For the Western and Southern Financial Group, developing life insurance and annuity products requires software to support their operations. Shortening the time required to develop such software can make these products ready for market introduction sooner, and subsequently produce a competitive advantage.

In the fall of 2006, Cincinnati-based Western and Southern tasked Sogeti USA, a Dayton, Ohio-based IT consultancy, to help improve its test process. Ultimately, they wanted to reduce the time to maturity of their software development. In order to do so, they had to assess where they were in their test process, determine where and what could be improved, and outline a plan of action to reach their desired objectives.

"They took a look at our maturity level as to how we test," says Clint Gibler, SVP and CIO of Western and Southern Financial Services. According to Gibler, Sogeti was tasked with a specific deliverable to analyze how Western Southern tested their software products, and how to improve the process.

Western and Southern sought to capitalize on the corporate knowledge and best practices from the breadth of experience that a consultant could bring. For Sogeti, this experience draws upon their extensive experience in test process improvement.

Testing is part of software development, and typically, software development to support a financial product takes between three and five months. Shaving time off this cycle would be a worthwhile objective and pay dividends. It would enable Western and Southern to be supple, and ready to introduce new products when the market warrants them, and it would be able to do so with an accelerated timeline.

"Sogeti's project team included a senior analyst with knowledge of structured QA methodology to help Western and Southern achieve the organizational mindset change [and] define the new process," says Kim Bollinger, an account executive with Sogeti who worked with Western and Southern. "A second resource assisted with documentation and support of the process changes."

SHIFTING PROCESSES & CULTURE

Sogeti utilized their TPI (Test Process Improvement) model to run through four distinct phases of process improvement.

By identifying Western and Southern's existing test process maturity level, Sogeti was able to gauge where Western and Southern was, and how and where they could improve to achieve further gains. They also identified desired goals for testing processes, procedures and methodologies so they could know at what to aim, and how to shape their test process. To meet these goals, Sogeti developed a roadmap for moving from the current state to the future desired state. The road map served as a concise action plan to get where Western and Southern needed to go.

Sogeti identified specific actionable improvement recommendations that assisted Western and Southern to decrease the product implementation timeline, improve quality and create a repeatable process.

"They really reinforced some of the directions we were heading, and expanded the development with better test plans and schedules," says Gibler. "They used a risk-based approach to measure the stability of the software upfront - a strong reinforcement of planning and discipline. This gave a tangible benefit in quality and speed."

In making all of these changes, there were several challenges for Western and Southern. The biggest hurdle was that the Western and Southern staff had to incorporate a new testing model and approach recommended by Sogeti.

The test process improvement took place in the midst of Western and Southern's existing product development lifecycle. Because the existing staff was accustomed to doing things one way, training them to do things in a different way was somewhat of a cultural shock. Changing their processes required that the corporate culture foster and adopt new workflow processes before they could implement the recommended method. "Our challenge was to train our staff to adjust and incorporate recommendations to the test model and approach," Gibler explains.

"The most important aspect was helping Western and Southern change their mindset and understand the value of engaging the quality assurance and testing teams early in a project," adds Bollinger. "Traditional organizations start the test process once the software development is complete. Engaging early allows the Western and Southern team time to review the business requirements, and ensures an effective testing process. It is much less costly to fix a defect in a requirement rather than fixing a defect at the end of the software development lifecycle."

IMPLEMENTATION

Sogeti assisted Western and Southern during their implementation and learning curve. Gibler asserts that they were responsive to their needs, and supportive of what they needed to do to change their processes.

"They were reinforcing and reassuring as we encountered challenges," Gibler says. "They were good about supporting us in concrete terms, and didn't stand off. They showed us how to put into practice the principles they gave us."

Based on his own experience, Gibler believes that companies attempting to improve their test processes will see more success if they establish their objectives and commitment up front.

"We were looking for people who had expertise to get us there quickly without facing dead ends," says Gibler. "Sogeti's TPI practice helped us move, and all we had to do was execute."

Because of this relationship, the average cycle time of product software development was reduced by 20% - shaving nearly a month off Western and Southern's existing development time.

"With complex IT projects rapid delivery, ensuring quality and controlling costs are important to achieving high business value," Gibler says. "A structured test methodology is crucial to meeting these goals and controlling risk."

(c) 2009 Insurance Networking News and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The Test Process Improvement (TPI) Model

Dayton, Ohio-based Sogeti's proprietary Test Process Improvement (TPI) model is a structured, scalable process that was developed to improve software quality before its release. The model's stepped approach, which includes employing gradual process improvements, standardization and automation, is designed to offer insight into the maturity of the technology's current test processes and identify improvement actions to accomplish the desired test maturity level.

The test process is broken down into 20 key areas. Each area is evaluated on time, cost and quality. Sogeti can then report quantitative findings and develop a risk assessment of the test process. With quantitative metrics for the key areas, findings may be used to provide strengths and weaknesses of the existing test process to illuminate the relationship between key areas. Recommendations are made to fine-tune the process and ultimately achieve greater efficiencies.

(c) 2009 Insurance Networking News and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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