The North Rhine-Westphalia Central IT Services Division: The QAS Suite in Use
Sound quality assurance requires sophisticated tools
The Central IT Services Division of the North Rhine-Westphalia Financial Administration develops, tests and implements software used for tax administration primarily in Germany’s most populous state. Since 2006, the division has successfully utilized the tools QAS.TCS (Test Case Studio) and QAS.PTAR (Problem Tracking), both part of the OBJENTIS QAS Suite, for managing test cases related to the federal-wide project„Electronic Tax Declaration – ELSTER , as well as other tax-related applications.
Ms. Barbara Stock, the responsible project manager, was kind enough to agree to an interview with OBJENTIS in which she explains the Central IT Services Division’s tasking, the role of quality assurance and her requirements in the area of test case management.
Configurability, decentralization and intuitive usability
An interview with Ms. Barbara Stock
(Translated from German)
OBJENTIS: What is the function of the Central IT Services Division of the Financial Administration of the State of North Rhine Westphalia?
BARBARA STOCK: The Central IT Services Division of the Financial Administration (RFZ) is a modern service provider to the 30,000 employees of the Financial Administration, and to all state citizens, with a staff of 600 employees. A team consisting of over 280 programmers develops and maintains the software used for making declarations, returns and assessments for diverse taxes, including income and wage tax, corporation tax, value added tax and motor vehicle tax, and for bookkeeping at the tax offices. The team also maintains and/or develops software programs used for budgeting, cash accounting, general accounting and state debt management. Each euro of the € 50 billion state budget – be it for payment or receipt – is planned and accounted for using RZF software applications, resulting in the printing of some 220 million pages of paper and the sending of 30 million letters to tax-paying citizens annually.
Developing tax administration software and operating both the centralized and decentralized IT system of the Tax Administration of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia are just two of the many tasks that the RZF performs. The RZF is a clearing center for the Federal German ELSTER (electronic tax declaration) project, while an increasingly important responsibility is our development work in support of federally unified software for the taxation process (KONSENS project). In fact, the RZF is one of Germany’s largest KONSENS development sites.
OBJENTIS: How much importance do you place on quality assurance and software testing?
BARBARA STOCK: We have a contract with the public that requires us to responsibly manage all public funds. Because taxes are assessed and collected using RZF software, it would be absolutely fatal if erroneous assessments were to occur. In addition, 31,000 employees in the Financial Administration use RFZ software. Just one error in a release, even if it causes a down time of only a few hours, could wind up costing millions in damages. Or, a problem with the collection of declared taxes – such as wage income or value added taxes – would result in monetary damages extending into the 6 figure range for lost interest alone. Thus, the RFZ is accordingly stringent in testing the software.
OBJENTIS: How does software testing help ensure the high quality of your software?
BARBARA STOCK: With responsibility for such diverse tasks, the RFZ must of course excel in a variety of different areas of expertise, each with its own, unique requirements. As a result, quality assurance is not a centralized process, but is instead the responsibility of individual departments to ensure that each applies its high level of know-how. In addition, the RFZ also utilizes expert testers from the tax revenue offices, whose comprehensive knowledge of the requirements stems from their day-to-day work in their area of expertise. Thus, our software is tested in practice, and in accordance with the specialized application requirements.
OBJENTIS: What are your personal fields of expertise?
BARBARA STOCK: I am responsible for the quality assurance of taxation software applications throughout North Rhine-Westphalia and several federal projects. One such project is ELSTER – electronic tax declaration. Because of the project’s complexity, it is essential to thoroughly define the quality assurance process. For example, we establish testing concepts that precisely define all of the test steps based on the individual requirements. Testing is then conducted and fully documented accordingly. Specifically, we test for compatibility, correctness, robustness and ease of operability. This includes testing user interfaces, performing load tests and ensuring that the input data is correctly processed.
ELSTER is a combined project of the Federal German Government and the individual states, with development occurring at various sites nationally. This makes close coordination a necessity, as well as the verification of component interoperability.
OBJENTIS: We know that you rely on a test case management tool. Kindly tell us the criteria you used to choose the right tool.
BARBARA STOCK: Four factors were especially important:
- We were looking for an easy-to-use tool that can be maintained by our own staff. Our projects are complex enough, so we need to keep time spent on tool maintenance to a minimum.
- We also made it a point to find a tool that can be easily configured for each individual project. That’s an absolute must.
- The ability to support a decentralized workflow – one occurring between numerous states – was also a key factor. And, decentralized access by individual states will remain a key requirement in the future.
- And we were looking for a solution that permits “intuitive use,” meaning ease of familiarization for users without extensive training time.
Software development work as part of the ELSTER project is distributed among different states. It’s true that quality assurance is managed centrally in North Rhine-Westphalia, but the software developers are spread far and wide, and we also work with experts in the various fields at diverse locations. If these testers are unable to travel to Düsseldorf, they need to have the ability to perform project work remotely.
Ultimately, it is very important that individuals having little previous experience with quality assurance tools are able to quickly and easily master its operation.
OBJENTIS: What developments do you foresee during the next several years?
BARBARA STOCK: Software development and quality assurance will become even more decentralized. We don’t serve North Rhine-Westphalia alone, since we are also working on solutions for the Germany-wide KONSENS (“Coordinated New Software Development and Tax Administration”) project.
At the present, quality assurance work for ELSTER is performed entirely in Düsseldorf, but there are other undertakings where such work is shared. One goal of KONSENS is to ensure that software development and quality assurance management are each the responsibility of separate states, and this separation is underway. Therefore we will require tools that support decentralization even more in the future.
OBJENTIS: Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Ms. Stock!