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Transitioning from manual to automated testing in a PowerBuilder Environment
NCC develops and supports the Nutrition Data System for Research (NDSR), a dietary analysis software application widely used for the collection and analyses of 24-hour dietary recalls and the analysis of food records, menus, and recipes. Hundreds of researchers at institutions across the United States rely on NDSR for an array of nutrition-related studies.
Client Contact: Gordon Weil

Executive Summary:

The Nutrition Coordinating Center at the University of Minnesota selected AscentialTest for test automation of its Nutrition Data System for Research application and developed over a thousand automated tests which:

  • Reduce the testing cycle from two to three weeks to one to two days.
  • Validate hundreds of calculations that would require trained staff to complete.
  • Raise the level of confidence in new releases of the software.

Client Objective:

Gordon Weil of the Nutrition Coordinating Center found that testing NDSR manually is time-consuming. It takes 2 to 3 person weeks to run a regression test on one version of windows, but since they support multiple versions at any given time, it just isn’t feasible, especially given that the organization doesn’t have a dedicated testing staff. Gordon found that there weren’t people available to execute the tests when he needed them.

He began investigating automated testing solutions. He tried a few open source and commercial tools, but none of them worked well with PowerBuilder, upon which NDSR is built. He also needed to find a solution that was easy to learn since he planned to use students to build the automated tests.

Our Approach:

Gordon selected AscentialTest both because it provides support for PowerBuilder and because it’s easy to learn and use. Students were hired to convert their well-documented manual tests into automated tests. Gordon said that he spent only an hour or two training the students to use AscentialTest. Over the course of a summer, two students automated 1075 tests. The regression suite comprises a comprehensive set of tests that cover all aspects of the NDSR application. When the project started, NDSR was built with PowerBuilder 12.5, but was recently converted to PB 2017. Tests are separated into different plans by functional area. One plan, which runs for a couple of hours, generates a thousand reports which are compared to baselines that have been previously captured. Reports contain a large number of calculations that need to be validated. AscentialTest is used to find any differences that are later examined.

Results Delivered:

The test cycle for the original set of tests was reduced from 2 to 3 person weeks to 1 to 2 days. Additional tests have since been added to increase coverage. The regression is primarily used to ensure that when changes are made, nothing is broken. It occasionally uncovers a problem, but even when it doesn’t identify an issue, it provides confidence to the organization that the application is going to perform well for its customers. Prior to using AscentialTest, adding a new report to the system was costly because validation requires a huge amount of labor and time. Some of the tests would need to be executed by a trained nutritionist, whose time is very valuable to the organization. Gordon estimates that $10,000.00 is saved every time a regression needs to be executed and the feedback loop is significantly shorter. He no longer has to wait the 2 to 3 weeks that it would take to run the same tests manually.

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