Pass workers test customer management system of the Flemish Water Supply Company (= Vlaamse Maatschappij voor Watervoorziening, VMW)
The Flemish Water Supply Company has been using a new customer management system since 2008. The software brings a user-friendly solution for increasingly complex billing operations, but the underlying programme logic is quite intricate. The VMW calls on Passwerk testers on a regular basis for the preparation of new releases, much to the satisfaction of all parties concerned.
The Flemish Water Supply Company is Flanders’ biggest drinking water supply company and, as an integrated water company, also acts as a partner in the development of municipal sewerage networks. Moreover, the VMW devises tailored water projects for private enterprises. The VMW supplies drinking water to 2.6 million customers in 170 towns in West and East Flanders, Flemish Brabant and Limburg.
Since the introduction of the integrated water bill, alongside the costs for the production and supply of drinking water, this bill also specifies a contribution for the discharge and treatment of said water. The IT infrastructure that underpins customer management and the integrated water bill was no longer up to the task of keeping up with fast market developments. These customer applications were developed in a mainframe environment. Which is why the VMW set out in search of a cheaper and more flexible system for automated billing and improved customer follow-up. In March 2008, the new customer management system going by the name of ‘Arcado’ was commissioned. This user-friendly and dynamic software comes with more features and is more flexible in terms of billing and following up on changing rules and regulations.
Each year, this software generates 6 million bills, at a rate of 25,000 bills a night, representing an annual turnover of 470 million euros. Needless to say, the VMW cannot afford for wrong bills to be sent out. Each outgoing bill needs to be spot on from day 1.
Passwerk tests new versions adopting a methodical approach
From the outset, the VMW called on the services of Passwerk to perform the acceptance tests of the new versions. For each release, a large number of regression tests are carried out and the newly added features are placed under the magnifying glass. In all, over 500 test scripts have been compiled by the software supplier using Quality Centre.
Jan Hammenecker, business systems and communications manager: ‘The integrated water bill software is complex and the programme logic is fairly intricate. But the Passwerk testers managed to get up to speed in double quick time: one of them even discovered an error in the complex billing module while he was still in training.’
Since Passwerk has been handling the tests, all parties are under obligation to adopt a predefined structure. During the test phase, all parties are required to systematically devise and plan things ahead of time, which certainly benefits quality. From day one, the VMW was asking for a solid structure to be set up. VMW staff and the software suppliers fully understood how Pass workers need structure and showed every goodwill. As a result of this formal method of operation, all releases are of excellent quality by the time they go live.
Quality improvement starts as early as during the test script compilation phase. The Pass workers debug the test scripts that have been prepared (over 500 at this point) by the software supplier and test them out in terms of completeness. All test scripts are clustered in Quality Centre, a test management tool that ensures communications between the testers, the developers and project management. Subsequently, the test scripts are most rigorously carried out. Each test, from first to last, is handled with the same degree of meticulousness, entirely in line with the planning schedule that has been set up. The very strict compliance with the planning schedule certainly is a great quality the Passwerk testers have to offer.
By now, this is the third time the VMW is calling on Passwerk to carry out the tests. Jan Hammenecker: ‘At the outset, procedures and the working environment need to be adapted a little, but thanks to Passwerk’s quality coaching and intake interviews, we became convinced of the quality of the work delivered. We have now got to the point where the collaboration with Passwerk has become a matter of routine. We have made sure the testers can work in a separate room, enabling them to focus on performing the tests, at their ease and undisturbed.’
The Pass workers were continuously assisted and coached by a test co-ordinator, who made sure a realistic and clear planning schedule was put in place. The test pace was constantly high, with a lot of test cycles being covered, which resulted in the expected quality of the production environment of the new releases.
Pivotal in all of this is the attendance of a good co-ordinator, who draws up realistic planning schedules and who handles communications with the VMW. Communications between VMW staff and Pass workers do not pose any problems, even though in practice the Pass workers themselves are less active in seeking out contacts with the VMW regulars. This is probably also to do with the fact that they are committed for short time periods of a couple of weeks at a time.
Jan Hammenecker: ‘After the first release, we were so pleased with the quality of the test work that we continued to call on Passwerk for the next releases. We currently have another very important release upgrade in the pipeline for June 2010 and the entire regression test will be handled by Passwerk. By now, our software supplier and integrator has also become so convinced of the efficiency of using Passwerk staff that Passwerk’s services are being hired in that environment as well. This serves to significantly raise the continuity of the learning curve of staff. In a nutshell: the VMW is very pleased with the quality of the work delivered and we are very confident in the added value that Passwerk staff bring to the table.’
Jan Hammenecker, Business Systems and Communications Manager