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By Mohit Singh, Vice President of Quality Assurance, Renovite Technologies
So far this year, several organizations in the U.K. financial services sector have been affected by systems outages, stopping customers from accessing and spending money as they normally would.
Examples of these outages include the Faster Payments system, which is used by most of the U.K.'s banks and building societies, as well, of course, as the huge outage from TSB back in April that was widely reported across the media.
These outages support a growing base of evidence that the payments industry is, at best, fragile and that somewhere along the line, things need to change. People are getting fed up.
Many of those who work in the payments sector will have noted in response to these outages, Financial Conduct Authority chief executive Andrew Bailey and the Bank of England's Jon Cunliffe said in a media statement: "Operational disruption can impact financial stability, threaten the viability of individual firms and financial market infrastructures, or cause harm to consumers."
The U.K. regulator and BoE now say that by October, U.K. banks must be ready to report how they intend to respond in case of significant disruption and further outages.
While unfortunate, this trend is not altogether surprising. The pace of technological change in financial services is accelerating at an immense pace. Organizations are being challenged to bring innovative, quality services to market at breakneck speed in an eco-system where young, exciting companies with new ideas can pop up at any given moment.
Where we are seeing established organizations fall down time after time is in testing their systems properly. For payments providers, which consumers rely on day-in, day-out, this is a problem. A quick sift through Twitter, Facebook, and various other social media platforms eagerly demonstrates the extent to which consumers are ready to make their feelings known during an outage.
To embrace and overcome this challenge, organizations need to deploy a top-down approach to testing. They must address the overall business drivers first and ensure the necessary technology and resources are in place across the organization to effectively implement and manage systems going forward.
Cutting corners will, inevitably, lead to problems further down the line, which can be enormously damaging to both an organization's reputation. In the case of TSB back in April, for example, the two IT contractors who managed the migration when the bank was bought by Spain's Sabadell Bank from Lloyds Banking Group, told the media the outage was down to rushed, poorly designed testing; not exactly the kind of message you want to be sending out to your stakeholders.
Testing can be a daunting task that, as demonstrated in recent months, doesn't work well in today's increasingly complex financial services sector if the technology and resources allocated to it aren't good enough. One of the biggest challenges financial service providers now face is how to automate testing in such a way that future changes won't create more problems for them.
Under the older manual-testing models, each time there is a change, the entire system will have to be re-tested, which can take several months. Given market forces now demand new services and new functionality all the time, it is unrealistic that an organization would be able to adapt and operate effectively under this regime.
To overcome this, payment organizations need to look to new testing technology; technology that was not built to cater to systems designed in the 1980s and 1990s. After all, the level of complexity in payments systems is only going to increase in the years ahead as technology continues to improve.
In the case of ATMs, for example, the key to success is to automate the testing of software in the same manner that consumers will use it, which needs well-defined scenarios and workflows. This requires the application code, cards, appropriate test data, ATMs and peripherals, device simulations, host connections, certifications and security controls that mirror the eventual live placement location. By adopting this model, test maintenance is drastically reduced, and test creation efficiency improved.
The testing element of any payments system is mission-critical. It underpins financial services organizations ability to operate reliably and to guarantee functionality and usability to consumers. Comprehensive, end-to-end testing technology already exists, and it is now up to organizations to adjust their thinking and invest in the right systems by dedicating an appropriate level of resource to the testing procedure. Financial organizations are going to have to change — not just their systems, but also their attitude toward payment solution services, particularly in terms of resources.
How systems operate and are maintained — particularly at a time when technology never stops changing — must improve if the industry is to embrace an inevitable payments transformation. Those that don't change may otherwise soon start to see an increasingly savvy customer-base looking elsewhere when it comes to money management.
Mohit Singh is an automation specialist with more than 17 years working in the IT sector. During this time, he has pioneered open source tools and designed and developed next-gen test automation tools aligned with emerging trends in technology.