July 5, 2013
Many industries facing government-mandated software testing Regulations testing is something many new products must undergo, and the more important the products are, the more testing...
Many industries facing government-mandated software testing
Regulations testing is something many new products must undergo, and the more important the products are, the more testing they must (or should) go through. Would you buy a car which hadn’t been tested for safety? Of course not; why, then, don’t we expect the software systems which are critical to our way of life to be tested as rigorously? The answer is that we’re starting to. The US government is becoming increasingly strict about software testing within various industries such as healthcare and finance, because it’s becoming increasingly obvious that bugs within these systems can have a hugely detrimental impact on the quality of life of many Americans.
Regulatory software testing isn’t necessarily a new thing for, of course; plenty of industries have had testing regulations on them for years already. One of these areas which is becoming increasingly regulated at the behest of the government is healthcare. The FDA has been involved in Validation and Verification testing of various medical devices since its inception; if you want their approval, you mainly have to provide the results of exhaustive testing for what effects a drug may have. This process of reporting the results of exhaustive testing to the government is one with which the healthcare industry is becoming increasingly familiar; healthcare IT is now undergoing a similar level of rigorous testing as other divisions. This is even more apparent if you consider the new regulations being prompted by ICD-10 and Meaningful Use statutes. It is becoming more and more staunchly recommended that these systems undergo testing, because it is one of many areas wherein bugs have disastrous consequences if they remain unchecked.
After the medical industry, others, such as finance, have come under government scrutiny. NASDAQ glitches which resulted in national and international panic; bugs being hidden from investors and costing them over $217 million; there is plenty of evidence that this is yet another sector which needs very rigorous testing. The havoc which can be wreaked when proper testing and quality assurance are forsaken is clear, and it affects both the companies themselves and the American people. Therefore, regardless of the place anyone thinks government has in the IT industry, it’s incredibly important for bugs in this type of software to be found, identified, and eradicated. It’s become clear that paying too little attention to testing financial systems does far more harm than good, and that is why they are currently the focus of regulatory government entities.
Because it’s easy for people to get riled up about government involvement in seemingly-unrelated areas, it’s important for us to point out the exact nature of these regulations. First off, there are only a few areas in which software testing is absolutely mandatory; for the most part it’s “strongly recommended,” not a legal necessity. The regulations which are in place for these industries also don’t mandate what needs to be fixed, how, and by whom; if your company is under scrutiny, you can choose which professionals to use, what types of tests should be enacted, etc. All that the government intends is for you to prove that your systems work, demonstrating that proper testing has been done. From there, the government will recommend you a further course of action, such as whether or not additional testing is necessary, but they allow you to go about this testing in whatever way you consider best for your company. In this way, the government is still overseeing these systems, but at the same time they are keeping the more hands-off approach which American business owners and software developers tend to appreciate.
Of course, now that this process has started, it is unlikely that the government will leave off on imposing regulations upon the software testing of other industries. It’s almost definite that now that they’ve started, there’s no critical system that’s off the table. What’s next? It could be telecomm, utilities, or any of the other industries which have become necessary to life as we know it – and even some which are not. They’ll probably push regulations farther and farther, until quality assurance testing is a required part of developing all software for every industry, as opposed to simply something a development team “should” do for the sake of usability. However, is this necessarily a bad thing? On the one hand, it necessitates government involvement in areas of product development where some would say the government doesn’t exactly have a place to be. Conversely, when we talk about those vital industries like healthcare and finance, it’s difficult to completely oppose anything which makes an honest effort to protect us from harm, though this argument admittedly falls a little flat when we’re talking about non-essential industries like entertainment, travel, etc.
The regulations which are in place for these industries also don’t mandate what needs to be fixed, how, and by whom; if your company is under scrutiny, you can choose which professionals to use, what types of tests should be enacted, etc. All that the government intends is for you to prove that your systems work, demonstrating that proper testing has been done.
This may be a bit overly optimistic; there are plenty of possible downsides as well. The government has, in the past, proved itself to be rather inefficient or even ineffective at enforcing regulation. As it stands, they’re really only requiring companies to provide documentation that their product has been tested; this doesn’t mean that the product is good, nor even that it’s the best it can possible be; just that it’s been tested for usability. Also, with how the government tends to operate, how else would they ask companies to provide this documentation except via excessive paper-pushing? It’s probable that getting your software system approved by the government will mostly consist of filling out forms and playing a waiting game. It should be obvious that not only could this be tedious or frustrating, but it could also be prohibitive for smaller developers who may not be able to afford the man-hours necessary for such a drawn-out procedure.
No matter what your political beliefs or ideologies may be, what place you think the government has in various industries and their inner workings, the fact of the matter is that these regulations are going to change the way software testing is viewed by many corporations. What changes will this prompt for the IT world? Maybe software testing companies like us will see a dramatic increase in projects and clients; on the other hand, maybe the need will be so great that a slew of new companies will start cropping up, perhaps industry-specific ones increasing competition and making it more difficult to secure leads. Maybe companies will even start employing their own in-house testing teams. Whatever happens, this new, more closely-regulated direction will surely impact everyone, from those who design or test these new systems to the end users who can be assured of fewer bugs and safer software.