Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Test business continuity plans effectively before it’s too late

The hurricanes that have hit the United States this month and July’s terrorist attacks in London have served as a stark reminder to companies to examine their business continuity procedures before it’s too late, and independent testing consultancy Acutest has set up a new team to help organisations review their business continuity and disaster recovery strategies.

Statistics show that 90% of businesses that lose data following a disaster are forced to shut within two years*. Acutest’s experience is that there is an alarming level of complacency in the business continuity planning of UK companies, with many of the organisations who do allocate significant budgets to business continuity planning spending money on the wrong things or not testing plans sufficiently to be confident they will work.

The Acutest solution to these issues is an independent health check highlighting areas of omission and also looking at areas which require testing (Business Continuity Planning Assurance). Acutest involves the client in identifying the risks to be mitigated and works with them to test the effectiveness of the procedures in place. As well as highlighting the areas of risk where testing is required, this approach also shows the areas in which testing would not add value and therefore would be a waste of effort.

Acutest’s CEO, Barry Varley, said: “We all hope that it will never happen to us, but the question is how would your staff, systems and the services you provide cope following a disaster? Could your business survive?”

Varley continued: “Some organisations produce plans simply to ‘tick a box’, for example to satisfy regulatory bodies, auditors, shareholders or prospective clients. These organisations often reuse a generic plan, and frequently the company revisits it so rarely that it ends up referring to equipment or business practices that are no longer in use. We have been into companies to discuss business continuity and found the only copy of the plan existed in a bookcase in the IT Director’s office!”

“There is a large community that pays lip service to business continuity planning and business continuity testing. They pay the costs of planning but then find that those procedures don’t deliver on the day it matters most. Worse still, it can cost more just to go through the motions of putting a plan together than it can to build and test a strategy that really will provide business continuity in an emergency.”

For more information on effective business continuity planning or testing, contact Acutest on 020 7917 2838 or at

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Software Testing FAQ - No. 2

Is the number of people testing in the UK a prime number?

That was sent in by Oliver Letwin.

Now, the answer isn't so straight forward here. Oliver, do you mean the number of people testing software systems, IT infrastructures and business processes or does it include people involved in other types of testing (e.g. school children or means tested pensioners, for example)?

We can't commit to a definite answer at this stage, Oliver - probably not is a better bet than probably. Not that I am suggesting you are a betting man in any way. All I would venture is that you are a man with an interest in getting to the truth on prime topics such as this.

Software testing UK

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Business continuity testing starts with the risks

All business continuity analysis should be risk based, and risk prioritised to deal with the important business risks first. This means that any risks to your business need to be identified, examined and dealt with.There are 4 options for dealing with each risk:

  1. Reduce the risk. Reducing the risk falls into 2 categories – reducing the likelihood of the problem occurring and reducing the impact of the problem if it does happen. A simple example is that by having a fire alarm you are reducing the likelihood of a fire spreading unseen and by installing a sprinkler system you are reducing the impact of fire. Reducing the risk is often referred to as mitigation. For example, data backups are a form of mitigation. They reduce the impact if a problem occurs which affects the primary data source. Any mitigating actions require testing to provide assurance they work when required.
  2. Transfer the risk. This is an interesting option which may be seen as a get-out, but which is a perfectly valid thing to do. By transferring a risk it becomes someone else’s problem and you therefore have the risk covered. We are not talking about blaming someone else, or even transferring the risk to someone else in the company. For example, there could be a risk that office space will not be available in the case of a disaster in the main location. Therefore the risk can be transferred to a third party company which organises office space for disaster recovery and keeps offices available for companies who need such a recovery service. These services must be available for disaster recovery testing.

  3. Accept the risk. By accepting the risk of a potential problem you are at least aware of its existence and can plan for it happening. If it is a risk that would have no impact for an acceptable period of time it should still be noted but you may decide to take no action until it occurs.Almost by definition, accepting a risk is also reducing the impact of the risk as you are aware of the potential problem and can write it into your business continuity plan.

  4. Ignore the risk. This option should never be selected. There is never a reason for ignoring a risk once it has been identified. A risk can be accepted (acknowledged) but must never be ignored.

Once the actions for each risk have been identified, then anything put in place to help cope with a risk needs testing. However, many companies either test nothing at all or try testing every facet of a business continuity plan. Both methods are doomed to failure. The answer is to adopt a risk based testing approach from two perspectives: the business continuity plan is fit for purpose and it will work when invoked.

A health check (testing the plan is fit for purpose) needs to be performed by someone other than the authors of the business continuity plan. Ideally it’s performed by an independent third party that specialises in testing business continuity plans, but it could be a disinterested party from another part of the company. Independence is essential here for an objective assessment.

Testing the plan will work when invoked, must be viewed in a business context and the elements of the plan prioritised so that the risks with the most business impact and likelihood are tested first. This approach and the techniques to perform business continuity testing in a cost effective manner are the subject of other articles.

About Acutest

Acutest is an, independent consultancy specialising in testing software, IT and technology-centred change. Acutest provides a full portfolio of outsourced software testing services, primarily to blue chip organisations. The principal aim of all these services is to substantially increase the value businesses can derive from testing by reducing the elapsed time spent testing, reducing the cost of testing and reducing the risks to launching new products and services. One highly popular service is Acutest's business continuity testing service.
For further information on Acutest contact:

Blackwell House
Guildhall Yard
LondonEC2V 5AE
Tel: +44 (0)20 7917 2838

Friday, September 16, 2005

Software Testing FAQ - No. 1

Is software testing interesting?

That was sent in by an infrastructure manager in the public sector. Not sure if he is from the DWP.Anyway, the answer is YES. Especially testing software patches.

More questions and answers soon

Software Testing UK

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Risk-based testing approach helps Wales & West Utilities achieve the ‘impossible’

Software testing consultancy Acutest has helped new regulated gas distribution business Wales & West Utilities (WWU) successfully launch its operation from a standing start in just eight months. WWU outsourced responsibility for its technical and business testing to Acutest in order to validate its ability to start trading without major risk and disruption. The project involved testing the business processes; the core systems, such as the SAP implementation and the Ingenuity HR system; ancillary and support systems; systems integration with third parties; and the technical infrastructure.

The timeframe for defining the business processes and implementing the new systems and technical infrastructure concurrently was very compressed. Acutest was chosen for its proven ability to test effectively in these circumstances. Their approach combines focusing testing on the areas with the greatest likelihood and business impact of failure, finding problems early and building small collaborative testing units that include specialist testers, business users and staff from third party suppliers.

A regulated gas distribution business, WWU has 34,000km of pipelines serving a catchment area of 7.4 million people throughout Wales and the South West of England. The WWU network was purchased from National Grid Transco in August 2004. Industry regulator Ofgem imposed a strict deadline of the 1st June for completion of the sale. From day one the processes and systems needed to be capable of supporting the business operation with approximately 1,200 staff.

“The WWU business went live on 1st June 2005 and was able to fulfil its regulatory requirements. Post go-live, the systems have run very successfully,” explains Ian Graham, CIO and Programme Manager, Wales & West Utilities. “Acutest’s testing approach was the key to verifying our systems and processes, and giving us the confidence to go-live. I’m a strong believer that small expert teams using lean project processes will achieve goals more quickly. Acutest’s approach and people fitted effectively into this structure. Despite the speed we moved at they still managed to leave us with a lasting testing asset: a full test suite that we can use when we regression test future enhancements and releases.”

Barry Varley, CEO, Acutest commented“Acutest was accountable for validating WWU’s ability to go live without exposure to major risk. Test results provided the programme and business management team with valuable information and the clarity to make key programme decisions. We only had eight months, so it was impossible to test everything, but the fact that the systems and processes are performing so well is testament to the effectiveness of this approach.”

### ends ###

About Acutest Acutest is an, independent consultancy specialising in testing software, IT and technology-centred change. Acutest provides a full portfolio of outsourced software testing services , primarily to blue chip organisations. The principal aim of all these services is to substantially increase the value businesses can derive from testing by reducing the elapsed time spent testing, reducing the cost of testing and reducing the risks to launching new products and services.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Blog Hop

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Automated Software Testing just got a lot simpler

Acutest, a software testing consultancy, and Odin Technology, a provider of automated regression testing solutions, announced a strategic agreement to help customers improve the business value they derive from automated testing.

Odin Technology is the creator of the Axe Automated Testing Framework. Axe provides a means to rapidly deploy automated testing systems that can be used by non-technical staff with little training. It is compatible with all leading automated test execution tools, including those from Mercury – Winrunner and QTP (Quick Test Pro); Compuware – TestPartner and QARun; and IBM Rational - Robot.

Acutest concentrate solely on testing software, IT and technology-centred change with the goal of substantially increasing the value their customers derive from testing. Increased value means:

  • reducing the elapsed time spent testing

  • reducing the risk to going live

  • reducing the cost of software testing.

“There’s a close alignment of the goals of our two organisations,” explained Barry Varley, CEO, Acutest. “We both focus on helping businesses achieve more from testing. We both want our customer’s to achieve more with their existing resources, such as their investment in technology & testing tools and their people. Odin specialises in testing products and Acutest specialises in outsourced testing services. By combining our expertise we can offer our customer’s significant additional benefits.”

Market analysts are predicting significant growth in the number of companies that are trying to automate their testing activities.

“There are excellent tools available to help execute automated tests but test automation still has a poor reputation for delivering value.” said Duncan Brigginshaw, Director of Odin. “One problem is that scripting for these tools requires a lot of skill, so companies are bringing in teams of automated testers to translate their tests into code for automated regression testing. Our product removes this requirement and empowers the business testers to create automated tests themselves. This removes a whole layer of activity that adds no benefit but adds real costs in time and money to both the creation and maintenance of the scripts.”

Removing the dependency on automated testers provides a major boost to productivity. Combining this with Acutest’s services amplifies it further for automated software testing systems.

“We’ve customised our testing services around Odin’s offering” commented Graeme Holmes, Sales Director, Acutest. “We help organisations create the right automation testing strategy using our principle-centred testing approach and risk based testing techniques. This already provides considerable productivity improvements and with the incorporation of Axe the business case to automate testing is compelling. ROI is increased dramatically.”