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Although I have years of experience with payment technology, I’ve had minimal exposure to testing, QA or Agile Development’s Continuous Testing philosophy.  This past year has been an interesting learning experience!

The most surprising aspect is the limited testing that most companies conduct on their payment systems.  For too many, it seems like an after-thought.  Countless resources are used to plan projects, design systems, lay out networks and develop actual code.  Then, everything is handed over to testers to confirm that it all meets the desired results. 

In some payments organizations, testers are involved at the beginning but, for the clear majority of companies, testers don’t get involved until code is near completion.  Even then too often the testing process is rushed because the release date takes precedent.  The result is that these testing professionals, who care about their jobs as much as any other individuals who wants to perform well, are left to quickly assemble test data and test plans that are almost always inadequate, incomplete or both.

All these areas are important, but testing is too often not even elevated to a status equal with the others when, in fact, an organization’s reputation and brand value are at stake.  An even more staggering fact is that for many companies, it is a game of Russian roulette because millions, even billions of times a day, they roll the dice with this priceless asset.

Beyond reputation and brand there are many other compelling reasons why testing multi-million-dollar payment systems should be as great a priority, if not greater, than any other activity in the organization. 

Risk – Recently, an executive told me that he knew his company’s brand and reputation were safe and sound because their system had not had an unplanned outage in years.   Making predictions about the future that are based on the past is a dangerous bet.  No matter how good an organization’s work to prevent the unthinkable, the law of larger numbers alone – those millions and billions of transactions – opens any system up to the unexpected.  For this reason, continually update testing practices to incorporate automated, continuous processes to increase code coverage remains the first, best line of defense against the cost of a system failure. 

Pace of Technology – The design and development of new payments technology has increased at a pace that has never been seen before.  Change is not the issue.  The issue is that the rate of change in technology is multiples faster than the rate of change in organizations, business, government and society.   There has always been pressure to deliver quality code on time and under budget, but transaction sets were simpler, systems were more self-contained and security threats were somewhat primitive.  Now, the landscape is as different as the coast is from the mountains.

Migrating to Agile Development – This approach to software development is becoming the default methodology for many companies.  Though converting to it may seem like a daunting task, Agile is proving to be the best way to respond rapidly to changes driven by customer demands, market conditions, competitive pressures and/or regulatory requirements.  Of course, a key component to Agile is the ability to continuously test and deploy. If you can’t test and deploy rapidly, then the bottleneck created effectively neutralizes many of the key benefits to utilizing the Agile methodology.

Utilizing Continuous Testing – Though this approach to testing is often mentioned in connection with Agile development methodology, it can stand alone and have a material impact on efficiency and effectiveness.  Using automation to address repetitive, manual aspects of testing provides more code coverage in a shorter amount of time and frees testers to apply their skills toward building new test cases and identifying issues and potential areas of concern. 

This might sound like the musing of a relative newbie to the testing space, especially when so many testing organizations are doing the best they can with the tools they have available.  To some degree, that might be true.  Then again, the tools many testing groups have at their disposal are dated, built for another place and time when payments were less complex and the industry less dynamic.  There are testing platforms and solutions available built specifically for what testers are facing now and make receiving the benefits and limiting the liabilities described above possible. 

Can any organization afford to not consider these options in a world where system failures, poor user experience, slow time to market, and inefficiencies can cost a company its customers and more than a meager amount of cash?   

Author:  Spencer Lewis, Strategic Accounts Bio:  Spencer Lewis is a 30-year sales professional with 26 years in the payments industry, covering electronic financial transactions (EFT) processing, enterprise software applications, processing services, software tools/utilities, and consulting services. His payment experience covers all facets and includes: merchant processing, card issuing, credit, debit, fuel, and private label.

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