Okay, let’s say you're one of the major telco operators in your geographic area, and in order to increase your competitiveness you’re hoping to be the first one to roll out a 5G network for mobile voice and data. You’ve spent months laying the groundwork and taking pains to get your equipment and protocols in line with the new standards, and you’ve done your market research to determine the level of demand among local users (including adoption of 5G-enabled devices, etc.). It’s “all steam ahead,” and the only question is how quickly you’ll be able to get your product to market.
This is an exciting position to be in, but it’s also a tenuous one. Why? Because there are a number of factors that can negatively impact your time to market, from unexpected bugs in your system to organizational disconnect and silos. If your business isn’t optimized for an efficient time to market, it’s possible that delays will mire your new service rollout and cut into your bottom line. Obviously, no one wants that to happen, but what steps can you take to avoid this fate?
The Network Quality Balancing Act
Of course, when we talk about time to market, it should be pretty obvious that we’re interested in more than just speed. After all, if your goal were simply to be the first telco operator offering this particular service, you could roll it out warts-and-all with little in the way of service verification. Real 5G enthusiasts would flock to your network—and some of them might even stay there! But the vast majority would abandon your network after dealing with the frustration of buggy service for a little while, and they would be disinclined to come back into the fold even after you had sorted out most of the issues. It would, in short, be costly; any advantage you gained from being the first mover in 5G would be erased by the damage to your reputation and your subscriber base.
What you want in this instance is not to work on speeding up all of your processes without regard to network quality, but to remove bottlenecks and refine processes in a smart, measured way, all with an eye towards quality control. This means that, rather than scrambling to hasten every aspect of your product rollout, you need to seek out the processes that are the most time consuming and most often associated with delays. Sometimes (perhaps especially for our 5G example), this will be making hardware upgrades in the field, or it might be higher level processes like product design. Often, however, one of the biggest culprits for slowing down time-to-market is network testing. Again, this might be especially true in our 5G example because the complexities of new protocols, device configurations, and legacy system compatibility will only slow testers down. As it happens, testing is also one of the most straightforward bottlenecks to eliminate.
The Power of Testing Automation
Modern service verification basically encompasses the time to market balancing act in a nutshell: speed and quality are inversely proportioned, and you need to decide what an acceptable tradeoff is. Because effective service verification is laborious and time-consuming for testers, it’s unlikely that even a well-staffed test lab will run through every possible use case before it’s time to go to market—assuming the testing is all done manually. With automated tests, on the other hand, the calculus is completely different. Rather than running through 6-10 use cases per engineer per day, a given telco operator could easily go through hundreds of test cases without using up the valuable time of engineers who could be working on other issues. Thus, instead of waiting with bated breath for your new product to undergo service verification, you’re able to ensure high network quality quickly and efficiently without the impossible time crunch.
The effect this can have on time to market is hard to overstate. Sure, testing processes sometimes uncover bugs that result in huge delays, but the quicker those bugs are uncovered the quicker you can resume your rollout as planned. By contrast, in cases where there are no service shortfalls that should stop you from putting your product out into the world, you gain that certainty more quickly and easily than you otherwise would. Because, again, the time of engineers who would otherwise be stuck running tests is suddenly freed up for more crucial tasks, you actually increase the resources you have at your disposal for making sure you put out the right product at the right time.
Sustainable Service Verification
Now, it might seem like automated testing is a slightly simplistic answer to the question we posed in the title. Why not automate project management, or streamline code review? It’s a fair question, but it underestimates the cascade effect that automating this critical bottleneck can be. It’s not just that automated testing saves time for individual product releases by speeding up service verification; it’s not even that it frees up engineer hours that could be put to more efficient use. Rather, it’s that it empowers a new level of agility throughout a given company, all while helping to keep network quality high regardless of where you are in the product lifecycle.
This last effect is a direct result of the fact that automation makes daily regression testing much simpler, more scalable, and more cost effective. How does daily network verification affect speed t market? By creating a solid, ongoing foundation for future work. Often, new service offerings will get bogged down because they reveal underlying issues with the services that you’re already providing—but if you’re testing those services in a regular, consistent way, this is much less likely to occur. When problems do arise, any automation process worth its salt will offer sufficient documentation to make future analysis easy. In this way—with information made available across functions and your network structure constantly being reaffirmed—your company is able to root out silos and build agile, scalable processes. Product rollouts that were once chaotic and hard to manage are now supported by a strong operational framework that makes every step of the product lifecycle smoother. By reducing potential roadblocks in this way, you accelerate time to market without increasing risk.
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