Perils of Outsourcing Testing of Mission Critical Products

Open Source Software Tools

Engineering and embedded software services (ER&D)companies should treat the testing more seriously rather than using it as a place to deploy inexperienced engineers.

By Srinivasa Moorthy S A 

With issues of 737Max failures, focus is on how these products are tested. Unlike consumer and other products, Avionics & Medical Devices are regulated by FAA & FDA respectively. These products have to be certified by these respective agencies before they are put in use. The documentation and the test process are very elaborate and proof of testing has to be documented and submitted to the agencies for approval. Remember the process of certification is very robust by these agencies but the proof submitted may not be! I remember the famous quote about benchmarking – “BENCHMARKS DON’T LIE BUT LIERS DO BENCHMARKING”

However, with the increased time to market pressure as well as competition, the product companies have resorted to outsourcing the testing to 3rd part agencies or companies. Many of them are IT companies whose investment in people has been practically nil in regulated industry products. Secondly these companies tend to look at this critical projects more in terms of “Time & Material” (it means just offer manpower to be managed by the client) as it generates volume. In the aviation industry, I have seen experienced talent is in short supply and many times the testing gets the least attention or left to the service agency.

Domain Knowledge a Must 

Unlike the application testing, Embedded Products meant for Regulated industry is a different ball game and needs a good amount of Domain Knowledge to even do testing. These products have to be tested for Realtime Response and various combination of errors. I had an interesting experience when I was working for an advanced automotive cluster development where we have to create a drive scenario by generating various signal to test the cluster. The Test jig that was developed will create signals for testing the cluster with signals like speedo, fuel, temperature, etc. During one of the testing, I deliberately switched on the rear door open signal and the system crashed. What was hilarious was, the developer asked me “Why should a door be opened when the car is being driven?”.

Unless the test engineering team understands the product as a whole, any third party testing will be same as the “Blind men and the elephant story”

While the analysts and industry pundits talk about double digit growth in Engineering and R&D Service, little they realise today the manpower that is coming out of colleges has no basics needed for this. Above all companies that hire them don’t invest in training and for most of them Training is an “Expense” not an “Investment”. (Two days back one senior HR friend of mine told me, since the employees have no loyalty companies don’t want to invest!). But the trouble I see is, these companies created separate line called Testing which has an image of being untouchable inside the organisation. Ideally designers need to be involved in testing so that they realize what mistakes they make. Companies that offer testing as a service reduced the service value by making it a cost arbitrage game rather than a value service leading to the present state.

Treat Testing More Seriously

Only way the situation can be improved is when the product companies own the testing and do a thorough job and the ER&D companies treat the testing more seriously rather than using it as a place to deploy inexperienced engineers. Unless Embedded Product Testing is seen as high value business (not high volume business) instead of a “Time & Material” (aka body shopping!), situation will remain the same. Other than few MNCs, I know most of the ER&D services is just low level jobs like Testing(I have heard about different boxes!), Test Bench Creation, Red Line Blue line drafting, etc. reliable product testing will be a big casualty.


Srinivasa Moorthy S A is the Chief Executive Officer of the Andhra Pradesh Electronics & IT Agency. He has over 30 years of experience in the IT industry as Head, Leader & Technocrat in the Electronic Product Design & Engineering Services.