Test Environment - Managing Test Environments - Test Environments Best Practices

Test Environment Benefits and Best Practices

I’m sure you’ve heard the adage: “Measure twice. Cut once.”

It originally applied to woodworking, but the general idea behind the saying can also be applied to working with a database: Double check before you do something that can’t be easily undone. 

Your fundraising database is critical to your organization’s mission. It is where you keep all of your constituent contact information, and where you track your constituent’s involvement with your organization and your interactions with them such as sent appeals, meetings, phone calls, and proposals.

This database may be where you store gift information; where you track your volunteers’ assignments, availability and hours worked; and perhaps even where you plan and manage your events. The dat contained within your nonprofit’s database is the life’s blood of your development efforts.

Now…

Imagine that you accidentally made a change to thousands of records that you can’t undo without hours and hours of manual work.

Imagine that you don’t know what the original data was before you changed it.

Imagine this happened near the end of a very busy data entry day, and that restoring the previous night’s backup will mean losing all of the work everyone did in the database that day. Are you feeling faint?

Here’s our take on why a test environment will not only save you wasting any efforts, it could help have a positive contribution towards your nonprofit’s data collection strategy.

Why a Test Environment Saves Effort

As opposed to the example scenarios laid out above, imagine that you had a copy of your live database, set up in a test environment, where you could have tried out your process and discovered the undesirable outcome before you did it in your live database.

Preventing an undesirable outcome is one of the biggest arguments for having a test environment when manipulating large amounts of data.

data entry benefits for a testing environment

Here are just a few examples of processes you might wish to test first:

  • Data imports/updates to Blackbaud’s Raiser’s Edge (RE) via ImportOmatic or RE:Import
  • Global changes/deletes/adds from RE
  • The mass application of Appeals whether done globally, through Import, or SegmentOmatic
  • The mass promotion of non-constituent list members, with associated workflows, via List Management.
  • In Blackbaud’s The Financial Edge / The Education Edge (FE/EE), you may wish to test processes in the Import facility, or the Global Change facility

You may also wish to test the first time you promote students, close your fiscal year, import payments from DiamondMind, or reconcile your accounts, as these are processes that are not easily reversed.

Test Environments to Improve Software Updates

A test environment is also useful for testing the deployment of software updates. These could include updates to your Blackbaud software, to Omatic software and customizations, or to other third party software and customizations.

It not only lets you test the actual roll-out of the update, but it can also provide a place where you can learn new functionality without the pressure of being in your live database. Test environments are often referred to as “sandboxes” because you can go in and play around.

Cost-Benefit Analysis

Yes, there is a trade-off in that there are monetary costs associated with setting up, and maintaining, a test environment.

It should be noted that creating and maintaining a test environment will require time and resources. But if you compare those costs against the time you might spend manually fixing a mistake or re-doing work after restoring a backup, you will likely find that the ROI for a test environment is very high.

Choosing to have a test environment can be likened to having insurance. It may be unused nine out of ten times; but for that one time you need it, a test environment will end up paying for itself.

Final Thoughts

Every organization should have a test environment. If you do not, reach out to Blackbaud for assistance in getting one set up for your organization. If you already have one, continue to utilize it and ensure that other team members know how to access the test environment and when to use it!

As always, feel free to reach out to us for any questions.

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