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Striking the right balance of automation and human values

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/Vasin Lee)

While automated software testing has come on leaps and bounds in a large number of industries, within the retail sector, the complexity of legacy technology and systems has slowed its advances. Until recently, this has resulted in manual software testing being the only method used within the sector, which not only relies on massive amounts of people power and takes a significant amount of time but can also result in human error.

Fortunately, retailers are now able to overcome many of these drawbacks through the use of automated software testing. Software testing is vital to continuous healthy systems, as checking for blockages and weaknesses allows retailers to take corrective action before a minor problem becomes critical. Automated software testing allows retailers to continue to do this but much faster, more effectively and with a greater degree of accuracy than manual testing afforded.

However, increasing automation of processes and roles often sparks concerns about what it means for the humans currently carrying out these roles. While these concerns are only natural, employees currently in manual software testing positions stand to benefit as much as retailers since automated software testing makes it possible to relieve testers from mind-numbing testing tasks and allows them to move into value-adding roles. So, as retailers begin to implement automation testing, what is it and how can retailers implement automation testing without compromising human values?

How can retailers use automation testing?

The demand for rapid execution of increasingly complicated orders means warehouse management systems need to perform progressively more complex functions and the sheer volumes of transactions have increased. This often means upgrading 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.

Additionally, 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 using up significant labour, without the guarantee of a flawless end result, retailers are in need of a new solution.

What advantages does automation bring?

Retailers stand to see a number of significant benefits from adopting automated software testing. Not only does it make software testing much quicker, but it also allows for improved software testing tactics to be used as human testers can take a more varied, interesting and value-adding role in the process. Instead of following traditional test scripts, testers could follow Gherkin scripts written in BDD format, for instance. 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. Automated software testing also allows testers to update new developments in parallel. By completing more software releases and hot fixes than were previously possible, therefore freeing up a substantial amount of human power, systems can be up and running much faster.

The collaborative environment automation testing facilitates, due to the ability for software testing to be stored in a cloud-based server, is also widely advantageous for retailers and their employees. 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 continue to support human testers?

In order to effectively embrace automation, retailers must invest in training and skills development in their test resource to grow out new competencies. With training initiatives in place, automation testing creates new opportunities for testers to develop new skills and move into new roles. 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 testing drives the requirement for a different skill set within a QA 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.

Although implementing automation testing requires some initial investment, over time it will drive cost savings which can then be ploughed back into investing in upskilling employees and automating more of the software testing process. This way of reinvesting will help retailers develop a more skilled workforce and move towards generating greater savings in time and effort, all while controlling costs.

As long as retailers ensure they continue to support and value their employees by upskilling them and moving them into value-adding roles, everyone stands to benefit from increased automation and positions automation as a catalyst for positive change.

Mike Callender, Executive Chairman, REPL Group (opens in new tab)
Image source: Shutterstock/Vasin Lee

Mike Callender, Executive Chairman, REPL Group.