Seeing Is Believing
For companies, the ultimate goal of beta testing is to perfect a product such that it is easy to use, and works as expected from the outset. Products that go out for beta testing will ideally help customers solve research questions rapidly and reproducibly or help overcome unresolved technical hurdles. Product managers who are responsible for all stages of product development aim to fine-tune various aspects of an instrument, reagent or kit through the beta testing process. "We can ask questions [to our beta testers] like, Are we producing the right product? Is it in the right configuration? Does it have the right features?" said Lingelbach.
According to Candice Cox, a senior global marketing manager at Bio-Rad Laboratories, Inc., who oversees the team that develops hardware and software for gene expression analysis, the beta testing process varies depending on the product. In most instances, the product manager wants to ensure that everything is working the way it should and that the customer corroborates the product assessment done by the company. "[Therefore], ideally no changes occur in the hardware [after beta testing], whereas changes are more likely to occur in software products during beta testing,” said Cox.
Cox further explained how the beta testers enrolled by the company vary based on the product application and where it is used, such as industry versus academia. "For example, there are researchers who use thermal cyclers for routine applications such as amplifying nucleic acids and running a gel downstream. On the other hand, researchers in different laboratories employ thermal cyclers for library preparations and sequencing. We make sure that the product serves different types of users and aim to get feedback from diverse sources," said Cox.
Once a researcher agrees to beta testing, the product manager provides guidelines. Beta testers run experiments as they normally do, using their own material, while using the protocol provided by the company. Because there is always variability in how different users perform experiments, beta testers take a survey about how they interacted with the instrument, software, assay, or reagents. In the survey, beta testers rank the products on ease of use, software interface, or additional components. In addition, a company representative is often present during experiments to verify whether the beta tester finds the instrument or software easy to use. In instances where the laboratory premises were inaccessible for product developers, such as during the COVID-19 pandemic, beta testers recorded themselves for the product manager to participate remotely. Further, company representatives may collect additional feedback from beta testers via a phone call to elaborate on specific points and share their experience on product functionality and benefits.
Beta testing is beneficial to researchers as they gain early access to new technologies. As thought leaders, these researchers provide valuable insight into what makes a product easier to use and more useful for their research needs. This process gives them an opportunity to be part of tool development for the scientific community. Further, there are additional perks for beta testers. “Some people are happy to collect data and publish it either as a journal article, an application note, or a poster presentation at a conference,” Cox said. Overall, beta testing is mutually beneficial to both scientists and companies, where a tester’s feedback helps bring cutting-edge, well-designed, and easy to use products to the scientific community.