1 September 2005
Managing test data across the enterprise
By Don Holley
For those unfamiliar with the term "test data management" (TDM), it refers to the process of gathering test data from automated test systems, organizing the data, providing global access to the raw data, and generating test reports and test performance information. Through this, companies use TDM products to increase productivity, improve quality, and reduce time-to-market.
But is test data management for everyone? How can you tell if your company is ready to move up to a TDM system, or if the time and expense might be misdirected?
Here are seven issues to consider that may help.
1. How chaotic is your data?
Some companies find their test data spread out over multiple test stations and servers and even across departments within the company. Other test data is on paper printouts stored in filing cabinets or buried in cryptically named files and file formats that not even the original test engineer can remember. Many companies make large investments in generating large quantities of test data they are unable to transform into actionable information. This is due to the fact they don't have good test data management tools to give them the capability to efficiently and cost effectively collect, manage, analyze, and access test data across their company.
2. How much time do engineers spend transforming test data into reports?
If your engineers are spending hours or days collecting, organizing, and formatting test data for analysis and reports, then a TDM system can make life much easier for them. An enterprise TDM system stores test data into a database that provides managers and engineers easy real-time access for searching, correlating, analyzing, and examining test results and generating reports.
3. How many automated test stations does your company have?
Depending on your needs, you may have one test system used for design verification and validation or hundreds of test stations. A TDM system should be scalable, giving you the capability to start with a single test system for initial product design and validation, and provide scalability and capability to grow to encompass test data for multiple test groups in design and manufacturing.
4. Is your company's design distributed over more than one location?
Your company may have multiple engineering design locations that need the capability to share design verification, validation, and parametric test data between them. An enterprise TDM system provides the capability to correlate and analyze test results from several engineering design groups, at different locations and over different time periods.
5. Is your company's manufacturing distributed over more than one location?
You may have a challenge getting timely access test data if your company has outsourced manufacturing to contract manufacturers (CMs) scattered in several locations. An enterprise TDM system provides you with real-time access to product test, yield, and quality data from CMs so you can monitor their performance via the Internet.
6. Who needs to view test data and reports in your company?
Design and manufacturing engineers and managers in many companies need access to test data, and most want to access the data from their desk via the Intranet. In many cases, other departments, including manufacturing, operations, and quality control benefit by having access to test data to give them production throughput, yield and quality information.
7. Do my engineers have to be database or IT experts?
Your engineers know what they need to develop test systems that will ensure that your product meets design and manufacturing specifications and quality, but an enterprise TDM system can store test data into a common database and provide a reliable and secure way to share this information with other groups across your company. Developing an enterprise TDM system requires extensive database, Web, and information technology skills over and above what it takes to develop a test system.
If you can identify with one or more of the issues listed above, then you are ready for an enterprise TDM system. An off-the-shelf product can provide an easy-to-use, cost-effective, scalable enterprise TDM solution to help you manage design and manufacturing test data across your company.
Behind the byline
Don Holley is marketing manager at VI Technology, Inc., an Austin, Texas-based systems integrator and a registered member of the Control and Information System Integrators Association (CSIA). He earned a bachelor of science degree in control system engineering at the University of Houston at Clear Lake. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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