6 business insights you should demand from a code and UX audit
A code audit is one of the tools that can be used to check the quality of your web or mobile application, technology-wise. The goal is to carry out an objective assessment and unearth all code or UX problems that might be lurking within, including breaches of UX and programming conventions and security issues. However, not every code audit is the same and not every code audit will meet your needs. Some auditing companies focus only on technology, but completely ignore the business aspects. This article describes what you should be getting from a comprehensive code audit and how to know a great auditing service when you see it.
Why is a code audit necessary?
Any problems embedded in the code of your digital product will leave you with technical debt in the longer term. The necessity to rework the code or UX and fix it after-the-fact can add considerable expense to the project, affecting the planned return on investment. How much?
According to some studies, as little as one hour of code investigation can save your development team an average of 33 hours of maintenance. Whilst the accuracy of such calculations depends on many various factors, it’s quite obvious that early detection and fixing of potential errors is way more economical than fixing the same bug in, for example, a fully developed and working application.
In conclusion, a code and UX audit is a tool that has various benefits for your products and business performance. It’s not merely about a technical inspection, it is all about your business!
6 features you should be looking for from a really comprehensive code audit
To get the full benefit and value from your code audit, it must produce more than just a list of problems that you need to fix. A true audit is a complex process (or business service) and not just a checklist ticked off by developers.
What follows are six key features you should expect from your code audit.
- The full picture – As well as going over the detail of the code line by line, item by item, a code audit should look at the product as a whole: Is the architecture well-constructed in light of the relevant software development standards, guidelines and best practices? Is the database storage and access compliant with relevant standards and legislation? How scalable is the product for the future? What are the current limitations of the product and code? What are the anticipated time and money costs of maintenance? Before you take any decision regarding the future of your digital product, you have to see the whole picture. A code audit should be a reality check - telling you where you are at, where are you going and what you can accomplish.
- Software readiness – In relation to the original user need or problem that the digital product is intended to solve, is it ready? Is it as good a solution as it could be? And from your perspective as owner, does it achieve the business goals – the upgrade to the newer version, the market expansion, the increased visitor traffic, the brand redesign? Business-wise, it’s crucial to know if your web or mobile app has foundations strong enough to accelerate and carry forward your company’s expectations.
- Security status – What vulnerabilities are there? In terms of external security, can users access parts of the system that they shouldn’t? How open is the product to others inserting their own code? And then there’s the question of how secure are the product’s internal operations. For example, are libraries vulnerable to buffer overflow, and are there client/server messaging risks? Nobody wants to be the product owner of a web platform or app that was hacked, and vulnerable data leaked or stolen, by an unknown violator. Such a crisis can result in the destruction of your brand reputation, and not only in financial terms.
- Non-security risks – These might be functional risks or usage risks. For example, if the code uses obsolete or out of date technology will it function as intended, and in the desired circumstances? In terms of UX, what is the likely impact on users? If the user journeys are poorly designed, how will that affect the product (for example, on an ecommerce platform, the requirement to register and/or create an account before a transaction can be completed can result in an increased abandonment rate). This is one of the most obvious indicators of future technical debt: an app that is so out of date, it is literally scaring off users and customers. Combine that with security issues and you have a recipe for disaster.
- Joint UX and UI report - This is a rather unusual approach, but the design of your digital products is just as important as the code itself. Do you know how the loading speed of the application influences the user experience? Does the design allow users to easily solve their problems? Are you sure that the user interface is clear and accessible on various devices? Many companies are focused on the purely technical aspects of software, treating design as something less important. At Boldare, we approach a code audit holistically, because we know how strong design and software development are inseparable. A badly designed UI can greatly decrease user satisfaction just like annoying bugs or a constantly overloaded infrastructure.
- Action plan – Again, an in-depth code audit should result in more than just a list of code bugs to fix. Any audit report should provide you with an action plan, including a prioritized backlog of project (and product) issues to address, with recommendations for improvement (together with time and cost estimates, where appropriate) including for future projects. This way, you can be sure that the problems the audit team will spot will not only be noted but also described and prioritized, making it easier to follow through. With this approach you can better plan the necessary enhancements, taking in account ROI or security improvements.
What to look for in a code auditing service?
For a truly close inspection of your product and its code, an external service is a good way to go. Not only will the people conducting the code audit be specialists, they’ll also be bringing a ‘fresh pair of eyes’ to your project, examining your product without the inevitable bias that comes with having helped create it.
A third party auditor will ask the questions that your own dev team may not think to ask. But how do you find the right service provider? The answer is to look for auditors that:
- Have a constructive approach to code auditing. A simple ‘this is what you did wrong’ list is of limited help; you need auditors interested in constructive feedback, helping your developers to learn and grow for the future.
- Are used to thinking of software development in wider terms than just code. You want a business as well as a technical perspective on risks.
- Have an understanding of how product issues can influence the business and vice versa.
- Can suggest improvements that impact wider than one specific product, including process issues that can be applied to future development projects or the whole application ecosystem that the specific product is working within.
- Do NOT use a standardized audit template or checklist. Look for a team that adapts their auditing approach to fit your needs and not the other way round. There are no two identical applications, so you can’t expect that the same approach will work for every single piece of software.
- Adopt a personal approach. When the audit is complete, you want more than just an emailed report, you want a presentation of the findings with the chance to ask questions and discuss the audit’s outcomes and recommendations. Ideally, you should be able to speak with the auditor in person.
The code audit - not only a rigorous code inspection
Regardless of the reason why you need to conduct a code audit for your product, you have to remember that it’s not only about the technical aspects. Contrary to popular belief, a code and UX review is not ONLY a technical inspection or quality check for the software. It’s a business tool that should also help you to answer some business-oriented questions regarding your digital product. The results should enable you to answer some of the following, or similar, questions:
- Is your application a safe source of income?
- What are the risks of the product you’re responsible for?
- Is this digital product ready to grow with the organization?
- Does the in-house software development team have the knowledge and capacity to build secure and reliable products for your business?
- Can you plan the company’s future and create strategies based on this particular product?
- Is your brand safe with this digital product?
- Is it worth investing in the application or is it better to build something new?
Whether you conduct your own code audit or engage an external service, you’re looking for a broader perspective that takes user and business needs into account; that reviews the design and UX in light of the development and business goals. A code audit should be about much more than just avoiding ‘spaghetti code’, it should give you confidence that your product is fit for purpose, and enable you to develop better products in future.