The Evolution of QA in the Enterprise

    There is growing talk these days that as DevOps becomes the norm for enterprise service and application support, the need for a formal Quality Assurance (QA) program will fade.

    This is not entirely untrue, but it is important to remember that quality never goes out of style. So even as QA’s role changes in the DevOps pipeline, its relevance to the new agile business model will not diminish. In fact, it will be enhanced.

    For one thing, says Mark Balbes, vice president of architecture at WWT Asynchrony Labs, DevOps is not the only emerging trend affecting QA, nor is it the only legacy IT function facing change. The cloud is making the creation of test environments easier and more dynamic, while microservices are upending the entire notion of software architecture, including the QA component. Meanwhile, the IoT is unleashing an entirely new wave of digital data and services on the world, all of which must be tested and reviewed on a continual basis. So while QA is under the gun to evolve with the times, it is no different from any other aspect of the application lifecycle.

    Without doubt, QA will have to reinvent itself in the era of automation and machines, says Nikola Šopar, director of quality assurance services at Comtrade Digital Services. If you look at the state of QA even 10 years ago, both the volume of complexity of data has changed dramatically, with entirely new disciplines arising to account for mobile, cloud and now device-driven data flows. There is no reason to think this will abate over the next decade, so the onus on practitioners of QA will remain to devise new and intricate ways to effectively secure and test the technologies needed to survive in this ocean of information.

    QA will not disappear, says Wipro’s Ramesh Pai, but it will need to become invisible. By that, he means it can no longer be an impediment to the engineering lifecycle even as it continues to strive for greater quality at lower cost. This can be accomplished through automation and the integration of new tools and IPs that support frictionless QA and zero-touch analysis, profiling and other capabilities. At the same time, the shift toward digital business models is changing the focus of QA from system testing to building the most valuable customer experience, which can be achieved through methodologies like Acceptance Test Driven Deployment (ATDD) and Behavior Drive Deployment (BDD).

    As DevOps becomes more mainstream, however, will this affect the skillsets of QA practitioners, or will it lead to the end of QA as a distinct discipline at all? According to Tom Sweet, head of QA at GM Financial, rather than outsourcing QA to a provider, a better approach may be to upskill current teams with the appropriate automation and programming capabilities required of the emerging tech environment. A good place to start is in performance code review, which has been shown to produce a 35x high defect removal density than standard system testing. From there, static code testing is another area that can benefit from updated metrics and improved visibility, which will go a long way toward reducing the technical debt from unnecessary check-ins.

    In all likelihood, the role of QA manager will likely fade out over time, but this won’t be much different from the role of developer, sys admin or network tech. All of these functions are expected to fold into an integrated DevSecTestOps model in which everyone on the team is responsible for all aspects of the project. Sure, there will be specialties, but the most critical skills will be communication, collaboration, and the ability to coalesce diversities of knowledge into a continuous release cycle.

    In this world, everyone is responsible for the quality of the final product.

    Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata and Carpathia. Follow Art on Twitter @acole602.

    Arthur Cole
    Arthur Cole
    With more than 20 years of experience in technology journalism, Arthur has written on the rise of everything from the first digital video editing platforms to virtualization, advanced cloud architectures and the Internet of Things. He is a regular contributor to IT Business Edge and Enterprise Networking Planet and provides blog posts and other web content to numerous company web sites in the high-tech and data communications industries.

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