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May 24, 2018

Compatibility Testing: Not Just for Software Vendors

A few short years ago, the idea of testing software for compatibility might never have crossed anybody’s mind. After all, applications were rarely designed for more than one platform, and, there were few platforms in existence.

Today, the picture is very different. If you are developing mobile apps, business software, games, or websites, your solutions must work perfectly across a range of operating systems and versions (the chart below illustrates how many Android (News - Alert) versions are still in use), devices, browsers, and display resolutions.

In fact, even if your business doesn’t build software, it is still critical to ensure the applications you deploy offer the same high standards of user experience for every individual with access to them.

Compatibility Testing is No Longer Just for Tech Suppliers

It may surprise you to hear that your company should think about software compatibility testing. However, in the current fragmented technology environment, digital challenges abound and software end-users hold much of the power. The landscape has evolved to the point where it’s incumbent upon enterprises that deploy software to ensure compatibility, not only those that create the software.

Even if you are 100 percent certain that your solutions undergo extensive compatibility testing before you take possession of them, any seemingly innocuous changes you make might actually have a detrimental impact on a proportion of the user base. The best way to illustrate this is with an example.

Compatibility of Ecommerce Platform Extensions

Let’s say you are operating an e-commerce business running on a platform like Magento. No doubt, from time to time, you discover a new extension that can expand or enhance the functionality or usability of your e-commerce store, so you purchase, download, and install it.

This is a typical example of the need for compatibility testing because, without testing, you can’t be sure how the extension affects your store’s appearance or functionality on all the different browsers used by shoppers.

There could be compatibility problems between the extension and a browser or between your new extension and others you previously integrated. Given that Magento currently has more than 1,300 technology partners, the e-commerce environment is something of a compatibility minefield.

Even if the original developer tested your extension rigorously, there are so many possible software and hardware configurations that some bugs will probably slip through. At the same time, one online shopper encountering software bugs is one too many — and bad news for your business. That’s why the e-commerce environment is one in which compatibility testing shouldn’t be left solely to your software developers and vendors.

Other Scenarios that Warrant Compatibility Testing

While the e-commerce example clearly highlights why compatibility testing is important, the issue applies to many other possible scenarios too. A couple of further examples are worth your attention.

Launching a custom mobile app: Does your company have a BYOD policy in effect? If so, you might want to consider a program of compatibility testing when introducing a new app to your platform, especially one that you’ve had custom built for your enterprise.

Having work done on your website: If you are upgrading or updating a website, you should be ready to test the effect of your changes on all the browsers in use today — and it’s not just about browsers. You also need to test compatibility with mobile device displays and even with different local networks, carriers, and OS or browser settings. The need for compatibility testing increases with the complexity of your website, especially if it is to be heavy on animations or will use complex algorithms.

Compatibility testing is not exactly simple to plan and carry out, but it is necessary to ensure a positive user experience for your employees and customers. Of course, it may not be realistic to equip your enterprise with all the necessary lab facilities, so it might pay to engage a reputable company to help you plan and execute compatibility testing for your software.

It’s also a good idea to understand some of the elements of testing, and the factors enabling a program to run efficiently, if only to add meaning to your discussions with potential test partners.

Three Keys to Effective and Efficient Compatibility Testing

Whether you choose to execute your software compatibility testing in-house or outsource it, it helps to know what makes for an effective and efficient process. The following three tips will be useful as you start putting compatibility testing plans together, or when sense-checking the proposals offered by QA companies or freelance test specialists.

  1. Research the user base thoroughly. Good preparation is probably the most important contribution you can make to effective compatibility testing. Be sure to identify all the configurations most likely to exist across your user-base and include them in your test plans, but also take note of the next tip, and try to prioritize your tests.
  2. Balance the testing with the risks. It is unlikely that your company will have infinite resources to test everything, so you will need to exercise some judgment and take a risk-based approach to deciding which scenarios must be tested, which ones you can do if time and resources permit, and which you can exclude. For example, if your target user population is largely one that stays up to date with latest technologies, you might wish to run minimal backward-compatibility testing and concentrate instead on compatibility with the newest platforms and OS versions.
  3. Test on real platforms and devices. It is possible to perform extensive testing on simulators, but there is no substitute for evaluating software performance as it will be experienced by your end users. This may not present too much of an issue if your users are employees and your policy is to provide them with company-owned hardware. However, it can be a different story in a BYOD environment or if you are testing for customer UX. Depending on the type of software you are testing, the range of devices and configurations can be staggering. In that case, you may wish to seek the economies of scale offered by a service provider equipped with an array of test devices.

Compatibility Testing and Brand Reputation

End users are likely to associate good or bad software performance with your brand, regardless of whether the application was built by an in-house team or a third-party development company.

Few users will know where your software originates from, and after a poor experience may simply decide to uninstall your app — which is exactly what a third of users will do. Shoppers are especially sensitive to buggy apps, so compatibility issues can result in lost sales. In fact, according to a recent Forbes article, 40% of consumers will defect to a retailer’s competitor if they suffer a dissatisfying mobile-app experience.

The Final Takeaway

There you have it. If your custom or branded software has compatibility issues, you know where the fingers will point. Never mind that your company didn’t actually develop it. Is that a good enough reason to add compatibility testing to your software quality agenda? Smart companies know the answer — and no longer assume that their development partners and software vendors always have compatibility covered.

About the author: Having more than 8 years of writing experience, Smridhi Malhotra is a professional tech, health and travel blogger.  She loves to gather and share her profound knowledge about latest developments in technology. Smridhi is a management graduate and visual graphics artist and is currently pursuing masters in behavioral psychology. Her hobbies are practicing mindfulness, counseling children and traveling (a special love for Africa).

Edited by Erik Linask
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