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Embrace automation – and maximise ROI across the lab infrastructure

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…says Ralph Joseph, Business Development Manager for Automation at Spirent. He is championing an automation strategy called iTO that brings ROI to the forefront.
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The demand for quality, customer retention, corporate reputation means goods and services must be tested. That is clear. But what is the cost? Does testing remain a necessary overhead, like security, or can it deliver real return on investment?

As systems grow more complex, competition mounts and customers grow harder to please, the test team is under pressure. Test integrations grow brittle in the face of new features. Money is invested in expert scripters, developing tests that no one else can replicate or even understand, and test engineers are forced to spend increasing time re-wiring and re-configuring the lab for every scenario, release or project.

Test automation offers a solution, and the industry is moving in that direction. Without a holistic approach, however, automation can involve significant cost without delivering the optimised data-flow and ROI to justify further investment into a smarter test strategy, more capable tools or a lab that is streamlined, accessible, efficient and, most importantly, pays for itself.

The secret is to ensure that you optimise all interactions and all workflows across all aspects of your test strategy. Failure to optimise across the test infrastructure will result in time, money and resource leakage that could impact a test lab for many years. But get it right, and you can look forward to future investment in smarter strategies and even better lab equipment.

The savings and benefits from optimised automation
Here is an example: a leading manufacturer of low-cost Ethernet switches and data-center management solutions to global corporations, large telecommunications companies, service providers, carriers, enterprise and government organisations alike. The growing demand for network virtualization meant the testing cycle had grown seven-fold, demanding extra staff and overseas outsourcing to keep up with the increase in scale and complexity.

The SVP of Business Development recalled that “The growth rate of QA was becoming faster than development”.
Automation was an obvious necessity, and the company had already invested and developed a home-grown script-based system that followed a proven testing workflow yet was proving inefficient and a huge drain on resources. They needed a commercial solution that would enable engineers of all skill levels to contribute to the automation process and help bring a quality product to market in a cost effective manner.

Only one year after adopting an optimised automated test solution, they had created approximately 3,700 test cases spanning 13 different products and 65% of the original test plan was now fully automated. The resulting standardisation meant that their engineers could create and share portable automation assets, including tests, reports, topologies and documentation.

“We can avoid the inefficiency of having one engineer create a test and give it to the automation team to make into an automation test suite,” “The VP for Software Engineering went on, “The automation team can simply leverage the original test plan, moving automation up earlier in the process and saving us a lot of time and cycles.”
Substantial time saving was noted elsewhere in the QA workflow, including regression testing, product delivery and maintenance release cycles. Developers and test engineers streamlined communication and reduced time to resolution by sharing automation assets. Developers were easily able to reproduce bugs at their desktops, saving both groups time and allowing them to focus on further quality testing and development. In summary, the ROI

Analysis Study noted:

  • Scripting costs reduced by more than 40%
  • 12-fold increase in productivity
  • 50% reduction in test cycle
  • 14-fold reduction in bug reproduction time
  • Over 10-fold reduction in time for maintenance releases

As a consequence, the company was able to reshape its whole delivery approach. According to the company’s Director of Software Quality Assurance: “The performance gains from allowed us to save about $500,000 in resources and equipment. It enabled us to leverage existing resources more efficiently so that we can meet our quality objectives while adhering to a more aggressive schedule.”
A year after adopting this approach, the company was purchased by a global technology and consulting corporation, primarily on the strength of its improved performance, demonstrable ROI and re-positioning as a market sector leader.
This level of productivity gain and ROI does not simply apply to the network equipment manufacturer – service providers, carriers and enterprise organisation have shown similar benefits across the world. The following service provider example shows what can be achieved when optimising across the entire test environment.

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The number of automated test cases this service provider could perform against manually-driven tests was increased 50% from a 40/60 ratio to 60/40. Test Bed setup time when viewed as an overall average across the project was reduced from 60% of the project to 20% – 3 Times faster than before. This had a significant impact on actual tester productivity where they observed a 12 Times increase in productivity when viewed as the number of executed tests per person. Defect resolution time was reduced by 86% which facilitated a restructuring of the test organisation to adopt the common communication approach. A 50% reduction in test cycle was enough for the executive management to mandate that all test organisation project and program managers take a closer look at automation and assess viability on all projects moving forward. A reduction in time to market was viewed very seriously as meeting a core business objective. The service provider had seen years of additional cost with delayed product releases and the subsequent impact on project management. With the average test cycle dropping despite the massively increased level of quality, the improvements brought by automation were welcomed across the wider organisation and lauded by senior management and the executive team.

These figures are clearly impressive, but what might they mean in terms of monetary ROI? The following table shows actual savings made by a small product qualification group on one typical release test schedule, based on time saved. Note that this result does not include further savings made possible by multi-threaded stress tests, for example. There is no comparison here because such tests could not be performed without a sophisticated commercial automation solution. Their previous scripted environment was not capable of automating these types of tests.

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It’s clear that, scaling up the saving for one release up to a year of 6 regular releases and 6 point or maintenance releases, the total 1st year savings totalled $674,588. The subsequent impact on the time to market, increase in product quality, customer satisfaction and overall increased satisfaction of the test team were observed as key knock-on effects of such astounding results.

How this is achieved – a radical approach to test automation
The testing and quality industry can no longer afford to focus simply on the functional, performance or regression test – instead it must integrate the individual elements of the test workflow and optimise across the entire test lab infrastructure to ensure significant ROI in the lab.

A sure way to achieve this is by adopting a strategy known as Infrastructure Test Optimization (iTO). The strategy was proposed back in 2010 by leading US tech industry analysts, Voke, who determined that to be successful with automation in the network test arena, organisations had to look beyond the functional flow of a test case and into optimising all elements of the test lifecycle from requirements traceability, through tighter element integration right down to optimised test execution.

Organizations that apply iTO are rewarded with better visibility, deeper traceability and realism in their test infrastructures whilst also observing increased collaboration and productivity. Ultimately this leads to greater business value as business objectives can be more closely aligned and synchronised with activities promoted by the iTO method. New innovations and best practices that arise from the iTO method can be embedded in the organisation for years to come.

For “the proof of the pudding”, my organisation first applied iTO to its own automation software product development processes. The results were so impressive that senior engineering management then adopted the principle across the wider engineering organisation as a standard for high achievement.

More significantly, iTO is now embedded into all the company’s pre-sales strategies with the result that, within 6 months of deployment, customers find they can start to develop and improve the way projects are planned and executed – realistically cutting project times by half.

The essence of iTO
iTO encompasses five primary practice areas:

  • Emulation & Analysis – Ensuring that real world traffic generation and input data is optimised and provides a realistic picture of the network complexities, subscriber activity and application demand.
  • Test & Topology Automation – Automation development environments to build test cases, lab utilities, system workflow and to automate the switching of the physical lab via media cross connects. The provision of automation for all skill levels based on industry standards and established test engineering best practices. Tools to establish test setup, test configuration and test teardown. Tools to analyse real-time incoming data, to handle variance and scale. Tools to execute tests, provide in depth reporting and to facilitate lights-out regression testing.
  • Manual & Developer Testing – Support for industry-standard, open software engineering architectures such as Eclipse promote the development of tighter integrations and also enable software development teams to innovate across the testing workflow. The industry is relying on the availability of strong and expansive tool API. The industry tool vendors appear to be listening and this is at the heart of iTO.
  • Quality Management – Ensure reliable and efficient implementation of the corporate-wide quality strategy by easing the workflow to improve the level of traceability. iTO promotes integrations with industry standard quality management platforms which are easy to manage, seamless to the test community and fully automated. From Requirements to Design to Implementation to Execution – iTO can ensure that traceability is optimised.
  • Lifecycle Virtualization – Embracing virtual computing technology across the entire test infrastructure to provide the required level of scalability whilst avoiding compromise on system efficiency and test performance.

These five practice areas are encouraged to work together in an holistic manner thus promoting the use of shareable and reusable test assets. Collaboration is supported by improved and common communication between adjacent teams in the workflow and this allows for the organisation-wide adoption of best practices and conventions.

Conclusion
The industry is testing. That is clear. But at what cost? The resources needed to maintain a disparate testing workflow make it hard to achieve core business objectives. On the other hand, optimising a test strategy right across the lab infrastructure from the people involved to the potential for tighter element integration can significantly raise productivity, ROI and product quality.

Testing is not just a necessary overhead. An optimal test strategy can put you on the path to market leadership.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Technology

The (U)X Factor: The software bringing biometric payment cards to market

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The (U)X Factor: The software bringing biometric payment cards to market 1

By Jonas Nilsson, Product Manager at Fingerprints

With over 20 bank trials in progress and a second commercial roll-out imminent in France with BNP Paribas, contactless biometric payment cards are steadily but surely making their way to our wallets, marking what has been called the ‘biggest development in card technology in recent years’.

Innovation cannot stand still now, though. Key learnings and insights from the trials, combined with expertise from mobile biometric systems, are driving more optimized products. As you’d expect, security and privacy are always front of mind but a seamless user experience (UX) is just as important for any new technology to achieve widespread consumer adoption.

Our research found that 64% of consumers identified a low rejection rate and ergonomics as key priorities for adopting the new technology. To succeed, biometric payment cards must not only improve the security of contactless, but deliver the same seamless UX too.

Getting these aspects right has been a balancing act of hardware and software innovation. Let’s have a look at the innovation that’s taking the biometric payment card from trial to the hands of consumers.

POS SOS

Time and time again, research shows that consumers and retailers alike want to avoid friction at the point-of-sale (POS) that might cause frustration, embarrassment or – most critically for retailers – dropouts.

As with any payment technology, a potential source of friction lies in the interaction with the traditional payment acceptance terminal itself. R&D has zoomed in on this to ensure transaction speeds remain as slick as traditional contactless. By optimizing the power consumption of biometric sensors in payment cards, the sensor and on-card matching process can all be powered from the payment terminal in the same way contactless cards are. The ultra-low power sensor is always on ‘standby’, meaning it is ready to go at a ‘tap’ on the terminal. Care has also been taken to ensure the cards are compliant with 100% of current payment terminals power levels, greatly reducing the possibility of friction.

Reducing rejections

Given these concerns about friction, it’s unsurprising that 64% of consumers in our research emphasized avoiding false rejections, where the correct fingerprint “doesn’t work” or isn’t read, as a point of hesitation.

While security is measured by the False Acceptance Rate (FAR) – where the wrong user is authenticated – convenience can be measured by the False Rejection Rate (FRR). This rate has historically been relatively low, but is in a constant balancing act with the FAR, with greater security provisions usually meaning a slight trade-off in convenience.

However, further refinements to the hardware which captures the fingerprint image, and the algorithm which process it, have succeeded in reducing false rejections even further. Drawing on improved image quality and more efficient internal software, the sensor can now read and authenticate the fingerprint source from more angles than ever. Even better, these improvements have also reduced the False Acceptance Rate (FAR), making authentications even more secure at the same time.

Real-time, all the time

A key measure of UX in payments is speed – especially when it comes to contactless. To be able to compete, biometric payment cards must deliver the same less-than-a-second authentication as unauthenticated contactless.

The challenge, of course, is that security must remain a priority – but imposing too much latency with new protection and anti-spoofing provisions is a threat to convenient response times, and ultimately, the UX.

Once again, further innovation has been crucial here. Thanks to refined sensor technology, the latest biometric sensors are able to increase transaction speeds by some 30% compared to earlier trials.

Ready to rock and enroll!

First thing’s first, when users receive their new payment card, they want to enroll quickly and securely. A laborious enrollment process risks curbing enthusiasm for the tech and ultimately, its adoption.

The good news is that enrollment is in fact very similar to the authentication process. It benefits directly from the same refinements to image capture and quality which are reducing rejection rates and speeding up transactions. Now, with improved image quality, capture and processing, enrollment can be done at any angle – quicker than ever before.

Fingerprints at the ready

As the market stands on the cusp of major commercial rollouts, the momentum behind biometric payment cards seems unstoppable. Convenience, safety and security are making a compelling case to banks and consumers alike.

Still, it’s important to remember that continual advances in the tech are fundamental to take the cards to the consumer. Fine-tuning and further optimization of sensor technology and accompanying software and algorithms has smoothed out any remaining concerns to maintain the all-important UX appeal.

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Embracing digital automation without compromising on customer experience

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Embracing digital automation without compromising on customer experience 2

By Mang-Git NG, CEO & Founder of Anvil

Community banks have always prided themselves on their ability to serve their local community with an unmatched level of customer service. My family has experienced this first hand when my parents immigrated to the United States as graduate students with no credit history and very little income. When no national bank would open an account for them, the local community bank provided the banking services my parents needed to help them find their feet.

You can expect to be anonymous at a large bank but as a community bank customer, you expect a more personal connection with your banker—after all, you live in the same community.

While the ability to nurture personal relationships remains a critical differentiator, community banks face a number of ever-evolving external pressures, from the scale of large incumbents to evolving customer expectations, threatening the ability to grow their customer base and even retain existing ones. It can be especially frustrating as a long-standing customer to be asked for your basic personal information over and over again on bank forms when your relationship goes far deeper than that.

Automation and customer experience are no longer a trade-off

Small business owners are increasingly willing to pay more for products and services that make their lives easier. This trend favoring convenience is likely to accelerate with the rise of Gen Z given their preference for mobile-first instant messaging apps. With this in mind, the need to transform products and services with digital technology adoption is a top priority for many banks. In a recent KPMG survey, 72% of bank CEOs said they were prioritizing investment in new technology, and 58% even said they have begun using artificial intelligence (AI).

However, community bank leaders have faced a dilemma in the past. The adoption of automation technology often meant compromising on customer experience. We’ve all dealt with frustratingly unhelpful chatbots that are ill-equipped to handle complex queries or advice that often come up in financial services.

Fortunately, automation technology has progressed beyond simple chatbots and now offers smarter ways to authenticate users without adding more friction, predictive analytics are helping bank employees make more strategic product recommendations that match a customer’s needs, and workflow automation is enabling banks to improve customers’ account opening process while also dramatically reducing the overhead of processing applications.

Combining these digital tools with a human touch to create personalized automation, and applying each in the right way, will help community banks stand apart from large banks, keep existing customers happy, and attract new ones.

Mang-Git NG

Mang-Git NG

Automation and profitability go hand in hand

In 2018, fraud against bank deposit accounts amounted to $25.1 billion, including $2.8 billion in losses. Intelligent fraud detection can help minimize such losses, thus impacting the bottom line. Banks that embrace security and fraud detection technologies have a significant advantage over their peers.

Similarly, automation to help streamline existing processes can prove invaluable. Every year, paper and PDF-based processes cost banks billions of dollars. Adopting paperwork automation technology leads to faster processing times for routine, repetitive processes like account openings and loan applications, resulting in greater efficiency and reduced costs. The use of dynamic forms with built-in validation also eliminates human error and the need for manual checks.

As an added benefit, automating away mundane processes like data entry allows community banks to invest time and human capital in what they do best: getting to know their customers and developing personal relationships.

Finally, process automation can enable banks to unlock growth. As an example, Minnesota’s Sunrise Banks adopted paperwork automation technology earlier this year to increase their ability to process Paycheck Protection Program loans from 85 to almost 500 per day, thereby allowing them to extend their lending capabilities beyond their existing customer base.

Thoughtful automation is crucial for survival

Embracing new automation technologies that allow community banks to match customer expectations while improving profitability is the key to long-term sustainable growth and success. A majority of bank CEOs recognize this and believe that, without agility, they would likely face bankruptcy.

While poorly applied automation technology can be an expensive way to create a bad customer experience, it is undeniable that meeting evolving customer expectations demands thoughtful application of such technologies. To avoid automation for the sake of automation, community banks should evaluate solutions based on their ability to improve the customer experience and the bank’s bottom line.

Ultimately, bank leaders should think about their top challenges and how automation can be a part of the solution, consider if the organization is ready for an investment in both time and money, and if they have the infrastructure in place to support thoughtful automation.

Sources

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Financial transformation is the new digital transformation

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Financial transformation is the new digital transformation 3

By Luke Fossett, ANZ Head of Sales for global recurring payments platform, GoCardless

The term ‘digital transformation’ has become somewhat synonymous with COVID-19. As teams and operations became decentralised, companies looked to quickly build their remote tech stacks, striving for ‘business as usual’ despite the circumstances.

But in the background of COVID’s chaos, different regions and industries experienced major changes, sparking a different breed of transformation beyond the digital spectrum.

Take Australia as an example. In July, the market saw the local arrival of Open Banking, as well as further detail into the regulated and planned transition away from the existing Direct Debit system to the central-backed New Payments Platform (NPP) and it’s Mandated Payment Service. With these changes comes the impetus for a wave of ‘financial transformation’; a term that describes the process of making financial operations, processes and outputs more efficient.

Despite its potential for broad interpretation, financial transformation has the potential to produce use-cases that drive value for the customer; from things like seamless payment experiences, to data-rich APIs and integrations, to managing real-time bank to bank payment and the automation of everything from customer acquisition to using data to retry a failed transaction on the date that gets the best success. These innovations are well within reach for enterprise organisations, however, to extract real value, business leaders need to plan their financial infrastructure in parallel with making digital investments.

With the right deployments, financial transformation can reap significant rewards from a customer and internal operations perspective – so here’s why business leaders should be paying attention:

Value speaks volumes to the C-suite 

Financial transformation benefits enterprise organisations as well as small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) that need to create efficiencies as they scale, but translating its value is not always easy.

Payments are a complex part of any business, impacting many different consumer-facing and internal functions. Yet the role of ‘payments specialist’ is a rarity in most organisations.

Responsibility for financial transformation often falls – and gets lost – somewhere between the Chiefs of Technology, Information and Finance. That’s why leaning on platform providers and payments experts as early as possible, is key to understanding your customers and capabilities, before you implement and invest.

Outsourcing financial transformation initiatives is a much easier sell to enterprise decision-makers than redirecting IT resources to new DevOps projects. Credible payment providers, and the specialised knowledge that comes with good ones, are in most cases a more cost-effective solution than employing a full-time expert. Translating the value of financial transformation to achieve buy-in from the C-level boils down to maximising efficiency and return on investment (ROI).

A simple solution is using automation for tasks like streamlining processes, such as collecting payments on time without human contact. Find the sweet spot between how you want your customers to pay, and how they prefer to pay; then offer those options, while making sure they can be done with little to no touch internally.

Fintech-led transformation 

‘Best-in-class’ platform providers typically describe innovative fintech companies, who, as opposed to generalist banks, are deemed specialists in niche elements of financial services.

Again, using the example of Australasia, there are nearly 5,000 active fintechs, and it’s a market that legacy-laden big banks are tapping into. For example, Australia’s largest bank, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, recently partnered with venture capital firm Square Peg, and AI-focused capital fund Zetta Ventures Partner;  pouring $AUD28 million into new financial technology that delivers better digital banking services to its customers.

Fintech-led transformation doesn’t only have to benefit the customer; it can offer significant value for financial teams too.

In an enterprise environment, choosing the right technology allows for slick front end payments, but the true value comes in optimising financial management behind the scenes.

Take the rising consumer demand for subscription services as a use-case. According to Zuora’s Subscription Impact Report, 50 per cent of all subscription companies are growing just as fast as they were before the pandemic, while 18 per cent are actually seeing subscriber growth rates accelerate. With this trend comes a rise in companies looking to invest in recurring billing platforms that make it easy to accept regular payments, however, finding a low-touch platform that offers the financial infrastructure to support subscription-based payments will generate much greater ROI. There is no point blowing budgets on a ‘rip and replace’ billing platform if internally, finance teams still have to revert to a manual process of uploading payment files in a spreadsheet.

The future is financially transformed

The Reserve Bank of Australia’s latest Consumer Payment Behaviour survey shows that in 2007, cash was used for 69 per cent of all transactions, while last year it accounted for just 27 per cent. Additionally, over 50 per cent of Australian businesses prefer bank-to-bank payments, known as Direct Debit, over credit cards as a way to collect payments.

Payment preferences are rapidly evolving, and keeping up with consumer payment trends is key to staying competitive. To be effective, however, you need to have the infrastructure to support and accept diverse payment methods.

‘Payments as a Service’ (PaaS) is a phrase used to describe platform providers that connect multiple payment systems, enabling companies to offer several payment options while replacing outdated practices like paper-based Direct Debit.

In 2020, the most successful enterprises are utilising PaaS providers, built for self-serve and high rates of conversion. Take Bulb, for example; the UK-based energy company allows users to sign-up, switch energy providers and lock-in their payment preferences, all in under two minutes. Better yet, the process requires almost no people management.

Taking a visionary lens on financial transformation means building greater payment efficiencies for both the customer and the enterprise. Additionally, the specialist and agile nature of fintech platforms puts the organisations who use them on the cutting-edge of innovation, future-proofing operations in a fast-moving market without significant investments in research and development.

Best-in-class platform providers are driving financial transformation change; helping business navigate and plan so they are prepared for today, and for what’s coming.

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