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Testing Procedures


A discussion of the importance of testing procedures when implementing
an accounting system or ERP solution


By J. Carlton Collins, CPA


 

Over the years I have come to appreciate those publishers who have implemented extensive product testing procedures. Without well-planned product testing, the software code could “go south” at any moment, and take the customers and publisher down with it. Here are a couple of stories which help explain this concept.

The Macola Product Testing Lab

For the past fifteen years, Macola Progression has offered perhaps the finest low cost manufacturing accounting software solutions in the industry. However, the product suffered from serious bug issues – too many to ignore. I can remember in 1996 receiving almost two dozen Macola CDs in the mail during the year, as the company relentlessly released new versions every other week in an effort to combat bugs. At following Spring, I had the opportunity to have dinner with the company’s President – Bruce Hollinger where I callously remarked “I’ve invented a device that catapults my Macola CDs across the Chattahoochee River so that I can shoot them with my shotgun – “Pull”, “Boom”, “Pull”, “Boom”. I thought that I was being funny, but my comment didn’t raise a single smile, much less a laugh.

Two years later, I visited Bruce Hollinger again in Marion, Ohio. Bruce invited me to take a ride with him where he took me on a tour of a new office location where Macola had set up a product testing laboratory. Along the walls were fifty computers busy running 1.5 million lines of test code against the Macola product. In the offices were twenty personnel whose sole job it was to read the testing reports, identify problems and bugs, and communicate those problems back to the programmers. Bruce told me that they had visited the Microsoft Excel team specifically to ask them how they tested their product. Then Macola modeled their testing lab after the Microsoft Excel testing lab. Bruce told me that the testing lab had been one of the most difficult and expensive things he has ever done, but also one of the most beneficial things as well. He said, “I used to think that we were shipping pretty clean code, but I was only fooling myself. With this new testing lab, I now know that we are shipping good clean code and I can look customers in the eye with a good conscious. My reply to Bruce was, Great Plains has known this for years, they have 700 computers running 3,600 test macros around the clock producing 193,400+ electronic reports that are checked electronically each night.

Since that time, I can verify that the Macola Progression product has been much cleaner code. I’ve talked to dozens of Macola consultants, resellers, and customers who have confirmed that the testing lab has made a world of difference for Macola. Except for one minor and unconfirmed complaint I receive in May 2001 concerning Macola’s Warranty Repair module, I have not heard a single other bug complaint since 1998. My hats off to Macola.

Solomon Software Fights Bug Issues

I should note that Solomon has always been a favorite product of mine, it was the very first product I worked with back in 1985.I like the people and the product. 

In 1997, I visited Solomon Software in Findlay, Ohio. During my visit, the Solomon folks were excited that they had just implemented procedures to start compiling their product code on a nightly basis, rather than on a monthly basis as they had done in the past. I did not say so at the time, but I was rather appalled that they had not been doing this all along. I had just traveled from Fargo, North Dakota the previous day where I toured the Great Plains Dynamics testing lab. As I mentioned above, Great Plains had 700 computers running 3,600 test macros around the clock producing 193,400+ electronic reports that are checked electronically each night. Therefore, the fact that Solomon was just now taking steps to compile code nightly was not very impressive, compared to Great Plains’ efforts.

The following year, Solomon released new product code which unfortunately, was buggy. Over the course of the year, I encountered seven separate instances in which an attendee in my audience stood up and complained bitterly about Solomon bugs. I can vividly recall once such episode as I was lecturing in Puerto Rico at an AICPA conference. I had just demonstrated the Solomon product to several hundred participants when the CFO of a California-based timber company stood up in front of everybody and proceeded to slam Solomon without mercy. He explained that his company had spent more than $300,000 on the product, and it never worked. They eventually got their money back. I too had problems. Working with my colleague at the time - Randy Johnston, we worked for days in an effort to get Solomon up and running on our laptop computers – but to no avail. Finally, Randy shipped his laptop off to Solomon and after several weeks, he was told that they could not get it to work either. The Grande Finale came in September as I attended a Texas Rangers games as a guest of ePartners (great seats by the way). During the third inning ePartner’s management announced to me that they had stopped recommending Solomon IV. At first I was a little shocked, but then it really sank in as to just what they were telling me. You see, at the time ePartners was the number one Solomon reseller in the world. I asked them why and the reply was “Solomon’s idea of testing their product is to throw it out there to their customers and let them suffer”. [Please keep in mind that this was not an official comment from ePartners, it was merely idol conversation over a hotdogs and beer at the ballpark. EPartners had a huge vested interested in the Solomon product and I don’t blame them for being frustrated. EPartners is a fine organization.] [Also - from the rumor department, some internal programmers at Solomon have suggested to me that the root of the Solomon bug issues are a direct result of changes that Microsoft made within their database design – and that the fix for these problems laid in Microsoft’s hands – not Solomon’s. I have no idea whether this is true, but because we are talking ancient history here, it is interesting to ponder.]

As you can see, there was a fairly decent amount of evidence that Solomon’s lack of formal testing had finally caught up to them. Prior to this episode, Solomon had produced some of the most rock solid code in the marketplace – as if they were immune to bug issues. I am sure that their decade long success to date help lull them in to a false sense of security. Solomon Software has since been purchased by Great Plains, who has since been purchased by Microsoft. He folks at Great Plains made it their first priority to repair the Solomon code, which was done fairly easily using the Great Plains testing lab model. Unfortunately the image takes a little longer to repair, especially with accounting software pundits like me who spout off these old stories. I am pleased to report that for the past several years, Solomon IV has enjoyed good, clean, dependable code. I have been recommending Solomon with complete confidence and continue to do so.

Conclusion

I think that these stories speak for themselves. Product testing is very important. Each accounting software publisher should maintain a separate group dedicated to solely product testing. Don’t be fooled by publishers who claim that “our programmers test their work”. Of course they should review their own work – who doesn’t proof read or review their own work? However it is a different story to have independent personnel dedicated specifically to this function. Ask about it. Ask for names. Ask the publisher to describe their product testing procedures. If the company doesn’t have such procedures, you will be able to tell.

Final Note - I am not sure how the folks at Macola, ePartners, or Solomon will feel about me mentioning their names in these stories above. In the end, this should be a good story for all. Macola and Solomon both implemented superior testing and now have better code than ever before. Also, my hat goes off to ePartners for doing the right thing by not recommending a buggy product to their customers.  My purpose in recanting these stories is to help us all learn from past mistakes.

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The Importance of Accounting Software Testing Procedures