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GUEST COMMENT How retailers can introduce automation testing without devaluing their employees

For retailers, the current method of manual testing comes with a number of downsides. Not only does manual testing rely on huge amounts of people power and take a remarkable amount of time but it can result in human error. Fortunately, automated software testing is the solution to the many drawbacks experienced with manual testing, making it much faster, more effective and highly accurate.

In other industries, automation testing has leapt ahead, yet the complexity of legacy technology and systems has slowed advances in the retail sector. As these technologies are overcome, more and more retailers are looking to introduce automation testing. However, for testers, news that their roles could be automated is likely to spark some concern.

Fortunately, rather than replacing humans who currently perform testing, automated software testing makes it possible to relieve testers of a mind-numbing testing task and creates the opportunity for them to move into value-adding roles. But what exactly is automated software testing, where does it leave testers and how can retailers ensure those employees continue to feel valued?

Why are retailers turning to automation testing?

Growing demand for rapid execution of increasingly complicated orders and the sheer growth in volumes of transactions means warehouse management systems need to perform progressively more complex functions. This often means upgrading the software or finding ways to automate manual processes. Testing is critical to changes like these to ensure the new approach will work once implemented. It can be carried out manually using regression testing scripts that humans must follow repeating the same processes to identify any errors, gaps or problems in the software.

However, there are numerous drawbacks to this approach, as the scripts use a lot of resource to create and testing often takes a large number of people hours. For the people carrying out these functions, the work is repetitive, meaning people become fatigued and prone to making mistakes, potentially overlooking a critical issue. Automation also allows for scalability testing, something which is integral to warehouse management systems, but until now has been almost impossible to achieve with human testers.

Furthermore, if there is limited human resource, testing usually cannot run alongside fixes, resulting in an even lengthier process. Manual testing also doesn’t provide sufficient scale or enable load testing due to the small numbers of transactions that can be carried out. With such an important piece of work requiring significant labour, without the guarantee of a flawless end result, retailers are in need of a new solution.

Why is automation testing beneficial?

For retailers, there are significant benefits to automated software testing; firstly, it is far quicker than manual testing. Second, adopting automated software testing allows human testers to take a more varied, interesting and value-adding role, enabling the organisation to benefit from improved software testing tactics. For instance, instead of following traditional test scripts, testers could follow Gherkin scripts written in BDD format.

This approach enables requirements to be written as assets, so the user acceptance testing requirements also become a test case. Not only does this save time and effort but it makes test cases traceable and places business requirements at the heart of the process. As well as the time savings generated, testers can also update new developments in parallel. By completing more software releases and hotfixes than were previously possible, systems can be up and running far faster – all thanks to the human power that has been freed up.

Retailers and their employees can also benefit from the collaborative environment automation testing facilitate due to the ability for software testing to be stored in a cloud-based server. With all the scripts, images and development code available to testers, they can learn how to write in a more automated fashion which means they can develop automated scripts themselves.

Once a framework has been built, a test engineer can add as many new automated tests as is required which further enhances the testing process for developers. Instead of repeatedly re-running manual regressions, the team can write new tests, run them, tick them off and then allow them to run on their own. This makes for a faster, more efficient testing project.

How can retailers ensure testers continue to feel valued but also add value?

If retailers are to effectively embrace automation, they must invest in the training and skills development of their test resource in order to grow out new competencies. By putting training initiatives in place, retailers can ensure that automation testing becomes a catalyst for positive change and creates new opportunities for testers to develop new skills and move into new roles.

For instance, the introduction of automation allows testers to pivot towards higher-value activities, such as writing BDD scenarios which can then be converted into technical automation scripts.

Automation, therefore, drives the requirement for a different skillset within a quality assurance function or test team and enables testers to grow and build a more comprehensive set of skills. For example, testers will be able to acquire more advanced and nuanced skills in terms of test preparation and more technical skills with regards to automation scripting.

This allows individuals to move into higher-skilled, better-paid roles in which individual productivity is raised due to the support of automation. As well as allowing for testers to move into new roles, automation also creates higher- skill jobs to support the manufacture and maintenance of that automation.

There is no doubt that retailers will be required to invest in order to implement automation testing, however, over time it will drive cost savings. These savings can then be ploughed back into investing in upskilling employees and automating more of the software testing process. By reinvesting in this way, retailers will be able to develop a more skilled workforce and move towards even greater savings in time and effort, all while controlling costs.

Ultimately, automation should be viewed as a positive change not only for retailers but also for their employees. Automation testing offers testers a great advantage in terms of providing the opportunity to develop new skills and move into higher-paid, more value-adding roles. However, it falls to retailers to ensure this happens.

Author: Mike Callender, executive chairman, REPL Group

Image credit: Fotolia

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