Article

Three months cut from software testing process with automated solution from Original Software

Robert Gast

Workers' compensation insurance is imperative for both America's employers and their employees. It protects employees who are injured on the job by seeing that they get proper medical care. It helps employers to rehabilitate injured workers and get them back into the workforce.

Businesses offer workers' compensation insurance to their employees under edict in most states. In Florida, for example, construction companies with one or more employees must provide workers' compensation coverage. Those who don't have the proper coverage draw unpleasant consequences like fines and court orders halting work.

Summit Holding Southeast, Inc. (Summit) -- based in Lakeland, Florida -- is part of Liberty Regional Agency Markets (RAM), a business unit of Boston-based Liberty Mutual Group. RAM is a group of regional property and casualty companies that distribute their products and services exclusively through independent agents and brokers, concentrating on small commercial and personal lines markets.

Summit has experienced rapid expansion in recent years and is now one of the largest workers' comp providers in the Sunshine State and a growing presence in other Southeastern states. Specifically, Summit offers workers' compensation products and services to more than 30,000 businesses in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee. This growth has put a mushrooming load on the company's infrastructure. More than 800 people work for the company and almost everyone has access to Summit's iSeries model 835, either through green screens or a web based extranet. Summit runs SSA Global's Infinium financials, and several custom and internally maintained RPG applications on their five LPAR iSeries machine. Controlling such a large share of Florida's workers' compensation business has necessitated a long list of modifications to these software systems.

Summit's IT managers have looked for ways to improve their processes: It seemed to them that it took too long to implement QA software changes and get the altered apps into production. In one instance, extensive bill calculation program modifications were estimated at 120 man-days, with roughly 80 of those allocated to testing.

In order to get modified and new applications on line more quickly, several automated software testing solutions were evaluated. TestBench for iSeries from Original Software (www.origsoft.com) was one of the candidates. According to Mitch Raney, a Summit IT analyst with 15 years of RPG experience, "Many of the options that we looked at were not specifically designed to run on the iSeries. They didn't have the ability to handle features that are unique to the iSeries like journals and job log information. We could have adapted them but we would have had to make several modifications to achieve the same results that you get with TestBench."

Getting more work done
Summit bought TestBench, and after its technicians got a needed boost from five days of onsite training, they began using the automated testing solution to unit and regression test new code. Testing man-hours plummeted along with allied administrative costs. As a case in point, the amount of time needed to test the modified bill calculation program dropped from four months to one, according to Joe Summers, IT Development Manager.

Raney adds, "It used to take a lot more time because we had to manually perform the tests—it was all interactive and we didn't have anything in place to do batch testing. With TestBench, you can push a button, and the user can go get a cup of coffee. In 15 minutes all the tests have run and you can go back and look at the results."

Another problem that Summit's analysts, programmers and testers dealt with prior to implementing the new testing construct was the inadvertent corruption of test data. "The quality of our test results was sometimes compromised, because all of us used to test data out of the same database," says Summers. Summit had one library of test data that was used by all of its developers and testers. Occasionally a developer would refresh or change the data without notifying the others. "We wouldn't get the expected results at the end of the test because someone would change the data -- everybody had their hands in the same pool. Occasionally, applications that contained glitches would be released to the production environment—the results wouldn't be disastrous but it would happen."

TestBench's fix for this is to pull data out of production libraries and create a library of test data allocated to specific users and projects. "With TestBench we isolated a set of data that no one could manipulate during testing," says Summers. "As far as testing goes, it's a miracle. The quality of our tests is very high -- this could not be achieved without TestBench." Summers figures that TestBench for iSeries has also reduced the amount of time his staff spends testing software by 50 to 75%.

Analysts, programmers, and testers at Summit now use TestBench for iSeries routinely. "We make changes every single day on the production side," says Raney. "If I make a change to a program that calculates a premium, it has to be correct. We have a tester who runs a test script against the changes -- if the results are the same then we're OK."

TestBench, unlike more simplistic iSeries utilities, often requires a tutorial. Development Manager Summers says, "There was a learning curve with TestBench. Once you get the hang of it, it's very simple. You have to figure out all the little things you have to do to make it work."

IT Director Tom Cavanaugh says the Application Development team is now 17 people strong. "All of them have used it at one time or another," he adds. "It is now our department standard."

Raney says he is in the process of completely rewriting the whole custom premium calculation system in RPG4 and has used Test/BENCH every day over the last several months: "99% of the files on the system are related to this system," he says.

Summit is getting the biggest payoff in the premium calculation system rewrite, says Summers. "This one application was the real driver behind getting TestBench because it was taking so much time." As of an October 2004 interview, the new premium calculation system is scheduled to go into production on January 1, 2005.

The Road Ahead
Relative to the future, several projects lie ahead for Summit developers, and all of them, with the exception of those that involve only one day's work, include TestBench. "Everything that we do involves TestBench," declares Raney.

Recently a study conducted by the Workers Compensation Research Institute cited Florida as being the state with one of the fastest delivery systems of workers' comp benefits. Fifty-four percent of injured workers in Florida receive their first payment of indemnity benefits within 21 days of injury, compared to the median of 45 percent that represents 12 other states.

However, Summit operates at a much higher level of delivering timely payments to injured workers -- 98 percent of lost-time injured workers covered by Summit receive their indemnity payments within 14 days. The system support provided by Summit's IT department -- for example, the daily flags that help the Claims department meet its timeliness goals -- allows Summit to meet its commitment to provide exceptional personal customer service. Employing the best business practices and tools available, like TestBench for iSeries, has paid off for Summit and for those who have insurance coverage with them.

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About the author: Robert Gast has had an extensive number of articles published on technology and business management-related issues. He is the managing partner of Chicago area-based Evant Group and can be reached at evantgroup@aol.com.


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