Software Testing Provides Kanawha with ‘Model’ for Improvement
August 24, 2004 Robert Gast
Like many companies in service industries these days, the Kanawha Insurance Company is paying an outside company to manage a portion of its IT operations. The change was made in January, when it outsourced its iSeries servers, including any custom programming work that its Genelco Software Solutions insurance applications might need. When it came to quality assurance testing, however, Kanawha elected to keep the work in-house, and to expedite the testing process using a suite of tools from Original Software.
Kanawha Insurance Company is one of the country’s top insurers, ranking among the largest privately owned life- and health-insurance companies in the Southeast. Kanawha attributes its growth to a reputation for excellent customer service and plan customization. A member of Insurance Marketplace Standards Association, Kanawha has maintained an “excellent” rating for 20 years by organizations that monitor insurers. Assets currently under Kanawha’s management exceed $660 million.
Responding to 18 years of 12 percent per annum increases in net worth, Kanawha, based in Lancaster, South Carolina, turned over its IT functions to an outsourcing company in Dallas. Outsourcing makes it easier for Kanawha to accommodate its more than 400 system users, as well as handle growth. While modifications to programs and testing were once handled in-house, the facilities management company now handles programming.
The job of testing these programs to make sure they work exactly as intended, and to present information to the user that is relevant to the vast number of different plans and products offered by Kanawha, belongs to Margie Reeder, Kanawha’s director of Model Office. To help with the job, Reeder uses TestBench for iSeries, from Original Software.
Model Office is an unfamiliar concept to many. It’s a software quality assurance and set-up center composed of people recruited from the operational departments of the company, whose knowledge of the business is unsurpassed. They make sure customer service representatives, claims examiners, claims agents, brokers, and others who access Kanawha’s system, get the desired results they’re after. Notably, the 13 individuals in Kanawha’s Model Office are not trained software developers.
To make the job of quality assurance manageable for a department with no direct affiliation with IT, Reeder talked to several software vendors that offered automated testing solutions. But most of them had never heard of the Model Office construct, in which user advocates would shake out software problems. Their tools were designed for programmers to use. “We were trying to use automated software testing tools in a whole different way,” says Reeder. “We were trying to use them on an end user level to verify that we are getting the expected results.” Determined to find a solution, Reeder talked with Kanawha’s executive vice president, who oversaw IT, and he gave her a lead that paid off.
TESTBENCH FOR ISERIES
Kanawha’s top man in IT directed Reeder to TestBench for iSeries, from Original Software. TestBench for iSeries now resides on Kanawha’s iSeries Model 825 in Dallas. It’s a native iSeries test engine used to test interactive, batch, and service programs. It can check these programs for database access, rules, job log parameters, data area program calls, and I/O handling like screens and reports. “If a project requires coding, a new product, a new plan, or an upgrade, we use TestBench,” says Reeder.
Lots of planning went into making TestBench for iSeries easy to use. According to Stuart Bishop, Original Software’s head of development, “Other products use a scripting language. You need to be a programmer to use these tools. We developed a very simple point-and-click interface that works like a video recorder. First, you press the record button and test the application manually. TestBench records all the screens, content, and keystrokes. Then, the next time you test the application, you just press ‘play.’ It’s as simple as that.”
Along with TestBench for iSeries, Kanawha uses the software vendor’s TestDRIVE extensively. TestDRIVE is a PC-based TestBench snap-in that gives Model Office users one-click control over script record and playback of iSeries applications in a familiar Windows environment.
A CHALLENGING TEST ENVIRONMENT
Kanawha has two applications in production that are now regression tested with TestBench for iSeries. The first, Life Support Plus, allows access to real-time data for life- and health-insurance-policy information. The second, Health Benefits Management System, is used for claims information. The author of these packages, Genelco, based Toronto, Canada, releases new versions every quarter, so only a small window of opportunity exists to ensure that every function will work properly for all of the plans and products offered. The fact that these packages have been heavily customized for Kanawha further complicates matters. “We’ve modified their system so much it’s almost like our system,” Reeder says.
To familiarize Reeder and her staff with TestBench, a product trainer spent a week at Kanawha explaining how to use the product. Several months lapsed before Model Office was able to address the projects that involved TestBench, and by then memories had faded. To remove any productivity barriers, another training session was scheduled. This time TestBench training was adapted more to a system user. “This experience was fantastic,” Reeder says. “Original Software made a big effort to satisfy us. This is what would make me do business with them again.”
With the help of Original Software’s trainer, Model Office members learned how to record scripts and configure the Variable Data feature in TestBench for iSeries. Variable Data is key to Kanawha’s success because it eliminates the need for them to write 600 scripts. Users just record the shell of a script, then feed in variable data for as many transactions as needed. “Most companies already have the test data in Excel spreadsheets, which can be imported directly into our product,” Bishop says.
When it became apparent that Self-Healing Script technology, a feature that Original Software had just finished developing but had not released at that point, would better adapt the solution to Kanawha’s Model Office environment, Reeder says, “Original’s trainer got on the phone with the product’s developers right then. Almost instantly the technical people sent us the change at no additional charge.” Self-Healing Script allows the Model Office team to test new versions of applications without having to modify the scripts. An intelligent screen-matching algorithm, called PowerPLAY, simulates how developers would handle changes. Self-Healing Script makes exceptions for these changes and allows the existing script to run without interruption.
Kanawha also has Original Software’s TestGUI to test an enrollment system that runs in a Windows NT environment. “We’re almost where we need to be on this,” says Reeder, who has been inundated with new insurance product offerings and has not had time to fully implement it. “Again, Original’s trainer helped us work up our scripts. You absolutely could not have asked for more customer service than was given by the staff at Original Software.”
NEAR DEFECT FREE
Before using Original Software’s test automation products, software was tested manually, so Reeder and her team worked lots of weekends and Kanawha’s software defect ratio was high. Today, Reeder’s team routinely meets its deadlines and objectives. “Using the test tools, you stand less risk of making as many errors,” she says, adding that fewer problem reports are coming back from the field. “We are turning out better products and setups.” Because all test scripts and data are stored in a repository on the server and are easily accessed for reuse, the time required to test these new releases has decreased substantially. The benefit to her company, she says, is that it helps them conserve time by improving quality. “We don’t have to redo things so many times,” she says. Now, Reeder and her team don’t spend as many of their weekends in the office.
Robert Gast has written about technology and business management since 1986. He is the managing partner of Evant Group, based in Chicago. E-mail: email@example.com