Mike Wager - 28 July 2021
Building an integrated technology stack or "tech stack" plays a vital role in enabling business growth. In a recent survey from McKinsey, 60% of respondents agreed, saying that integrated digital and IT operations create business value.
Merely investing in applications, connecting them arbitrarily to other systems, and expecting to hit business goals won't work. Neither will a lack of integration testing once you picked the right interconnected platforms.
Since getting it right takes time and a decent amount of investment, it's crucial your tech stack works when first implemented. So let's start at the beginning.
What is a tech stack?
A tech stack is a set of digital tools that an organization implements to streamline, automate, and increase the efficiency of existing processes and workflows to help meet business goals.
This encompasses software, web applications, and other systems that are core parts of how your organization operates.
Traditionally, a tech stack was a combination of programming languages, software products, web servers, operating systems, APIs, and other tools used by software development teams.
However, tech stacks have evolved. As more organizations see the benefit they bring and move their day-to-day operations to the cloud, tech stacks are no longer the domain of only software teams.
Tech stacks are now used for various reasons and across different organizational departments, from marketing and sales to HR and finance. In some cases, multiple tech stacks integrate with each other to further streamline business practice and support growth.
Why do you need a tech stack?
Delivering value and increasing growth is high on the list of objectives for every enterprise organization. Achieving this is made easier by curating a tech stack with the right set of tools.
A tech stack is critical to increasing the efficiency and productivity of how your business operates. By connecting workflows across teams and departments, reaching common business goals is more achievable.
Silos are broken down. Communication and collaboration are improved. Process blockers are identified and eradicated. Feedback and data can be collected, driving effective business decisions. Growth is achieved.
Seems pretty straightforward, right? Unfortunately, building an effective tech stack is complicated.
Building the right tech stack
Building a tech stack is more than just picking the latest tools, integrating them, and expecting your organization, department, or team to miraculously improve the way they operate.
So before you rush out and buy the newest and shiniest tool, consider the following first:
1. Outcomes before tools
Implementing a set of tools before you know what needs improving is a sure-fire way of creating a tech stack that will hinder rather than aid growth.
Organizations need to ask themselves, what are we trying to achieve? What is the desired outcome? What is preventing these outcomes from being achieved? By asking these questions first, you can avoid any future failures.
For instance, if your customer experience isn't delivering against expectations, implementing a brand new CRM system won't suddenly make the situation better. You need to discover why your customer experience isn't up to scratch.
Are your sales team unaware of incoming customer queries? Are customer orders incorrect or failing to be fulfilled at all? Is manual software testing slowing down the release of new product features?
In this case, there might be links between systems that don't work, preventing notifications from reaching Sales. Mandatory customer order details might be entered incorrectly or could fail to reach a logistics center altogether. Or your software delivering team is spending too much time checking code defects manually, leaving no time to work on new features.
Tools should merely be a facilitator. The immediate and primary purpose of building a tech stack is to align processes with business objectives to deliver as much value as possible.
2. Collaboration is key when beginning tech stack integration
When tech stacks were first used to accelerate software deployment, high-performing organizations consulted different stakeholders and considered cross-functional outcomes.
This means that organizational silos must be broken down to improve decision-making when creating a fully functioning tech stack. Using a consultative approach across departments is necessary, regardless of the type of tech stack you are building.
For instance, if a CRM platform is implemented in isolation to solve customer experience issues, but a distribution center is unaware, an order fulfillment workflow might completely break down. Having a discussion early with relevant stakeholders can flag any bottlenecks and determine if additional technologies are required to plug any gaps.
By having representatives from relevant teams and departments, identifying problems and setting clear objectives is easier. Once established, creating the appropriate workflows that streamline and automate processes is simple.
3. How much technical know-how is needed?
Any application or system can work straight out of the box, but few organizations require this level of simplicity. To cater to your unique business challenges and ensure any tech stack delivers value, varying degrees of customization will be necessary.
One main area is implementing business logic to create custom workflows. Custom workflows throughout any tech stack will typically follow a step-by-step process and include intricate rules. Features, such as mandatory fields, business rules, and "if/then" statements, will be implemented to ensure each application and workflow functions correctly.
Although many application UI's are fluid, the number of potential actions, paths, and routes a user can take are many – there's no guarantee they will follow point A, to B, to C, and then to D in that order. Consulting with your software teams to ensure the business rules are correctly implemented and the various user paths adequately tested are equally as critical.
Another technical area to consider is how a platform or software works when integrating with different technologies.
So, first off, and this only applies if you create a tech stack for marketing, HR, or similar, get IT involved in your conversations. One of your software experts will be able to tell you the advantages and disadvantages of using one programming language over another. Understanding how simple or not it will be to integrate applications with different codebases is essential. You don't want to begin building your tech stack to find you have no one that can automate the workflows between the various systems and technologies.
Never overlook this. Talking to your software development team is necessary because end-to-end testing will have to continuously take place. In addition to different codebases, updates, new features, and maintenance work will regularly occur, requiring massive amounts of testing to maintain functionality across every platform.
Testing your tech stack is imperative
Setting clear objectives, collaborating company-wide, finding the right tools, customizing workflows, and implementing them is just the beginning.
Next on your checklist is testing. If you want your tech stack to work, you will need to continuously test it, which means taking advantage of automation.
Test and monitor the user experience
A tech stack that no one uses defeats the whole purpose of why you were building one in the first place. So, testing to understand usability is required. To achieve this, you must validate from the user's perspective, as well as verify the codebase.
Put it this way; some applications have a complex UI that uses features such as iFrames, drop-downs, and pop-up windows, to offer a better experience. These can be great for a user but can be hard to test with tools that only verify the code.
For instance, a pop-up window may appear, obscuring a button that must be clicked to complete an action that is critical to a workflow. Specific object-based tools wouldn't identify this as an issue because its remit is only to verify the code rather than validate the UI.
Intelligent test automation
Essential to any tech stack are customizations, in particular, workflows. Business logic drives these custom workflows, increasing the number of user journeys that need testing.
Users don't necessarily move down a linear path in sequence. One step in the process might be accessible from different routes. Users may forget to enter necessary data, meaning they have to go back a step or refresh the page.
Expecting a manual tester to sit down and predict every possible user journey and action is not an option. Using a test automation solution that conducts intelligent exploratory testing by utilizing AI to increase coverage by auto-generating test cases for all possible user journeys is.
Test any technology
Due to complex systems, devices, and codebases involved with every tech stack, you require a solution that can automate true end-to-end testing via only one test, regardless of the technology.
The alternative option is to utilize multiple manual or automated testing tools and create test cases for every technology, system, and application that makes up your tech stack.
Considering that most tech stacks are cloud-based, users will be accessing platforms on different web browsers, on multiple devices, built on various programming languages. In some cases, merely logging into an application requires two-factor authentication, which involves testing user journeys across a range of computers and mobile devices.
Manually testing these scenarios or using multiple tools takes time. Time your competitors are using to release new features and digital products to the market faster than you can.
To discover how Keysight's Eggplant test automation solution can support your testing matrix by using a unified model to validate and verify the user's experience across any technology and workflow, contact us today.