The UK's public sector is responding to pressure from its citizens to provide accessible and intuitive systems as they begin their digital transformation journeys. In this interview, Brian Ferrie, CEO and Co-founder of testing services provider Edge Testing Solutions, talks about the shift in buying habits within the public sector, and how Edge Testing is challenging the traditional outsourced offshore testing services model
Financial services have always been a key and dominant market for Edge Testing Solutions, a pure play quality assurance and testing services provider with offices across the UK. But over recent years, a growing demand from the public sector has caused a significant shift in the makeup of Edge Testing's customer base. Public sector customers now account for 40% of its business, equalling that from financial services.
Brian Ferrie, CEO and Co-founder, established Edge Testing in 2007, after leaving his position as Head of Testing at Sopra, now Sopra Steria. "I am an out and out software tester. I was bitten by the testing bug early on in my career whilst working across multiple verticals, with different clients and systems. It was a chance conversation with an old colleague that resulted in Edge Testing being born," explained Ferrie. “With a vision to become a recognised pure play software testing provider, we began offering consultancy services and very early on partnered with IT giant HPE. We now have several testing partnerships, and offer test management, automation, consulting and training services.”
In this interview, Ferrie tells QA Financial about the buying habits of Edge Testing's public sector customers, the drivers behind opening two Digital Test Hubs, and how trends in open source and automation are driving the business's product development.
Q. Who are Edge Testing’s financial services customers?
The majority of our business is made up of customers from the financial services industry and the public sector - around 80%, in fact.
The financial services market has been a key and dominant market for us since the beginning, but the public sector less so.
We have customers in retail banking, investment banking and asset management, as well as building societies and, more recently, insurance. Often, we work with our financial services customers to ensure their systems are prepared to comply with regulatory changes, such as MiFID2 and GDPR - we class these as 'business as usual' projects. Recently we have been working with a retail bank, as their independent testing partner, to work on a large data warehousing project. The customer wanted to bring together data from a number of different systems so that they could analyse that data to better understand their customers and make smarter informed decisions. We are also doing a very similar project with an asset management company.
Financial services also engage Edge Testing to assist in their transformational projects. Banks are increasingly reviewing their systems, whether it is to cater for customer demands or keep up with the emerging, nimble fintech players in the market.
Q. Who are Edge Testing's public sector customers?
The public sector is an interesting one. We have worked with local and central governments in Scotland and across the UK, as well as non-departmental public bodies. We work with the Home Office, and are included in its large IT services framework – RM3810. We also work with the Big Lottery Fund and the Student Loans Company.
There has been a shift in attitudes towards software quality assurance and testing when it comes to services in this sector. I think a big part of this shift is because citizens want to interact with their public services in a different way. Gone are the days of trips to the local Council’s offices. Whether it's renewing a passport or paying a parking fine, people want to interact with intuitive systems. And so systems need to be of a much higher quality now then perhaps what public sector bodies may have previously got away with.
When we started Edge Testing, the public sector market wasn't necessarily a key target market for us, but we go where the demand is, and there's a significant amount of work now going into this space.
We do see customers in the BFIS industry and the public sector facing the same challenges. Working with legacy systems remains a major challenge for financial services, and this is no different in the public sector. Some of our public sector customers have systems that have been bolted together over the course of 20 years, so they cannot just start from scratch.
Q: What are the growth opportunities for Edge Testing?
We predict that our customer base in the public sector and financial services sector will continue to grow – at this time, we don’t see anything that could slow this down. We will continue to pick up more business across different industry verticals, but the public sector and financial services will remain dominant.
We are also excited by events that trigger system changes as well as transformational programmes that will push technology ahead. Brexit, for example, has the potential to play a major role in system changes across both the public and financial sectors.
Q: What were the drivers behind the Digital Test Hub?
We opened the first Digital Test Hub in 2013 in Bellshill, Scotland. This was in response to demand from customers looking to test B2C systems and applications across a number of devices and browsers. We realised customers were looking for a different delivery model; they didn’t want a team of testers onsite for the duration of the project, they wanted an on-demand service. An application can be tested in the Digital Test Hub over the course of a week and results relayed back to the business, causing minimal disruption.
The Hub has evolved into a service that now competes with offshore outsourced service providers. We have the benefit of being local, and close to our customers. Based on the success of the first one, we opened a second Digital Test Hub in Birmingham in 2017.
Q: What are the current trends you are noticing in quality assurance and testing?
There’s a greater focus than ever on automation, and our automation practice is growing at the same rate as our manual testing section. Customers are facing increasing pressure to decrease the time to release and the time to go live with their applications. Delivery cycles are becoming shorter, particularly as more and more teams switch to working in Agile and DevOps.
Having said this, there will always be a need for manual testing – there’s only a certain amount automation can bring. Tester's intelligence, intuition and eyeballs will always be needed.
We have also seen an increase in the use of open source testing tools. In the past, open source products were not used extensively by organisations, but there’s been a significant mindset change. Now, it’s not just about the cost-saving benefits of using open source service, but about the enhancement and enrichment of functionality that these products can bring. Some open source products are very well-developed and sophisticated and the support networks around them mean that there's no longer a risk associated with using them. The Edge Test Automation Framework supports Selenium and other open source tools which have become common place in the market.
Q: Who are your main competitors?
Our competitors fall into various categories. There are pure play testing providers, such as SQS or QualiTest who cover a larger geographical reach. There are also the large Indian offshore players, like Wipro and Cognizant.
Edge Testing's reputation really defines us and we have many long-standing and loyal customers. We offer flexible services based on our customer’s needs; our solutions are not prescribed and rigid.
Q: What does the future hold for Edge Testing?
Over the last ten years, we have grown organically and we will continue to do so. Short to medium term throughout the UK, and once we gain more market share, we will eventually branch into different geographies. There are no plans to acquire other service providers to expand our offering our focus is organic growth.
We will continue to evolve and develop different service lines and look to become even smarter around testing. We are currently looking at machine learning and artificial intelligence and how we can use these concepts to develop and enhance test packs.