottom line, especially if your product can meet customer needs and expectations before your competitors. This goes to show that big isn’t always beautiful in the ER&D sector. When a small and nimble team has the necessary skills to maximize the automation opportunity, then the technology will do the rest. Also, independence remains a watchword when it comes to quality, whether engineering or software development. Many of the old sayings still hold true: it’s hard to see the full the picture when you stand too close.
Testing automation undoubtedly makes things faster. Regression packs, for example, used to take weeks to execute. Now, we can do them overnight. Even manual processes can shave weeks off production timescales by applying quality earlier. Simply by focusing on quality, you allow the whole operating delivery process to speed up.
Cutting corners won’t cut costs
The pace of change is incredible, but we should never fall into the trap that testing is a luxury. That’s where false economies lie. In today’s ultra-competitive markets, a bad-news story or product recall, due to reasons of safety, use-ability or reliability, will eat into trust ratings and shareholder profits. When you design with quality in mind, you then build and deliver with quality at the heart. Testing at the end becomes a quick stamp of approval rather than the final hurdle, as it is sometimes seen.
Software brings many fantastic new opportunities to traditional engineering, but the reality is that you won’t get your new or upgraded product to market quickly without testing it properly. Speed matters so much that unless you get the method right, then you’ll always be playing catch up. That means testing ‘end-to-end’ and not just ‘at-the-end’.
In the ER&D sector, better quality control is better speed control too.