What does ‘success’ look like today?
If you were to tell a client the project you’ve been tasked with managing would be delivered on time, and within their budget, they’d almost certainly be delighted.
Unfortunately, the chances are that would mean they’ve overlooked the need for quality, which I personally feel should be given equal billing in today’s digital business landscape.
It’s true that by sacrificing quality, projects are often completed faster and at a lower cost, but this also makes it more likely for other problems to arise weeks or months down the line.
Of course, you can’t blame decision makers for thinking this way when there’s so much pressure on businesses today to innovate, to ‘transform’, and to adopt new technologies. That pressure is just as prominent on the other side of the fence, too, for those developing digital products and solutions to break into markets which are now more competitive than ever.
We all know the need to keep costs down and keep up with the pace of change is at an all time high, and can often be the difference between success and failure for a modern business.
That’s no excuse to ignore quality, though. In fact, it’s even more reason to put quality at the top of your priority list when launching any new digital business initiative, or when trying to take a new product to market.
Quality must be embedded into the strategy from the very beginning and maintained throughout the lifecycle to the very end.
If you’ve developed a product which doesn’t have the necessary level of quality, the time you’ve saved and the budget you’ve adhered to won’t matter because the product will eventually fail. Whether that’s a small bug, or a large-scale fault, either way your customers and clients will be let down.
Finding the right balance
So how do you find a balance? Project timelines won’t be flexible, and neither will budget restrictions. Once these are set and things get underway, many struggle to find room to introduce sufficient measures of quality.
The key here is that most teams don’t consider quality early enough. It must be understood, planned, and accounted for from the very beginning. If it isn’t, it will either be insufficient, or cost and time will go up to accommodate additional testing, longer QA periods, and so on.
Successful delivery also requires an agile approach. Regardless of what is being built, teams must be prepared to adapt, make difficult decisions, and even fail, while continuing on course towards their original requirements.
So you must have what we call continuous quality – which itself brings many more nuances into the design and development processes – all the way through the project. Testing sporadically or leaving all QA efforts towards the end and hoping there is enough time left simply won’t cut it these days.
Where does the internet of (quality) things stand?
Looking specifically at a market like the Internet of Things (IoT), this compromise – or struggle – between time, budget, and quality is having a huge impact.
There’s an extraordinary demand for solution providers to get new technology products out to market quickly. So much so that in some extreme cases, what was originally intended to serve as a proof of concept (PoC) or a minimum viable product (MVP) will end up being the solution which goes into production.
This pressure is just as much a problem for CIOs and IT Directors instructed by their superiors to deploy cutting-edge technology solutions in line-of-business functions, without being given enough time to research and test what’s available.
The issue here, though, is that there are so many moving parts and so many undefined areas of the ever-changing IoT ecosystem. That by itself has shrouded the growth of IoT in significant uncertainty and vulnerability already, but when those involved in building the industry up are neglecting things as crucial as proper QA and testing, those concerns become justified.
Understanding and removing the risks
Not only does the IoT bring much more complexity in implementation than conventional IT systems, but the nature of such immersive technologies also creates a bigger risk when considering what could go wrong.
Many popular use cases for IoT exist in the consumer space. Think of the connected home, the connected car, and similar ways to make our lives more convenient by connecting them to our smartphones (and just about everything else).
The problem is that when these kind of systems haven’t been built on quality, it’s the consumer and their personal data which is endangered. Customers want to have absolute confidence in the products they buy, and if an oversight in the development of an IoT product causes personal information to become available to hackers, the results for the vendor would be catastrophic.
When it’s not just one sole technology, but an enormous group of technologies all communicating in a very volatile, open environment, security is a much greater concern. Companies are fighting to not become ‘the next headline’ in terms of hacking and data leaks. Unfortunately, ignoring quality makes that a real possibility.
A notable high-profile example of this – not just in terms of data security, but actual physical security as well – is with the use of smart meters in people’s homes in the UK. The business producing these devices is under extreme pressure from the government to hit a target of 53 million by 2020. With a number of poor installations causing fires in people’s homes, the race to release the product has forced quality protocols to take a back seat with disastrous results.
Don’t get me wrong, though. I’m not suggesting that the IoT is the wild west of the technology world, with businesses running around without any regard for the security or integrity of their customers’ data. But a lot of issues relating to a lack of quality in IoT systems from the early leaders in this still immature space not actually knowing what ‘getting it right’ looked like.
There is unfortunately far less to benchmark against than in an industry such as construction, or even when compared to traditional IT implementations. As a result, project teams are less focused on establishing best practices, and simply worry about their own KPIs. Can we guess what those will most often be based on? That’s right – delivering the project on time and remaining within the budget.
Keep your eye on quality
A common, and potentially devastating, pitfall when it comes to IoT systems is that even when QA and testing is carried out, it’s only concerned with individual components in isolation.
The M2M technology the IoT is based on requires thousands of separate endpoints communicating constantly. The compatibility and integration of all those ‘things’ must be tested thoroughly in this new context to ensure they can function as part of a larger product or service.
Looking back to the idea of continuous quality, let’s take data storage within an IoT system as an example. There are colossal amounts of data passing between various sensors and devices every day. If you don’t define the requirements for this from the start, you’ll find that because of the amount of data, in six months your overall design is no longer scalable, and it will either fail, or have to be discarded and started again.
Working with the right partners and SIs goes a long way towards ensuring those M2M relationships are suitable and will always perform to the right standards. For example, a quality assurance partner who is independent of system integrators/technology providers, will be entirely focused on helping manage business and technology risks to achieve fit-for purpose business outcomes and ensure the project is a success.
Investors and business leaders may not want to hear it in the short-term, but it’s possible that the idea of delivering on time and within budget may relinquish some power to quality in the coming years. That is, at least, in order to guarantee a digital product or transformation initiative will last in the long-term.
That’s not to say everything will take longer and cost more to develop, though. If you embed quality into your projects from the very beginning, you’ll give yourself the best possible chance of delivering with speed and at low cost as a direct result.
The IoT has been labelled the ‘fourth industrial revolution’ by many. It appears that as the world’s digital leaders still try to master (or even understand) this trend, their missing key to success could be quality.
Unfortunately, the rush to break into the IoT market is putting brands and reputations at risk. Executives must ask themselves if it’s worth being the first one to enter the market if it means they’ll also be the first one to exit as well.