As businesses become ever more reliant on technology, they’re also becoming more reliant on the complex software behind it. So it’s no surprise that the testing market is burgeoning – according to some estimates, €150bn was spent on it in 2006, and this will have risen again last year. Basically, it's a cost that businesses can’t really avoid. ‘It’s a bit like buying petrol for your car’ says David Cotterell, CEO of testing specialist SQS-UK. ‘Yes, it’s a big expense item, but it’s also a fundamental necessity.’ This will hold true even if the dreaded slowdown happens, he thinks.
Specialist software testers have come into their own in recent years, because it’s now considered best practice for your developers not to test their own software. ‘Otherwise it’s like marking your own homework,’ as Cotterell says. Most testing is done by in-house specialists, but (as with most non-core functions) there’s a growing trend towards outsourcing. This is usually a question of efficiency – companies are worried about the fixed cost of employing testers all year round.
And unlike some areas of outsourcing, it’s not inevitable that China and India will soon be eating our breakfast. ‘You can’t off-shore testing easily,’ says Cotterell. ‘It’s a very iterative process – so if you’ve got a three month project, you don’t want to be going back and forth’. That said, off-shoring is still on the rise: Cotterell reckons it will soon represent 30-40% of the market, rather than about 10% as it does now. His own firm already has about 10% of its staff based out in South Africa, and he expects this proportion to grow to about 30%.
The main driver of the market is that IT is now such a critical part of business transformation projects. ‘There’s an insatiable appetite for IT to run businesses more efficiently,’ says Cotterell. ‘You can’t just focus on compliance any more.’ These days the people leading software projects will usually be from the boardroom, not the IT department – which is possibly why mistakes are always being made. Cotterrell reckons about 25% of SQS’s work comes from rescuing projects that have gone pear-shaped (‘following the fire engines,’ as he puts it), usually because companies have failed to realise how complex their new bit of software actually is.
For companies like SQS (which is the biggest independent specialist tester) the challenge is to keep growing, and to keep finding talented testers. But by the sounds of it, there’s no shortage of sales opportunities out there...