Effective and comprehensive testing is essential for today's networked devices. As the Internet of Things (IoT) becomes widely adopted, demands on interactive devices gain in sophistication and users expect flawless interoperability. All of this means that any issues with components and connections, as well as software bugs, need to be detected and fixed quickly, before release.
Automated testing has seen a significant increase in adoption in recent years. With the rise of continuous integration and continuous delivery methodologies (CI/CD) in particular, quality assurance is conducted throughout the development process, rather than retrospectively. And with extensive systems interoperability, test automation is needed to ensure overall stability and quality.
So, what are the main advantages of automated product testing over manual testing?
Many engineers still believe that automated testing is more expensive than manual, and in some cases this is true. However, this could be the result of short-term thinking. While it is true that the initial set-up for manual testing is often quicker and cheaper, over the longer term, automated testing easily wins on cost-effectiveness.
Test automation is an investment. Setting up automated testing requires detailed analysis and update of processes, test scripts, training and integration into engineering programmes. This can entail significant work, so the temptation to stick with manual processes is understandable. However, once set up, automated tests offer an ROI that only improves over time.
With manual tests, each test incurs a fixed cost. Test automation, however, offers greater economies of scale. Tests can be conducted as often as required with no further initiation work and thus no extra setup cost.
The standardisation of automated testing allows savings in time as well as money. Even though routines are often repetitive, the level of effort required for manual testing means it may only be possible to conduct tests when achieving project milestones. Furthermore, tests will require dedicated team resources.
Automated testing, by contrast, can be conducted continuously. No additional staff resources are needed. This means quicker development cycles and more frequent updates, ultimately leading to better market performance for products and improved resilience to emerging ecosystem changes.
Automated tests can easily be configured to run in the background, with no need for manual intervention. This lightens the routine workload of QA engineers, allowing them to spend time more productively on analysing issues found, improving processes and addressing more complex user contingencies.
Similarly, engineers are better able to focus on systems and product improvements. By enabling continuous development and integration, test automation allows engineers to work in a more streamlined fashion. They can focus on product improvements and fixes, safe in the knowledge that their work is not going to result in issues or incompatibilities further down the line. Automated testing means more time for engineers to resolve issues and bug fixes and allows developers to spend more time on what they enjoy - innovating and improving.
With the best will in the world, manual testing will never be 100% accurate and mistake-free. Furthermore, manual testing can easily miss bugs and other issues with low incidence, where some issues may simply never be seen during a manual test programme. At worst, bugs and issues which occur infrequently may end up being released to the public. Even if errors are detected before release, they could lead to delays caused by the need of further debugging, plus the need to repeat the running of laborious manual test suites. These kinds of scenarios are the bane of QA engineers' lives.
Once initiated, automated testing, by contrast, greatly reduces manual effort and can continue to operate 24/7 in order to quickly evaluate whether bugs found have been fixed and ensure that there has been no regression.
With the fast release cycle expected of modern development, immediate feedback is invaluable. Because of the time required to conduct manual tests and the weight of human resources needed, it can take days or even weeks for bug reports or performance concerns to work their way back from QA to engineers. In the case of serious errors, this means development must stop and the project work wound back in time for analysis and fixes. These inefficiencies lead to delays in releases and make it harder for staff to plan ongoing work streams effectively.
Where software and product firmware is concerned, automated testing can be configured to run each time a developer commits a change to the code base. This provides instant feedback on the success of product functions and proper interoperability. Automated incremental tests are also essential for CI. They allow developers to stay focussed on single areas of functionality without having to swap back and forth between tasks because of delayed bug reports. Such working practices are much more efficient, reliable and produce more stable products.
As well as the frequency of repeated tests, automated testing promotes high-volume testing across different platforms or set-ups. Because of the myriad variations of interoperability in complex products, the high volume of test scenarios required can be extremely laborious for manual testing. However, automation can handle test complexity and concurrency with ease.
Automated test processes may be configured to run simultaneously with numerous different operating systems, firmware configurations or hardware platforms. This makes full test coverage easier and quicker, and reduces the likelihood of inaccuracies generated by manual switching between test platforms.
In weighing up automated testing vs manual testing, it's important to present a balanced picture. There's no doubt that automated testing is a benefit for the kind of repetitive testing required for fast release cycles and complex interoperative devices. But the role of manual testing remains relevant and need not be completely removed. While automated testing offers great efficiencies for predictable scenarios, it may be less suitable when faced with highly dynamic or unpredictable situations.
For instance, if unexpected test results occur, it can often be quicker for manual test engineers to identify the situation to gather further information. Automated testing is useful where single tests need to be run multiple times, but manual testing is still valuable where one-off exploratory testing is needed, as such manual and automated testing remain complementary.
Above all, the human element in systems use may never be entirely predictable. Automated tests can be scripted to handle every variable conceived by a QA expert. But real-world use can always surprise us! In these cases, manual testing may be more easily able to help conduct and design new test cases and build these into an updated automated test sequence.
Integrating automated testing solutions into product development is becoming vital to maintaining competitive positions. Business success in the field of complex interoperable devices is likely to depend on using automated testing as part of the product development and QA strategy. For more information about automated testing and support selecting the best testing methodology for your project, please contact us.