The Economics of Test Automation – Part 1

Does It Make Sense To Automate Your Tests?

Perhaps your organization has been manually testing products over the years and is now mulling over the possibility of automating these tests. The decision to switch from manual to automated testing can often be a tug-of-war between management and engineering. From a management standpoint, costs and ROI are of considerable concern since it involves a certain amount of investment to make the switch. From an engineering perspective, automated testing should lead to better yield, higher productivity and improved quality, which would ultimately translate into cost savings.

Development, Deployment and Operational Costs

First, let’s look at the three main segments of the cost of test automation – the development, deployment and operational costs. Up-front investment of time and money into the development of automated testing is crucial as the organization determines the best test strategy to move forward. (More about test strategies will be covered in future posts.) Engineering effort such as test system hardware design and software coding also contribute to the development cost. Other initial costs would also include qualification tests, tools and staff training. The sum of these costs would make up the initial upfront development cost which is typically a one-time expense.

After development work has been completed, deployment takes place. This cost is incurred every time a tester is deployed. A huge part of this cost can be attributed to the capital expenditure of equipment and test fixtures. Other cost factors include test accessories, software deployment and shipping/transportation. The deployment cost is usually more predictable and recurs consistently whenever you scale up the number of testers.

Once the tester has been deployed, operational costs kick in. Although these are typically minimal due to the nature of automation, some man-hours are still required to maintain and operate the automated testers. Other maintenance costs include calibration and repair. And as testers occupy physical space, you also need to consider the real estate cost of hosting them, as well as the facility costs (electricity, network etc) required to run them. Depending on your strategy, there may also be capital costs of maintaining spare testers to minimize downtime.

The total of the development, deployment and operational costs may appear intimidating, but we must also consider what is gained by automating your test procedures. In other words, will making this investment ultimately bring better returns and savings to your business?

In the next post, we will take a deeper look at the benefits of test automation.