Posts Tagged ‘insurance software development’

“Drop the Software Testing Baton”

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

A software tester, with a determined look on his face, walks briskly up to your desk and blurts out, ‘It doesn’t work.’  After you sigh, your mind oscillates between responses of, ‘Okay, let me look into it,’ and ‘What the heck do I do with THAT?’

Developing and testing software should be less of a series of hand-offs between tester and developer, and more of a collaborative, ongoing conversation.  Even with the most well-intentioned of testers, the baton is often passed off to a developer because the tester has run out of debugging options.  FAST has eliminated that baton pass forever.  The testing approach and automation that we used on a recent project played a significant role in allowing us to convert a company’s life insurance policy administration system in only five months.  No one on the project could have imagined this pace being possible without efficient and effective testing woven into the entire project.

Empowering the Team

We created a debugging tool easy enough for everyone on the team to use…

  • A failed test condition was no longer the end of the road
  • What went right, what went wrong and precisely where it went wrong was clear as day
  • Corrections were made simply – using spreadsheets  and configuration changes
  • Painstakingly documenting detailed recreate steps became a thing of the past

With the debugger everyone on the team could,

  • grab the exact xml being tested
  • use it to step through the business logic and rules to see what was happening

Testing & Automation

The test driven approach of FAST 8x and the Test Case Manager are the perfect complement to the debugger.  They both offer tremendous value, FAST 8x automation drives testing efficiency while the Test case manager increases effectiveness.

  • FAST 8x: the test driven approach automatically test APIs, eliminating the need for regression testing the application
  • Test Case Manager: tool for actuaries and the product team to test a variety of permutations using the calc spreadsheet independent of the application
  •  Calc spreadsheet: designed for actuaries, by actuaries, an easy to use UI allows the team to create  their own scenarios  and eliminates their reliance on a technical resource to update code

As we used these tools, it was really cool to watch the traditional software development lines between tester and developer disappear!

Benefits

The benefits of using these tools to debug and test business transactions and calculations were numerous.

1)      Transparency of business processes to the business owner with a user-friendly spreadsheet which is easily traversed

  • This transparency promotes a feeling of trust between the vendor and the client

2)      Business knowledge transfer was a by-product of the transparency of the business rules

  • The tool facilitated business process discussions with the client

3)      Continuous testing of the business logic and rules

  • Resulted in a condensed ‘testing phase’ and quicker deployment

4)      Perpetual vendor reliance was eliminated

  • The client quickly internalized how they could maintain these business rules on their own

5)       Small steps and simple calculations demystify complex calculations

  • Logic is not buried deep in layers of code and errors can be fixed by dragging and dropping the appropriate orchestration step into the right place

As a Business Analyst, the tools were cool and fun to use.  They created a great sense of accomplishment across the team – issues could be quickly pinpointed and then corrected through configuration and I could fix bugs on my own!  And as for the Actuaries being able to create and test their own calculations, let’s just say they got as excited as actuaries get…

After the success we achieved, I can’t imagine a project without it!!!

 

Sharon Amos, Business Analyst

FAST

 

4 Ways to Empower a Customer

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

Out-of-the-box software systems from big-name software vendors are always a big contender for CIOs and other business decision-makers when selecting the best systems to power their business. As a customer, choosing what systems to best manage your business can come with unexpected repercussions. Software vendors often develop their products to “capture” their customers, tying them to the system by isolating and creating dependencies on their product and services. These tactics can result in limitations that confine and even cripple the growth of their business.

A great software product shouldn’t have to encapsulate and limit their users just to keep them “hooked in”; the product itself should be useful and attractive enough for users to want to continue using the program. So what kinds of “capturing” tactics should you look out for, and what can you do to have greater control over the software solutions you choose to power your business?

1. Request to know what kinds of integration and compatibility options the system provides. – Software vendors often take an all-or-nothing approach that often limits integration with other software products and services. This lack of integration results in manual conversion of data between software that hinders the efficiency and capacity of your business.  The purchaser should be able to use non-competitive 3rd parties where applicable. If the system does not allow for integration and compatibility for the products you’re already using or hoping to use to power your business, evaluating whether that trade-off is worth it is a must.

2. Request for training, documentation, and configuration. - Oftentimes, software vendors will either develop a “black box” application without access to the code of the program, or give you a product so complicated that it requires a vendor expert. Without access to the inner workings of the software product, the customer is completely dependent on the vendor for how the system operates (and in turn, how your business is run).  By requesting training, configuration tutorials and system documentation, you can ensure you’re getting the most control over the product as you can.

3.  Request to know how the products work together and to access training materials on configuring them yourself. – Compatible software products from the same vendor provide additional software functionality to your system, but they can also leave the customer clueless as to how to use the products together if there is no knowledge or training transitioned between them. If you choose to use the original vendor across multiple products (which you may be forced to), it’s important to understand how you can use these compatibility options to get the most out of your business processing system.

4. Maintain as much direct contact with the vendor as possible, and make use of any feedback service the vendor offers. Large, out-of-the-box software products from major software vendors rarely provide all of the functionality that you need to run your business exactly the way you want (despite the large price tag you dished out for a name brand product). Often times, the packaged system will come with plenty of bells and whistles, but falls short when it comes down to the real tools you need to build your business. Yet these large software vendors rarely allow the customers to direct the development of the products they buy, limiting the opportunities for feedback, compromise, and criticism of what they use (and put up with).  There are no guarantees that large-scale vendors will pay any heed to feedback, but it is the customer’s right to have an active voice wherever possible.

If “double dip recession” happens, is your IT group prepared?

Tuesday, August 9th, 2011

I started writing this blog a couple weeks ago…so, now that the market has dropped by 10% it might not look as impressive that I am asking this question.  Obviously, we’re all hopeful that the economy can stabilize and all of our budgets don’t get cut for 2012.  Unfortunately, that might not be the case.

“More with Less”

If you look at Celent’s CIO study from earlier this year, the major theme was: Business expects more from IT. They reference supporting expanding list of initiatives, prioritizing across business groups, escalation of expectations of IT, and balancing cost reduction/capability creation as key challenges and pressures they’re facing.

 

In the last downturn, companies settled for budget cuts equating to less productivity.  Now, I believe we’ll be challenged to get the same amount done for less budget. So, what can be done?

  • Go Agile – if you’re already using an “Agile-like” development methodology, great.  Dive in and examine how you manage your priorities, who the impact players are, and which areas of the process are adding most value.  Eliminate everything else.
  • Get the most out of the tools that are currently available – FAST 8x  (http://www.fasttechnology.com/software/8x/) is an example and I’d be remiss if I didn’t promote our own software.  With FAST 8x, you can build smaller components to solve targeted business problems at a fraction of the cost, time and risk.
  • Avoid big mistakes – Diversify by spreading out your initiatives and deliver value sooner rather than later.  Don’t buy that big packaged core system that is going to be a burden on the entire organization, cost too much money, and risk the farm.
  • Staff reduction is not a “cure all”.  Obviously, eliminating staff and consultants are necessary triggers that can be used to work within a budget cut, but that will most likely compound the problems with the business needing more.  In some cases, you might want to cut even deeper to free up cash for tools and the “right people” to help you navigate through these times.

Pressures and challenges could increase.  Are you prepared?

 

Tom Famularo

FAST