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The state of test automation tools: Top trends and challenges for 2018

Linda Rosencrance Freelance writer/editor

The key trends in test automation tools in 2017 centered on open source and continuous testing. While those will remain prominent in the coming year, several broad technology trends will affect testing and testing tools.

As 2018 gets underway, expect to see some tools converge, more artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities embedded in the tools you use, more innovation coming from commercial tools vendors, and a change in mindset as more organizations realize that maybe Selenium isn't the only thing you should have in your toolbox.  

Here is a full rundown of the state of software test automation tools.


3 broad trends will affect testing

The three technologies that are most likely to be involved in the software you will need to test in 2018 are the Internet of Things (IoT), blockchain, and AI, says Michael Fritzius, president of Arch DevOps LLC. 

“IoT has been around for a while, but more companies that are in legacy mode are going to be adopting those practices so they can keep up,” he says. AI is already coming on fast, he notes, and although it’s fairly technical, AI is generic enough to have a wide range of applications. “And you can expect to see changes in the testing tools,” including predictive analytics in testing algorithms and in the applications being tested, Fritzius says.

Finally, blockchain technology is finding a foothold in virtually every field, he says. Many people are adopting it as a way to transfer data. Applications will have to be modified to use it, and the methods in which they’re tested will be different. “Testing itself is going to change with all these exciting technologies changing the fabric and flavor of the software we produce,” Fritzius adds.

What AI will bring: The good and the bad

When talking about what’s on tap for software test automation tools in 2018, the buzz on the street is all about machine learning—and it's not all good, says Greg Paskal, director of quality assurance for automation for The Dave Ramsey Show.

“AI buzz will mean many companies will start to bolt AI terminology onto their existing toolsets or invent products that are supposed to leverage AI but misrepresent where technologies like these really bring practical benefits,” says Paskal.

Continuous testing will cause tool consolidation

Continuous testing is the overarching theme for software test automation tools in 2018, and that will cause a tool convergence, says Diego Lo Giudice, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research.

“That, of course, puts a bunch of requirements on tools—and automation, of course, is at the heart of this,” he says. “Continuous testing is relevant because of the overall shift toward continuous delivery, DevOps, agile delivery, and so on.”

Companies are trying to build better software faster to support digital acceleration/digital transformations, and that makes testing a first-class citizen in the realm of digital, Lo Giudice says.

“Digital is happening everywhere,” he says. “And in the vertical markets, such as healthcare, where there’s higher digital disruption, there will be a higher need for automation and new ways of testing.”

From an automation tool perspective, 2018 will see the convergence of functional test automation tools with mobile front-end test automation tools. 
Diego Lo Giudice

What’s happening is that the continuous delivery pipelines used in deploying software, and in running software and services, is an omnichannel business, Lo Giudice says. “That’s why companies no longer want to have one tool to do functional test automation for mobile and one tool to do functional test automation for browsers or other environments.”

Open source will push commercial tool innovation

Expect open-source tools to push commercial tool developers to improve and expand their toolsets by touting ease of use and speed of development, says Paul Grossman, automation project architect for Global Services at TEKsystems.

Shane Evans, director of product management at Micro Focus, says open-source tools are being used by every one of his customers.

“We’ve taken a different approach to 'How do we bring more value to those open-source solutions?'” he says. “Rather than say that our tool is better or the two don’t work together, what we’ve been looking at is bringing our experience and value to the open-source community, and for the most part it’s been very well received.”

That industry trend will continue into next year, he says.

“If you look around, there are a lot of vendors who say they’re supporting WebDriver or Selenium. And it’s no longer a battle between vendors for who has the best protocol or set of APIs for testing; it’s who can provide the best value to the open-source community.”
—Shane Evans

Buckle up: You'll need new skills

The World Quality Report 2017–2018, released by Capgemini, Sogeti, and Micro Focus, identifies several trends in software quality and testing, including further adoption of test automation and of agile and DevOps methodologies.

Moving to smarter, automated testing solutions will enable teams to release software faster without sacrificing quality to secure business outcomes, the report states.

Next year will also see an increase in the demand for skills in test automation strategies, says Mark Winteringham, co-founder of the Software Testing Clinic and a software test automation expert.

The architectural and technological options available to teams, combined with the ever-growing adoption of continuous delivery and deployment practices, are making the traditional unit/integration/UI automation approach obsolete, he says.

This is reflected in the increased uptake in tools that offer contract-driven, property-based and visual testing, Winteringham says.

“To balance all these tools in a way that can support teams, the need to think more deeply about robust, context-specific automation strategies is essential if teams want to succeed.”
Mark Winteringham

In addition, in regard to specific tools this year, Winteringham says he has adopted approval/snapshot-based approaches for checking outputs from his automated tools.

“There is going to be a big growth in this area next year,” he predicts. "I've personally been using Approval Test and visual testing tools like Applitools for a while now to compare data sets to highlight changes, and I really like the increased speed and coverage these tools give me in my automation.”

Winteringham says this snapshot approach is going to be bigger and better next year, with some new and interesting tools from several companies, such as ReTest, which is working on open-sourcing its tool, Rediff, as well as the current work on Gojko Adzic’s visual testing tool, Appraise.

“Recently I've seen a lot more testers learning about what to automate below the UI,” he says. “There seem to be many places where developers write unit tests, testers write UI tests, and there's a gap in the middle of the test automation pyramid at the services layer." But as more organizations develop APIs and shift their architecture toward microservices, he adds, the testing community has started to share more material about this type of testing.

Open-source, commercial tools will bridge the divide

Some previous trends with regard to test automation tools and tooling best practices will continue into the new year. One trend sure to continue is the use of open source in testing.

“Open-source tools have built a huge presence in the market,” says Katrina Clokie, test practice manager at BNZ. Many organizations have moved away from traditional and expensive commercial test automation tools that attempt to do everything and toward open-source tools that specialize in a particular type of testing, she says.

But the great divide between commercial testing tools and Selenium will die down in 2018, says Paskal. “Testers are starting to realize that these are simply tools that enable them to perform the role of software testing and automation,” he says. “You hear key leaders in the automation field talking about different tools they are leveraging to accomplish a variety of testing tasks.”

Bas Dijkstra, a consultant with OnTest Automation, agrees that the adoption of Selenium as the one and only tool for user-interface-driven test automation has reached a plateau.

“People are slowly starting to see that Selenium isn't the only option for test automation."
Bas Dijkstra

This trend is caused both by the awareness that there's more to an application (and to test automation) than meets the UI, "plus there are some interesting emerging alternatives, Cypress being one of the most interesting offerings,” Dijkstra said.

The role of visual comparison tools may diminish

Clokie sees another trend with respect to the use of visual comparison tools. “In my organization, we have a few different suites of automated visual regression [tools] that we use for specific purposes, but I see a move away from visual comparison tools as a generic solution to replace other types of functional test automation through the UI,” Clokie says.

“There was a lot of initial enthusiasm for a sweeping revolution of UI test automation, but so far these visual comparison tools have just created a new niche.”
Katrina Clokie

In 2018, it's all about speed

The biggest requirement for the tools and best practices in the coming year is to enable teams to test as fast as possible in order to maintain the right level of quality while delivering in shorter cycles, says Forrester's Lo Giudice.

Development and quality teams are trying to shorten the delivery cycle time. Because they have less time, those teams must work together to build quality into their products.

“Because if you still keep testing as an afterthought, and it’s done later on in the cycle, separately, for someone else, and you keep it manual, you’re not going to be able to deliver,” he says.

“Testing is going to become a bottleneck again, and we can’t allow that. That’s why we talk about continuous testing.”
—Lo Giudice

The challenges are changing for organizations, which means both developers and testers will need more technical skills. Organizations need more full-stack developers and full-stack testers who are capable of using automation tools, with titles such as automation engineer and software engineer in test.

“That’s a big challenge, because most of the testing in the past has been done manually, and it’s been seen more as a business subject-matter expertise, which doesn’t go away," says Lo Giudice. But organizations must continue to develop more technical skills in the coming year if they expect to increase the level of automation.


Image: Flickr

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