Q&A: David Cotterell, SQS

The SQS Group (SQS) is the largest independent provider of software testing and quality management services. This position and its expertise stem from more than 27 years of successful consultancy operation. Over this period of time, the company has also developed extensive specialist knowledge in many vertical markets. With more than 5,000 successfully completed projects under its belt, SQS has a strong customer base, including half of the DAX 30 companies, almost one third of the STOXX-50 companies and 36 FTSE-100-companies. Among its clients are Allianz, Beazley, BP, Centrica, Daimler, Deutsche Post, Generali, JP Morgan, Meteor, Reuters and Volkswagen. We spoke to David Cotterell, the company’s CEO of Northern Europe, India & Africa, to learn more about this exciting business.

Tell us more about SQS and your role in the company.
SQS is one of the world’s largest pure play providers of independent software testing and quality assurance services. In a nutshell, SQS provides quality management, testing and training services that help mitigate risks and reduce the cost of business and IT projects. SQS’ services are provided either as a managed service or on a consultancy basis. My main responsibilities embrace strategy for the region which includes retention and delivery to existing clients, winning new clients, and ensuring we have the right consultancy talent to meet market demands. We have changed our consulting resources to 50/50 on/off shore to accommodate clients and market needs. I also help formulate sales and marketing policies for the Group as well as managing SQS businesses in UK, Ireland, Nordics, India and South Africa.

Looking at the SME market, what changes have you seen in the software testing market over the last 5 years?
As a supplier of IT services which are in demand across all verticals, it’s fundamental that we have offerings to take account of new IT trends, such as cloud computing, and regulatory changes. I believe that the cloud and agile development have been the major forces behind the changes in the software testing market.

In terms of Cloud computing, time-to-market is becoming even more important than before, particularly when we look at the growing market in cloud (or hosted) applications. A change to a single Cloud-based application may touch many thousands of end-users—there’s a significant reputation risk here for application providers. Cloud application providers need to be confident that their applications will work, particularly when changes are being made. There’s a growing demand for automated testing that gives rapid feedback on the reliability and quality of an application.

Agile software development methodologies are also becoming much more common and these methods require a different mind-set and approach compared to traditional projects. Realising the higher quality and faster delivery benefits of Agile requires a much more integrated team approach. Agile testing requires that testers aren’t ‘just testers’, they need knowledge of the business domain and have to maintain a closer working relationship with developers and business representatives.

You’re an independent company. Why is this important in software testing?
Software glitches and bugs are nearly always introduced when a new application or release is being developed. Many systems integrators and management consultancies will offer development and testing from the same teams, and will in effect be marking their own homework. An independent testing consultancy has no stake in building or managing IT systems, allowing it to work client-side to verify and assure the work of systems integrators. Our role is to give the best advice to the client to help mitigate his risks, meet timelines and reduce cost.

Many companies are off-shoring their testing; what guidance would you offer to companies taking that approach?
Key components of an effective off-shoring relationship are: careful structuring of Service Level Agreements (SLAs), establishing effective communication between the client and the team, and recognising the importance of cultural alignment. Above all, companies should recognise that not all applications are suitable to go off-shore in the near or even long term.

Offshoring contracts typically run for several years so it is important to find a provider with proven expertise. This is often where a pure-play provider can win over a generalist. Due to our focus and specialism, we’re better able to offer continuous improvement. Of equal importance is to find an off-shoring provider that will work as a true partner, taking ownership of the outsourced work and delivering results rather than simply providing bodies and processes.

As distance can unfortunately affect communications during off-shoring, we would recommend seeking out partners that also have a presence on-shore, on client site if possible to address the issues of communication, visibility and predictability.

Can you explain your Managed Testing Services (MTS)?
MTS combine fixed price testing, test automation and outsourced testing services, which enable organisations to address many of their objectives, for example, testing costs drop, system quality increases, and software production is in effect ‘industrialised’.

During the last 24 months, SQS has invested significantly in building its presence and capacity to handle larger and longer-term managed services contracts by growing its off-shore capabilities as well as hiring and training new staff.

SQS’ MTS reduce time spent processing tests through efficient use of automation, while increasing test coverage and quality. SQS cuts short the length of time needed compared to traditional testing approaches by using tried-and-tested standardised procedures, delivery tools (such as the off-shore application readiness check) and a test automation factory-based in Pune. Efficient off-shoring combined with best-of-breed automated testing allows SQS’ MTS to achieve potential cost savings of over 40 per cent on testing programmes.

MTS offers ‘output-based pricing’ where customers pay only for what is delivered. Output-based pricing incentivises the vendor to increase efficiency and shifts risk away from the customer as it locks-in the service level agreement (SLA).

Our MTS business is growing and we have won some major managed testing services contracts this year including Deutsche Bank and Specsavers. We are providing Specsavers with a three year Managed Testing Services contract, with a 50-strong SQS testing team. Based mainly in India, our team will be delivering end-to-end testing of business applications from performance through to automated regression test suites.

Do your off-shored test centres specialise in different disciplines?
SQS has three distinct off-shoring centres in India, South Africa and Egypt. We have adopted a multi-language strategy which means we can offer most of the necessary languages of the countries where we work. South Africa offers customers the same time-zone and strong cultural alignment, SQS India provides large-scale automation while Egypt offers bilingual English and German speakers.

At SQS India, we have also built up specialist games and gaming industry sector expertise. We also have two nearshore centres in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and Görlitz in Germany to serve the needs of specific industries such as the public sector and financial services where, for political or legislative reasons, the data needs to remain in the UK or DACH (German, Austria, Switzerland) region. The geographic coverage also means that SQS can provide an around-the-clock service.

What are SQS’ future goals?
We would like to be recognised as the leading provider of on/off- shore independent testing and quality assurance consulting services. We will continue to invest in increasing our headcount and growing our Managed Testing Services business. The hiring and training of consultants in our off-shore test centres, especially in India, will support the increasing market demand for our services and improve our positioning in a competitive market. We will be working on securing further contacts, similar to Specsavers, which combine off-shoring, test automation and output based pricing.

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Christian Harris is editor and publisher of BCW. Christian has over 20 years' publishing experience and in that time has contributed to most major IT magazines and Web sites in the UK. He launched BCW in 2009 as he felt there was a need for honest and personal commentary on a wide range of business computing issues. Christian has a BA (Hons) in Publishing from the London College of Communication.