The Process and Information Policy section (PIP) comes under the Public Governance Department (PGD) of the Flemish Government (FG). The PGD supports the minister in the preparation, management, follow-up, verification and assessment of policy. The actual thematic policy areas covered by the department are particularly varied. They include human resources, organisational development, ICT, e-government, facility services and real estate management. In order to create broad support for the various decisions, the department not only provides supporting services to the entities of the Public Governance policy area, but to the Flemish civil service as a whole. One of the aims of the PIP section is to collate all manner of data about the Flemish Government from a variety of different data sources, including personnel details, organisational data, data on regulations, etc. These data are supplemented, cleansed, combined, stored in a datawarehouse (DWH) and transformed into operational reports and various policy instruments for the benefit of the FG. This reporting apparatus is chiefly built around components from the IBM/Cognos suite. In cases where there are no registration systems in place at the PGD to collate the required data, the section develops web applications or customises and configures existing open source applications by itself. More often than not, these applications are in Php and MySQL. The nature of these applications is particularly diverse and covers applications to measure the administrative burden of rules and regulations, the follow-up of the targets of the PGD’s sections, the financial monitoring of work applications, etc. In addition, the section also provides solutions where there is a need for applications that support business processes. Documentum BPM is used for this purpose. Although the PIP’s focus of attention does not chiefly go out to the development of all manner of tools and applications, a small team of some ten analysts, designers and developers works within the section that numbers around thirty staff in all, to cater to the needs and requirements outlined above. In part due to the fact that the PIP section was set up fairly recently (some three years ago), and had a major inflow of experienced and inexperienced staff alike over the last two years, guaranteeing the quality of these applications is something of a challenge. Which is why a fair deal of attention has been paid to the development, test, acceptance and production environment in recent years, and why a version management system and a bug tracking system were brought into service. Also, standards and templates were imposed to perform analyses, with due attention paid to the description of use cases (or functionalities). Logically, the next step in raising the quality of the analysis and development process was to improve the test procedures. The tests were no longer to be confined to the tests performed by the developers themselves and a general acceptance test by the users at the end of the development path. Especialy as this meant that the thoroughness of such tests was too highly contingent on the pressures of time and the profiles of the developers and future users. To guide us in stepping up the quality of the tests, the PIP is following two avenues. For one thing, a test co-ordinator is being trained at the section who, in due course, will assume a crucial role in setting up and following up on test procedures, templates, etc. For another thing, since January 2010 we have been calling on the services of an experienced Passwerk test consultant for three days a week.
Chris Logghe, Head of the IT Systems Cells, testifies:
‘From the experiences I heard of and read about in other businesses and organisations, I was soon convinced that a Passwerk test consultant would bring added value to our team. My biggest concern centred much more on the human aspect: to what extent would a consultant with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) be able to get accustomed to and thrive in an open landscape environment and a highly mixed team where it is simply impossible to guarantee perfect silence at all times. To a degree, my concern was mitigated during the visit by the permanent coach who supervises Johan, the test consultant who would join us. After an audit of the work environment, we were given a number of recommendations such as providing a permanent work station for Johan to work at, and providing a limited number of primary contacts for Johan within the section. A few weeks before Johan was set to join the PIP, the entire section was given a presentation that honed in on the benefits and focus areas of working with people with ASD. I have to say, the section was very positive about the initiative to post a test consultant to the section. How do I feel about this collaboration, some nine months down the line? It soon emerged that Johan also exceeded my expectations in a professional sense. One of the major benefits of this collaboration is the fact that, as a team, we are all steered to an extent by the regimented methodology Johan sticks to: presenting the project, going through the analysis if available and seeing if the use cases have been sufficiently documented to enable us to derive test cases, consistently using the bug tracking system when running tests and following up on errors, etc. It is true to say that, since Johan has joined us, we are recording more bugs about our user applications before we hand over applications to the users. Which is very much reflected in the reduced workload for corrective maintenance after our applications have been commissioned. Johan’s flexibility is another major strong suit. In recent months he has been testing Business Intelligence systems, registration systems as well as Business Process Management systems. He has been writing technical manuals for a number of applications, taken part in the technical description of a fairly complex upload and conversion algorithm and screened an application for compliance with the Anysurfer quality hallmark. We certainly still have some way to go in raising the quality of our tests. As far as I am concerned, that certainly includes committing an experienced Passwerk test consultant to perform the actual tests, insofar as permitted by the available budgets. In short, for each and every one of us, Johan has become a permanent member of the team, who has very clearly proven his added value, both on an interpersonal and on a professional level.’
Petra Cuppens, trainee test co-ordinator, shares her experiences:
‘Until recently, my involvement in the tests performed at the section was confined to actually testing applications as a developer. In part thanks to the fact that Johan was posted to the section, it has become very clear that we need a test co-ordinator at the section. A role I am happy to assume. Ultimately, it is an important role if the section means to develop custom applications that meet with the satisfaction of all stakeholders. Johan has certainly proved that properly and consistently performed tests, in accordance with regimented test scripts derived from the analysis, have their use. In my new role, I am certain there is a lot I will be learning from Johan in times to come!’
Marijke Verhavert, head of section, goes on to add:
‘As far as the technical follow-up is concerned, I am happy to let Chris get on with things, together with Johan. I have noticed there is a great deal of mutual respect between those two. But more than anything else, I have noticed a rise in the quality of the work products we deliver, as well as a rise in the focus of attention paid to the test cycle. Tests have been made greatly more efficient, which is also pleasing to our customers. Before we have even managed to invite them to take part in the acceptance tests, Johan is already hard at work. The handovers we are now producing for the purpose of the acceptance tests are already of high quality. For the Vlimpers upgrade, the entire reporting environment had to be tackled as well. Various services within the Flemish civil service have taken part in the tests. But it was Johan who was the first to go through the reports, comparing the old and the new data. He did a very good job on that. Other development teams within our policy area have since learned of ‘our’ Johan and have approached us asking if they could call on his services as well. We are happy to agree to these requests, be it confined to short-term pilots. We are confident that they too will soon be looking to commit a Pass worker of their own.’