Quality Assurance for COTS Software

Commercial off-the-self-software, also known as “COTS” software, is commonly used by companies of all sizes. Because COTS software is a “boxed solution,” something premade for general use, it provides an inexpensive and effective option to help fill gaps in both internal systems and client-facing portals. These solution may look effective from a distance, but ideal outcomes are not always guaranteed. That’s why quality assurance testing is essential for businesses installing COTS.

The value of these products is often their affordability. But, with that affordability you may have to make sacrifices. COTS disperse cost and create affordability because they’re made for a wide audience. But, this trait of COTS means these solutions are unlikely to be an exact fit for your needs. Initial adoption of COTS can create usability issues in your internal system, as can integration, updates, and any customization you attempt.

When adopting COTS, your exact strategy for preventing risk through quality assurance testing will depend on your needs. Here are a few elements to consider when developing a quality assurance strategy for adopting new off-the-shelf software.

Your SaaS Needs

There are strong benefits to using COTS software for your business—low up-front cost being chief among them—but keep in mind that the features you get are those listed on the box, no more and no less. For large companies, there’s often no way to avoid customization of COTS purchases. Whether for workflow or compliance reasons, it’s important to know any changes you make in the product code can and probably will break your newly purchased software. It’s okay—you might need to break it, and it can be unbroken, but only with careful preparation.

In order to avoid the need for customization in the first place, make sure to assess your needs before choosing the COTS. Whatever the final use—maybe it’s a CMS for your social media assets, or an HR application—you’ll want to try to select a software that needs minimal customization. For example, if you need an HR portal for onboarding, but your company is global, and must be compliant with several different governments, SAP is a good place to start, but won’t be an exact fit. Any level of customization can cause issues in initial adoption and integration and solid testing helps prevent slowdowns and security breaches. This is one reason we always conduct quality assurance and performance testing in a closed, experimental environment that is identical to the company’s infrastructure. This way, the problems occur in a “practice” system, not the real thing.

Performance Testing

Even if you don’t make changes to your software, quality assurance in the form of performance testing is crucial to ensure your new software is functional within your existing system. Performance testing is automatic and continuous, and many different types of testing fall under its umbrella. Stress testing, for example, determines how many users your software can handle at once. Maybe the COTS solution works great, until a lot of people need to use it—and testing can help you spot that problem before it cripples your business.

Unfortunately, this step can’t simply be one-and-done. Anytime updates are implemented or new features are added, you’ll want to reiterate testing. If your product is being hosted in the cloud, there’s even more need for performance testing. In fact, the majority of businesses have already moved their ERP systems to the cloud, if not all their software solutions. Using software in the cloud is more nuanced. Some software does come with an integration layer that allows it to be easily utilized in the cloud, but in the case that yours do not, an integrator partner might be necessary.

Penetration Testing

Essentially, penetration testing adds some human finesse to your online security. Manual penetration testing does more than simply check for weaknesses in your software framework. Instead, testers attempt to break into your software make sure it’s completely secure. If vulnerabilities are found, the next step is to analyze how sensitive information is stored and transmitted by your COTS software solution. The goal is to determine if unauthorized parties can access company data. Just as with performance testing, penetration testing needs to occur regularly, especially whenever updates are made.

Purchasing off-the-shelf-software is part of scaling. As your business grows, you’ll need more solutions to manage your data as well as HR and client relations. Standardized testing procedures can help prevent frustration for employees and clients and help you keep growing, comfortably and confidently. When a business chooses a COTS software, it’s to achieve a certain goal. At iLAB, our quality assurance testers work hard to help advance your vision.