Software testing has always been an essential component in any project delivery programme. The last thing any project needs is expensive and time-consuming performance issues or exceptions. Costly fails. Even the smallest software issues could have potentially serious implications.
All testing is focused on identifying and eradicating problems before they have the opportunity to have an impact on the business. In large and complex projects, this has traditionally focused on manual testing.
Often a long and laborious task, manual testing takes a lot of people power to write, execute and maintain the necessary scripts. And because ‘people are people’ they can end up missing steps, making mistakes, misinterpreting results or even passing something that should have failed.
This is why testing automation is such an attractive advance for retail technology. While it has seen great traction in online technologies, where dedicated automation tools have been created, in retail technology the take up has been slower due to complex point of sale (POS), back office systems (BOS) and architecture.
Rapid, transparent, meticulous and adaptable, automation’s time and cost savings, as well as its broader benefits – like freeing-up time for teams to do more exploratory testing, root cause and edge-case analysis – are many and compelling.
So compelling in fact that, in 2017, REPL set up a dedicated testing automation team. Lead by Test Director Antony Kaplan, the team has been tasked with applying the latest innovations in testing automation to REPL’s world-leading retail projects. Specialist testing automation across POS, automated card payments, workforce, enterprise resource planning (ERP), warehouse and retail supply chain solutions for specialist retail clients.
“We’re always evolving new software stacks”, says Principal Consultant Rachit Amin. “And clients will always recommend or use different stacks depending on what we’re trying to test”.
Testing Automation for Quicker More Structured Results
Says Antony Kaplan, “We’re already running projects and proof of concepts for various customers to show them how we can deliver quicker and in a more structured way with automation yet still deliver the quality our customers expect”.
For a global fuel customer, a POS software replacement programme called Reset has already seen Australia, the Netherlands and Poland tested manually. Now, an automation proof of concept is being rolled out to run automation for the POS, card payments and JDA back office stock control and management systems. Automated regression packs are also added manually into automated pieces that test the whole system to make sure the new software hasn’t damaged the old.
REPL are using its near-shore centre in Cape Town, South Africa to automate the POS and JDA back office regression packs.
Says Antony, “We’re integrating the three, so there’s a fully automated solution that starts with fuel transactions, adds retail purchases as a sale, automatically tenders with a physical credit or debit card using our automated cards robot, and then as part of our automation run also checks reconciliation between POS and BOS. This also helps clients make sure the stock reconciliation has been completed”.
Where Automation Meets Robotics
One of the areas that all software suppliers struggle with is how to automate the credit card payment.
Says Antony, ”You have to manually insert a card into a card payment device and enter the pin number and pull the card out at the right time. Historically, an automated process can’t do that. Either the process stops and waits for a manual intervention and carries on afterwards, or you have to simulate the card process with a software simulator which means you aren’t testing the real end-to-end process”.
Using robots to insert cards into a payments device (PED), enter the pin and wait for a response before handing them back to the automation, Antony and his team are already cracking this long-standing automation bottleneck. An innovative solution that’s also likely to be deployed with the global fuel customer.
The benefits of automated software testing are many.
Once automation scripts exist they exist, with easy maintenance and reusability. And with almost 100% of testing functionality able to be automated, the time savings are clear.
For example, automation can run overnight with testers able to review results in the morning, screen-print failures and not have to rerun a check.
“It takes about a third of the time as manual checking”, says Antony, “it gets software out of the door a lot quicker”. The REPL team is looking to drive support from the start of projects, moving straight into behaviour-driven development (BDD) models to ensure automated testing and the associated benefits are delivered sooner.
The saved time saves money and resources that can be applied to other important tasks. “When you create automated scripts you need visualisation of the function”, says Rachit, “So you’re already going through the manual phase. Once execution of the automation is done, the focus shifts to the very small amount that has to remain manual”.
It takes people to write and maintain scripts so a manual contribution will always be required. Adds Antony, “Manual testing will always be necessary as there are always UX/UI and peripheral considerations”.
That said, automation plays an increasingly significant role in testing. And Antony and his team of retail technology experts are bringing that to retail specialists the world over.