MSTB President Mastura Abu Samah.
Malaysia's bid to be a regional software testing hub is part of the national GRC framework, says national industry body Malaysian Software Testing Board [MSTB] President, Mastura Abu Samah, during a recent interview with Computerworld Malaysia.
Could you explain how the Malaysia Software Testing Board (MSTB)'s software initiative falls into the nation's governance, risk and compliance (GRC) framework?
Software testing in itself is a manifestation of a GRC concept. Testing is about mitigating the risks (of bugs and failures). In essence, testing is about ensuring that software used in all industry sectors meets compliance standards, a specific set of minimum acceptable standards. And the entire process of testing is subjected to strict governance by the testing scheme owner such as the International Software Testing Qualifications Board (ISTQB), which MSTB (a national industry body) is affiliated to.
Given the fact that information and communications technology (ICT) is the main enabler in the convergence of the GRC's (previously independent) elements, software testing has a vital role to play within the framework. Software testing is highly applicable in ensuring the underlying IT components of the GRC framework are thoroughly tested for functionality, integrity, security, and so forth.
In what way has awareness and competence of Malaysia's software testing industry improved since the launch of MSTB's first annual regional conference in 2008?
Since the launch of SOFTEC (MSTB's Software Testing Conference), we have consistently positioned SOFTEC as a knowledge-centric event. We see software testing and SQA (Software Quality Assurance) as key to helping the nation achieve its goals of economic transformation.
One of the objectives of SOFTEC is to raise the level of competency among local software professionals and work towards establishing a Community of Practice among members of Malaysia's software testing fraternity. At the same time, SOFTEC also contributes towards raising the level of awareness on and understanding of the relevance and importance of software testing to individuals as well as organisations.
Apart from SOFTEC, we also have the Software Testing Straight Talk, which is an annual national-level forum introduced last year. The forum is intended to be the platform for public consultation on relevant issues, challenges and recommendations which will be used as input to our strategic planning for our software testing industry. Other main programmes under the MSTH (Malaysia Software Testing Hub initiative) include Q-Laboratory (Q-LAB), Q-Industry Development (Q-Industry), Q-Capability Development (Q-CAP), Quality - Assist Programme (Q-TAP), Academic Outreach and Product Certification.
The Q-LAB is a showcase of world-class software testing facility with top-of-the line technology and testing tools. It provides the necessary skills, technology & infrastructure supports for MSTH programmes. Under the Q-Industry, we run awareness campaigns for general awareness as well as programmes for specific target groups. The Q-CAP, meanwhile, comprises activities that seek to encourage professional software testing certification among working professionals. We also run certification programmes tailored for the public sector. These trainings and certifications are conducted in collaboration with INTAN. The Q-TAP is intended to assist Malaysian organisations, which have products to be tested, develop internal software testing capability.
As for the Academic Outreach, the programme reaches out to final-year students in software-related courses to promote software testing as a career and professional certification as a means to improve their employability.
For a longer term, we are working with the MOHE (Ministry of Higher Education) and local universities on adoption of ISTQB syllabus in software-related courses. A pilot implementation, involving six universities, is expected to start in September this year.
MSTB has also embarked on a programme to pave the way towards establishing a national certification scheme for software and software-enabled products. This is done in collaboration with the Korea Testing Laboratory, which has vast experience in certifying software products.
What has been the industry reaction to the establishment of your testing laboratory - Q-Lab - in mid-June 2010?
The establishment of the Q-LAB essentially gives a jumpstart to the development of software testing technology infrastructure in Malaysia. It is also intended to serve as the showcase for a world-class software testing facility.
We are also leveraging the Q-LAB to get the buy-in from local industry stakeholders on the important and relevance of software testing. To date, we have seen some reflection of success based on the fact that local organisations are starting to include testing as part of the requirements in their IT tender exercises.
For the Q-LAB itself, it has secured a number of contracts on commercial basis as well as several proof-of-concepts jobs. The LAB is currently in negotiations with several other interested parties including from overseas. A publicly-announced contract was with Mutiara Smart Computing, which engaged us to conduct field testing on its security application intended for deployment in secured environment.
As the software testing market develops and the push for product certification increases, it will become viable for more testing labs. However, the expansion will not be by Q-LAB alone. The most important thing is to have the services available nationwide. As such, we can also expand through clusters of companies either independently or in collaboration with the Q-LAB.
Do you feel the 'talent gap' of certified testing professionals in the country has been properly addressed?
We have identified from the onset that we must have sufficient and sustainable pool of skilled and competent software test professionals to support the ecosystem. Currently, we have more than 1,000 ISTQB-certified professional software testers. Our target is to have 10,000 by the end of the national 10th Malaysia plan (ends 2015), which will include those from existing workforce and those coming out from Malaysian universities.
We expect the increase to be much faster once our ISQTB syllabus adoption programme (under the Academic Outreach programme) starts to yield results. Under the Academic Outreach programme, MSTB also proposes to incorporate an 'extended' industry attachment component which shall see talented students be given real industry exposure from as early as the second year. As such, they will graduate with real work experience (as opposed to the standard 'internship' experience).
Having such a large number of software test professionals would give us the 'economic of scale' advantage in the sense that development of the industry could move faster and collectively, we will be able to be more competitive in the international market.
Beyond the professional certification, we must also make sure that our professional testers continue to update their knowledge and skills. One of the platforms to achieve this is through our SOFTEC event. We are also working towards creation of a Community of Practice for Malaysia's software test professionals to promote continuous interaction, exchange of knowledge, sharing of ideas and business networking. We have the Q-Portal (www.qportal.com.my) to facilitate this.
In the longer term, we are looking at establishing a professional body for software test professionals so as to provide industry recognition for them. Through such a body, we would also be able to establish a framework to facilitate software professionals continue to keep their skills and competency current, through structured schemes.
How does Malaysia compare to other countries in the region also bidding to be a regional testing hub?
Our approach to develop our software testing industry is unique. Through the MSTH initiative, we have the industry driving the economic programme with very strong support by the government. The ultimate goal of MSTH is to establish a sustainable software testing ecosystem in Malaysia. By definition, an ecosystem would encompass all inter-dependent elements of the industry - the skills and competencies, the demand and supplies (domestic and international), the infrastructure and legal framework.
We are fortunate in the sense that some of the building blocks for the ecosystem are already in place as a result of the government's earlier initiatives such as the MSC Malaysia. However, there is still a big gap in terms of availability of rightly skilled and competent resources and market development. Pertinent points on Malaysia's issues related to the gaps in the country's skills and competencies are highlighted in the 'ICT Human Capital Development Framework' booklet published by MOHE in 2010.
The MSTH initiative envisages that the ecosystem would put Malaysia in a strong position to offer our expertise to the regional and global markets. Apart from putting together the building blocks for the ecosystem, we have also started our international market development programmes. In addition, the ecosystem will also have spill-over effects on other industries in terms of quality enhancement as well as operational and business efficiencies which in turn, translate into better profitability and ROI (returns on investment).
In addition, the government, through EPU (Economic Planning Unit) and MOSTI (Ministry of Science, Innovation and Technology), has been very supportive of the effort to position Malaysia as a regional testing hub. In fact, the MSTH is an economic development initiative with the aim of developing software testing industry as a new source of economic growth and contributes to the GDP (gross domestic product) of the nation. This fits well with the country's aspiration to become a high-income nation by the year 2020.
Looking a little further ahead, what would be the country's challenges within the global software testing industry?
Speed and timing are of essence. We must move fast to accelerate the development of our industry which includes putting in place the infrastructure, competent professionals, develop strong domain knowledge for the industries we choose to be in, and ensure that we have sufficient & sustainable supply of talent pool. All these are being addressed through various programmes under the MSTH initiative. At the same time, we are also working on programmes to build up capability and create industry clusters and generate market demands.
At present, our focus areas include the financial services, oil & gas, telecommunications and government sectors. Collectively, we have strong domain knowledge in these areas and this puts us in a good position to develop the niche services. MSTB, in collaboration with other stakeholders, is also working towards intensifying applied R&D and collaborations in software testing between the industry and academia sectors. Specific knowledge acquired through applied R&D also helps in developing niche capabilities and position Malaysia as a preferred destination for solution and services related to that particular area.
On a personal level, I have been running my own software engineering company since 1990 and I know how crucial quality assurance is in a software business and that testing is the key to SQA and ensures business sustainability. The quality of software is crucial to the overall success of a project, and the on-time delivery of all required deliverables. It is only natural for me to share my experience and spread the credence of SQA to the rest of the nation. I strongly believe that desire to achieve excellence in software quality is the necessary ingredient for achievement of the nation's aspiration to become a net exporter of high-quality ICT solutions.
In essence: software testing is rapidly growing industry throughout the world and the demand will continue to grow as long as software is used by humankind (virtually, it is a perpetual market). Software testing is also core to SQA, which is crucial to ensuring our industries, especially those which produce software and software-enabled products, remain relevant in the globalised market. In addition, software testing helps organisations improve operational efficiencies and product quality. In turn, these will translate into higher profits and better returns on investment as well as ensure GRC requirements are met.