The next BriefingsDirect deep-dive IT operations case study interview details how Home Trust Company in Toronto has created a center of excellence to improve quality assurance for top performance of their critical SAP applications.
How do you properly structure your testing assets in quality control that makes sense for SAP? What’s your proper defect flow? How do you design a configuration that fits all from the toolset? And where does automation best come into play?
These are some of the essential questions to answer for not only making apps perform well, but to allow for rapid deployment and refinement of new applications, as well as enhance ongoing security and compliance for both systems and data.
To learn more about building a center of excellence for business applications, BriefingsDirect sat down at the recent HP Discover 2014 Conference in Las Vegas with Cindy Shen, SAP QA Manager at Home Trust. The discussion is moderated by me, Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.
Here are some excerpts:
Shen: Home Trust one of the leading trust companies in Toronto, Canada. There are two main businesses we deal with. The first bucket is mortgages. We deal with a lot of residential mortgages.
The other bucket is we’re a deposit-taking institution. People will deposit their money with us, and they can invest in a registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) (along with other options for their investment), which is equivalent of the US 401(k) plan.
We’re also Canada Deposit Insurance Corporation (CDIC)-compliant. If a customer has money with us and if anything happens with the company, the customer can get back up to a certain amount of money.
We’re regulated under the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI), and they regulate the Banks and Trust Companies, including us.
Some of the hurdles
Gardner: So obviously it’s important for you to have your applications running properly. There’s a lot of auditing and a lot of oversight. Tell us what some of the hurdles were, some of the challenges you had as you began to improve your quality-assurance efforts.
Shen: We’re primarily an SAP shop. I was an SAP consultant for a couple of years. I’ve worked in North America, Europe, and Asia. I’ve been through many industries, not just the financial industry. I’ve touched on consumer packaged goods SAP projects, retail SAP projects, manufacturing SAP projects, and banking SAP projects. I usually deal with global projects, 100 million-plus, and 100-300 people.
What I noticed is that, regardless of the industries or the functional solutions that project has, it’s always a common set of QA challenges when it comes to their SAP testing and it’s very complicated. It took me a couple of years to figure the tools, where each tool fits into the whole picture, and how pieces fit together.
For example, some of the common challenges that I’m going to talk about in my session (here at HP Discover) is, first of all, what tools you should be using. The HP ALM, Test Management Tool is, in my opinion, the market leader. That’s what pretty much all the Fortune 500 companies, and even smaller companies, are using primarily as their test management tool. But testing SAP is unique.
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What are the additional tools on the SAP side that you need to have in order to integrate back to ALM test suite and have that system record of development plus the system record of testing, all integrated together, and make it flow which makes sense for SAP applications? That’s unique.
One is toolset and the other one is methodology. If you parachute me into any project, however large or small, complex or simple, local or global, I can guarantee you that the standards are not clear, or there is no standard in place.
For example, how do you properly write a test case to test SAP? You have to go into the granular detail that actually details the action words that you use for different application areas that can enable automation very easily in the future. How do you parameterize?
What’s the appropriate level of parameterization to enable that flexibility for automation? What’s the naming convention for your input parameter and output parameters to make it flow through from the very first test case, all the way to the end, when you test end to end application?
Most errors and defects happen in the integration area. So, how do you make sure your test coverage covers all your key integration points? SAP is very complex. If you change one thing, I can guarantee you that there’s something else in some other areas of the application or in the interface that’s going to change without your knowing it, and that’s going to cause problems for you sooner or later.
So, how do you have those standards and methodology consistently enforced through every person who’s writing test cases or who’s executing testing at the same quality, in the same format, so that you can generate the same reports across all different projects to have the executive oversight and to minimize the duplucate work you have to do on the manual test cases in order to automate in the future.
The other big part is how to maintain such testing assets, so it’s repeatable, reusable, and flexible — and so that you can shorten your project delivery time in the future through automation and a consistent writing test case in manual testing, accelerate new projects coming up, and also improve your quality in terms of post-production support so you can catch critical errors fast.
Those are all very common SAP testing QA themes, challenges, or problems that practitioners like me see in any SAP environment.
Gardner: So when you arrived at Home Trust, and you understood this unique situation, and how important SAP applications are, what did you do to create a center of excellence and an ability to solve these issues?
Shen: I was fortunate to have been the lead on the SAP area for a lot of global projects. I’ve seen the worst of it. I’ve also seen a fraction of the clients that actually do it much better than other companies. So, I’m fortunate to know the best practices I want to implement, what will work, and what won’t work, what are the critical things you have to get in place in the beginning, and what are the pieces you can wait for down the road.
Coming from an SAP background, I’m fortunate to have that knowledge. So, from the start, I had a very clear vision as to how I wanted to drive this. First, you need to conduct an analysis of the current state, and what I saw was very common in the industry as well.
When I started, there were only two people in the QA space. It was a brand new group. And there was an overall software development lifecycle (SDLC) methodology in the company. But the company had just gone live with SAP application. So it was basically a great opportunity to set up a methodology, because it was a green field. That was very exciting.
One of the things you have to have is an overarching methodology. Are you using Business Process Testing (BPT), or are you using some other methodology. We also had to comply with, or fit in with, the methodology of SAP which is ASAP, and that’s primarily the industry standard in the SAP space as well. So, we had to assess the current status and make sure to come up with a methodology that made sense for Home Trust Company.
Two, you had to get all the right tools in place. So, Home Trust is very good at getting the industry-leading toolsets. When I joined, they already had HP QC. At that time, it was called QC; now it’s ALM. Solution Manager, was part of the SAP solution of the purchase. So, it was free. We just had to configure and implement it.
Assessing the landscape
When we assessed the landscape of tools, we realized that, like any other company, they were not maximizing the return on investment (ROI) on the toolsets. The toolsets were not leveraged as much, because in a typical SAP environment, the demand of time to market is very high for project delivery and new product introduction.
When you have a new product, you have to configure the system fast, so it’s not too late to bring the product to the market. You have a lot of time pressure. You also have resource constraints, just like any other company. We started with two people, and we didn’t have a dedicated testing team. That was also something we felt we had to resolve.
We had to tackle it from a methodology and a toolset perspective, and we had to tackle it from a personnel perspective, how to properly structure the team and ramp the resource up. We had to tackle it through those three perspectives. Then, after all the strategic things are in place, you figure out your execution pieces.
From a methodology perspective, what are the authoring standards, what are action words, and what are naming conventions? I can’t emphasize this enough, because I see it done so differently on each project. People don’t know the implications down the road.
How do you properly structure your testing assets in QC that makes sense for SAP? That is a key area. You can’t structure at too high of a level. That means that you have a mega scenario of everything in one test case or just a few test cases. If something changes, which I can guarantee you it will, something changes in the application, because you have to redevelop it or modify it for another feature.
If you structure your testing assets at such a high level, you have to rewrite every single asset. You don’t know where it’s changing something somewhere else, because you probably hard-coded everything.
If you put it at a too much of a granular level, maintenance becomes a nightmare. It really has to be at the right level to enable the flexibility and get ready for automation. It also has to be easy to maintain, because maintenance is usually a higher cost than the actual initial creation. So, those are all the standards we are setting up.
What’s your proper defect flow? It’s different from company to company. You have to figure out the minimum effort required, but what makes sense. You also have to have the right control in place for this company. You have to figure out naming conventions, the relevant test cases, and all that. That’s the methodology part of it.
The toolset is a lot more technical. If you’re talking about the HP ALM Suite, what’s the standard configuration you need to enable for all your projects? I can guarantee you that every company has concurrent projects going on after post-production.
Even when they’re implementing their initial SAP, there are many concurrent streams going on at the same time. How do you make sure its configuration accommodates all the different types of projects? However, with the same set of configuration — this is a key point — you cannot, let me repeat, you cannot, have very different configurations for HP ALM across different projects.
This will prevent you from sharing the test assets across different projects or prevent you from automating them in the same manner or automating them for the near future and prevent you from delivering projects consistently with consistent quality and with consistent reporting format across the company. It prevents all of those and that would generate nightmares for maintenance and having standards put in place. That’s key. I can’t emphasize that enough.
So from the toolset, how do you design a configuration that fits all? That’s the mandate. The rule of thumb is do not customize. Use out-of-box functionality. Do not code. If you really have to write a query, minimize it.
The good thing about HP ALM is that it’s flexible enough to accommodate all the critical requests. If you find you have to write something for it or you have to have a custom field or custom label, you probably should consider changing your process first, because ALM is a pretty mature toolset.
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I‘ve been on very complex global projects in different countries. HP ALM is able to accommodate all the key metrics, all the key deliverables you’re looking to deliver. It has the capacity.
When I see other companies that do a lot of customization, it’s because their process isn’t correct. They’re fixing the tool to accommodate for processes that don’t make sense. People really have to have that open mind, and seek out the best practice and expertise in the industry to understand what out of box functionality to configure for HP ALM to manage their SAP projects, instead of weakening the tool to fit how they do SAP projects.
Sometimes, it involves a lot of change management, and for any company, that’s hard. You really have to keep that open mind, stick with the best practice, and think hard about whether your process makes sense or whether you really need to tweak the tool.
Gardner: It’s fascinating that in doing due diligence on process, methodology, leveraging the tools, and recognizing the unique characteristics of this particular application set, if you do that correctly, you’re going to improve the quality of that particular roll out or application delivery into production, and whatever modifications you need to do over time.
It’s also going to set you up to be in a much better position to modernize and be aggressive with those applications, whether it’s delivering them out to a mobile tier, for example, or whether there’s different integrations with different data. So when you do this well, there are multiple levels of payback. Right?
Shen: I love this question, because this is really the million-dollar view, or the million dollar understanding, that anybody can take away from this podcast or my session (at HP Discover). This is the million dollar vision that you should seriously consider and understand.
From an SAP and HP ALM perspective and the Center for Excellence, the vision is this (I’m going to go slowly, so you get all the components and all the pieces):
SAP and HP work very closely. So your account rep will help you greatly in the toolsets in that area. It starts with Solution Manager from SAP, which should be your system record of development. The best part is when you implement SAP, you use Solution Manager to input all your Business Process Hierarchy (BPH). BPH is your key ingredient in Solution Manager that lays out all the processes in your environment.
Tied with it you should input all the transaction codes (T-codes). The DNA of SAP is T-codes. If you go to any place in SAP, most likely you have to enter a T-code. That will bring you to the right area. When we scope out an SAP project, the key starts with the list of T-codes. The key is to build out that BPH in SAP and associate all the T-codes in different areas.
With that T-code, you actually have all the documentation, functional specification, technical specification, all of the documentation and mapping associated at each level in your BPH along with your T-code. Not only that, you should have all your security IDs and metrics associated with each level at the BPH and T-codes, and all the flows and requirements all tied together, and of course the development, the code.
So, your Solution Manager should be the system record of development. The best practice is to always implement your SAP initial implementation with Solution Manager. So by the time you go live, you’ve already done all that. That’s the first bucket.
The second bucket is HP Tool Suite. We’ll start with HP ALM Test Management Tool. It allows you to input your testing requirements, and they flow through the requirement to a test. If you’re using Business Process Testing (BPT), then you should flow through to the component in BPT, and flow through the test case module. Then, you flow through to the test plan, test lab and flow through to the defects. Everything is well integrated and connected.
And then there is something we call an adapter. It’s a Solution Manager and HP ALM adapter. It enables Solution Manager and HP ALM to talk. You have to configure that adapter between Solution Manager and ALM. This is able to bring your hierarchy, your BPH in Solution Manager, and all the related assets, including the T-codes, over to the requirement model in HP ALM.
So if you have your Solution Manager straightened out, whatever you bring over to ALM, that’s already your scope. It tells you what T-codes is in scope to test. By the way, in SAP it’s often a headache that each T-code can do many, many things, especially if you’re heavily customized.
So a T-code is not enough. You have to go down to a granular level of getting the variants. What are the typical scenarios or typical testing variants it has? Then, you can create that variance in the Solution Manager in the BPH. Then, it’s going to flow through to the Requirement module in HP ALM and list out all your T-codes’ possible variants.
Then, based on that, you start scoping out your testing assets. What are the components, test cases, or whatever you have to write. You put them in a BPT or you put them in your test case model. Then you link the requirement over. So you already have your test coverage. Then, you flow through a test case, flow through your execution in test lab, flow through to defects, and then it all ties back together.
And where does automation come in play? That’s the bucket after HP ALM. So, UFT today is still the primary tool people use to automate. In the SAP space, SAP actually has its own. It’s called, Test Acceleration and Optimization (TAO). That’s also leveraging UFT. That’s the foundation to create a specific SAP automation, but either is fine. If you already have UFT, you really could start today.
Back and forth
So, the automation comes in place. This is very interesting. This is how it goes back and forth. For example, you already transported something to production and you want to check if anything slipped through the cracks? Is all the testing coverage there?
There’s something called Solution Document Assistant. From the Solution Manager side, you can actually read from EarlyWatch reports to see what T codes are actually being used in your Production system today. After something is transported over into Prod, you can re-run it again to see what are the net new T-codes in the production system. Then, you can compare that. So there’s a process.
Then you can see what are the net new ones from the BPH and flow through that to your HP QC or HP ALM, and see whether we have coverage for that. If not, here’s your scope for net new manual and automated testing.
Then, you keep building that regression and you eventually will get a library. That’s how you flow through back and forth. There is also something called Business Process Change Analyzer (BPCA). That already comes free with Solution Manager. You just have to configure it.
It allows you to load whatever you want to change in production into the buffer. So, before you actually transfer the code into production, you’ll be able to know what area it impacts. It goes into the core level. So, it allows you to do targeted regression as well. We talked about Solution Manager. We talked about ALM. We talked about UFT. Then, there is LoadRunner, the performance center, the load testing, the performance testing, stress testing, etc., and this all goes into the same picture.
The ideal solution is that you can flow through your content in Solution Manager to HP ALM and you can enable automation for all tests together — and all those performance, stress, whatever, testing — in one end-to-end flow and you’re able to build that regression library. You’re able to build that technical testing library. And you’re able to build that library and Solution Manager and maintain them at same time.
Gardner: So the technology is really powerful, but it’s incumbent on the users to go through those steps of configuring, integrating, creating the diligence of the libraries and then building on that.
I’d like to go up to the business-level discussion. When you go to your boss’s boss, can you explain to them what they’re going to get as a value for having gone through this? It’s one thing to do it because it’s the right thing to do and it’s got super efficient benefits, but that needs to translate into dollars and cents and business metrics. So what do you tell them you get at that business level when they do this properly?
Business takes notice
Shen: Very good question, because this exercise we did can be applied to any other companies. It’s at the level that business really takes notice. One common challenge is that when you on-board somebody, do they have the proper documentation to ramp it up?
I yet have to see a company that’s very good with documentation, especially with SAP, where is that list of scope of all the T-codes that are today in production we use? What are the functional specs? What are the technical specs? Where is the field map? Where are the flows? You have to have that documentation in order to ramp somebody up or what typically ends up happening is that you hire somebody and you have to take other team members for a few weeks to ramp the person up.
Instead of putting them on the project to deliver right away, start writing the code, start configuring SAP, or whatever, they can’t start until few months later. How do you accelerate that process? You build everything up with Solution Manager, you build everything up in HP ALM, you build everything up in your QTP and UFT and everything.
So this way, the person will come in, they can go to Solution Manager and look at all the T-codes and scope, look at all the updated T-codes, updated business areas, look at updated functional specs, understand what the company’s application does and what’s the logic and what’s configuration. Then, the person can easily go to HP ALM and figure out, the testing scenarios, how people test, how they use application, and what should be the expected behavior of the application.
Point one is that you can really speed up the hiring process and the knowledge transfer process for your new personnel. A more important application of this is on projects. Whether SAP or not, companies usually use very high-end products, because you have to constantly draw out new applications, new releases, and new features based on market conditions and based on business needs.
When a project starts, a very common challenge is the documentation of existing functionality? How can you identify what to build? If you have nothing, I can guarantee you that you’ll spend a few weeks of the entire project team trying to figure out current status.
Again, with the library and Solution Manager, the regression testing suite, the automated suite in HP ALM and UFT, and all of that, you can get that on day one. It’s going to shorten the project time. It’s going to accelerate the project time with good quality.
The other thing is that a project is so important that anything in the project is very necessary. When you actually figure out your status quo, you start building.
Testing is the most labor-intensive and painstaking process and probably one of the most expensive areas in any project delivery. How do you accelerate that? Without existing regression library, documented test scenarios, and even automated existing regression libraries, you have to invent everything from scratch.
By the way, that involves figuring out the scope, the testing scope that involves writing the test case from scratch, building all the parameters, and building all the data. That takes a lot of time. If you already have an existing library, that’s going to shorten your lifecycle a lot.
So all this translates into dollar saving plus better coverage and faster delivery, which is key for business. By the way, when you have all this set in place, you’re able to catch a lot more defects before it goes to production. I saw study that said it’s about 10 times more expensive if you catch a defect in production. So the earlier you catch it, the better.
Gardner: Right, of course. It also strikes me that doing this will allow you to have better security confidence, governance risk and compliance benefits, and auditability when that kicks in. In a banking environment, of course, that’s really important.
Shen: Absolutely. The HP ALM tool allows the complete audit trail for the testing aspect of it. Not at this current company, but on other projects, usually an auditor comes in and they ask for access to HP QC. They look at HP ALM, auto test cases, who executed, the recorded results, and defects, that’s what auditors look for.
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Gardner: Cindy, what is it that’s of interest to you here at HP Discover in terms of what comes next in HP’s tool, seeing as they’re quite important to you? Also, are you looking for anything in the HP-SAP relationship moving forward?
Shen: I love that question. Sometimes, I feel very lonely in this niche field. SAP is a big beast. HP-SAP integration is part of what they do, but it’s not what they market. The good thing is that most SAP clients have HP ALM. It’s a very necessary toolset for both HP and SAP to continue to evolve and support.
It’s a niche market. There are only a handful of people in the world that can do this from end to end properly. HP has many other products. So, you’re looking at a small circle of SAP end clients who are using HP toolsets, who need to know how to properly configure and run this efficiently and properly. Sometimes I feel very lonely, overlapping the circle of HP and SAP.
That’s why Discover is very important to me. It feels like a homecoming, just because here I’ll actually speak to the project managers and experts on HP ALM sprinter, the integration, and the HP adapter. So I know what the future releases are. I know what’s coming down the line, and I know the configuration I might have to change in the future.
The other really good of part, which I’m passionate about, having doing enough projects, is that I’ve helped clients, and there’s always this common set of questions and challenges. It took me a couple of years to figure these out. There are many, many people out there in the same boat as I was years back, and I love to share my experience, expertise, and knowledge with the end clients.
They’re the ones managing and creating their end-to-end testing. They’re the ones facing all these challenges. I love to share with them what the best practices are, how to structure things correctly, so that you don’t have to suffer down the road. It really takes expertise to make it right. That’s what I love to share.
As far as the ecosystem of HP and SAP. I’d like to see them integrate more tightly. I’d like to see them engage more with the end-user community, so that we can definitely share the lessons and share the experience with end user more.
Also, I know all the vendors in the space. Basically, the vendors in the space are very niche and most of them come from SAP and HP backgrounds. So I keep running into people I know. My vendors keep running to people they know, and it’s that community that’s very critical to enable success for the end user and for the business.
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