Professional PA Management (ITIL for PA / Smart PA Management)

The world around us is currently undergoing enormous changes that are also having a strong effect on our process automation (PA). The application of IT technology in PA is rapidly gaining popularity, for instance Ethernet networks with VLAN, Ethernet for Remote I/O, Virtual Machines, Cloud, Microsoft as Operating System for SCADA, etc. We are increasingly interconnecting systems that are often situated in different locations, thereby complicating their management. In addition, the systems are installed, operated and maintained by multiple parties. Management organizations are often confronted with the challenge of how to efficiently keep track of software and hardware updates and upgrades, and how they can guarantee the availability of the various systems. ICT Group has found that both the technical IT aspects and the management tools come in very useful in PA. The IT world has been applying a standard for configuring the management of IT resources (hardware and software) for years. This standard is known as ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library). Experience has shown that the ITIL standard is fully compatible with PA environments. Traditional PA management mainly focuses on resolving disruptions, which, in ITIL terms, corresponds to incident management. However, if you want to take PA management to a higher level, management activities need to focus on preventing disruptions, i.e. problem management according to ITIL. This will result in increased availability of the systems, and forces one to focus on optimizing the system. In short, ITIL works seamlessly with various optimization programs. A number of questions that can be asked from the perspective of ITIL include:

  • Do I have a list of all PA components, and do I know the lifecycle of each of these components?
  • How Cyber Secure is my system, and do I know who has access to which part of the system?
  • How much room for expansion do I have within my current system?

ITIL Framework The team of ICT Group has developed an ITIL scan that allows users to check the status of an organization’s PA management relatively quickly. The scan clearly shows areas that require improvement and allows us to make those improvements together with your organization. These improvements will increase the availability of your systems by means of proactive management. Interested in working with us to make your systems even more reliable? Please contact Arjen Van Dam.

Gaining control over your order and production planning is by no means an illusion

Your perfect order was delivered on time and fully in compliance with the right customer specifications. It was manufactured in a plant with a low energy footprint and optimized raw material consumption, where processes are monitored and adjusted continuously. Is Smart Manufacturing, which is what I’m talking about, also your dream? Usually, there’s quite a number of problems between the domain of dreams and the world of reality. One I encounter quite regularly in my work is poor communication between the order planners and the planners of the production department.

Incorrect and late orders

Miscommunications between production order planning and actual production often have a two-way impact. To begin with, the transfer of information from production order planning to the production department often leaves much to be desired. The planning department transfers the highly accurate monthly, weekly and daily planning schedules they prepare in the ERP systems (SAP, etc.) to the production floor. Because there’s no automated interface between the ERP system and the production department’s operating system, the information is often transferred by means of paper-based order lists and Excel sheets. Unfortunately, this is where errors often creep in. Errors can range from production not entering the order correctly in their systems or not receiving crucial information, such as a rush order that needs to be handled with priority or a production line that requires prior cleaning because of contamination risks. In short, they don’t have all the information they need. Because of this, there is a risk of production planning starting to process the wrong orders and/or processing them in an incorrect sequence. This can result in orders not complying with customer specifications and/or getting delivered late.

Truck arrives in vain

The lack of feedback on the progress of order processing from the production floor to the order planning department is also an obstacle when it comes to Smart Manufacturing. For instance, if an order is delayed due to production problems, order planning is often not notified. And if a notification is sent, it’s usually too late. This can result in late delivery of the order or a client’s truck waiting in vain at the factory. Moreover, production failing to report on actual usage of resources (materials, human resources) to order planning often leads to problems, for instance material shortages. Order planners calculate the quantities of materials theoretically required, but in actual practice this can naturally turn out different if, for instance, part of a batch is rejected and has to be produced again. If this information is not passed on to the order planners, they won’t know the actual stock levels and will be unaware of the fact that stock may need to be replenished. I all too often encounter factories whose production processes fail because of unanticipated raw material shortages.

Learn to see a blind factory

The communication problems between ‘the office’ and ‘the factory’ often render organizations ‘blind’ when it comes to controlling their factory, as they don’t have a clear picture of the factory’s operations. In order to be in control it is absolutely essential to have this insight. A tried-and-tested solution is to automate order planning (in ERP) and the detailed production planning, and to integrate them into a single planning module. Because this module allows two-way communication, it facilitates the continuous and dynamic process of planning, production, possible re-planning and production, etcetera. A system of this type provides unambiguous, transparent order information throughout the order process. In addition, a dashboard with a GANTT chart – a graphical representation of an order process – shows an order’s progress and production sequence. The planning module can also be used to simulate order scenarios that monitor resource levels (human resources, raw materials, machines, etc.), facilitating optimized scheduling efficiencies.

Gaining control over your planning and production will really bring Smart Manufacturing within your reach. ICT Group can assist you in achieving this. We can visualize your work processes, reveal possible issues, and offer you relevant solutions similar to the solutions described above.

To exchange ideas with us on how to optimize your planning and production, please contact Anne Rissewijck, Senior Business Consultant for Food, Chemicals & Pharma.

“Speaking Dutch opens new doors”

Dani Kusuma left his home base in Indonesia to study IT in the Netherlands. During his IT studies, he decided to take a Dutch language course. This decision helped him to get a job as a junior software engineer at ICT Group, and today he’s still reaping the benefits of having learned the language. We spoke with Dani – in Dutch, of course – about the benefits of being able to speak Dutch, his work at ICT Group, and about typical Dutch expressions. Passport:ProfielFoto Name: Dani (Ardi) Kusuma Nationality: Indonesian Place of birth: Surabaya, East-Java Degree: ICT and Software Engineering, Fontys Hogescholen, Eindhoven, the Netherlands Work: KVGM, Roermond, NL (internship); Vos Logistics, Oss, NL (internship); ICT Group, Deventer, NL Languages: Indonesian (native), English (near-native), Dutch (advanced level) and Chinese (basic) Why did you come to the Netherlands? “After I completed high school in Indonesia, I wanted to go ‘West’ to get a taste of the culture and learn a Western language. My first option was the United States, but I opted for my second choice: the Netherlands. The United States turned out to be too expensive: the cost of one year of study in the States was equal to the cost of four years of study in the Netherlands. I started my studies at Fontys Hogescholen in Eindhoven, where I was living at the time, in August 2011.” How did you end up working for ICT Group? “I actually came across ICT Group while googling. The company appealed to me because of their extensive number of employees and the large clients they have in various industries, such as Philips and ASML. It’s the type of company where you quickly meet new colleagues and clients, and that’s something I enjoy very much. Moreover, I saw employees from a variety of nationalities on ICT’s website, which made me feel really at home. Together, these things are what made me decide on ICT Group.” What does your job at ICT Group entail? “As a junior software engineer, I develop applications for machine interfaces. I’m currently working on the interfaces of medical equipment for ENT specialists, such as a patient chairs and microscopes. I write the operating software for the devices and the other three members of my team develop the software that controls the hardware. Initially, we communicated in English for some of the time, but nowadays we only speak Dutch.” You started at ICT Group with a traineeship for which only Dutch-speaking candidates were eligible. How did you manage to get hired for this traineeship as an international? “I had already started to learn Dutch during my studies, which enabled me to write an application letter in Dutch, and I also managed to speak Dutch during the job interview. It allowed me to show ICT Group that I have a good command of the Dutch language. Evidently, I managed to convince them of my capabilities, which was obviously even more important.” How did you learn Dutch? “In the Netherlands, I took a language course which prepares you for the national NT2 exam. This is an exam for people who want to live and work in the Netherlands and want to demonstrate that they have a sufficient command of the Dutch language. I ended up not taking the exam because my degree course was taught in English and there was no requirement for a Dutch language certificate. However, I believe my command of the language is sufficient for me to do a Bachelor education taught in Dutch. The language course was only an initial step. I managed to develop a good command of the language by watching television and movies with Dutch subtitles. But I’ve learned most from talking to Dutch people in their language.” So you learned Dutch even though this was not strictly required? Why? “If you want to live and work in the Netherlands, I believe you should speak the language. After all, apart from a few exceptions, the language of communication in Dutch companies is Dutch. But I’ve also noticed that in personal contacts with Dutch people it’s handy to be able to understand or make a joke in Dutch.’ What do you think of the Dutch language? “It’s a nice language, especially all those typical expressions. Take ‘chopping the knot,’ for example. It means making a decision, but I can literally see someone taking an axe to chop the knot. On the other hand, Dutch is a difficult language. The grammar is much more complex: Indonesian has far fewer tenses and verb conjugations.” How has ICT Group helped you in learning Dutch? “ICT offers a Dutch language course for beginners (up to B1 level), but I didn’t take this course because I’m already at a more advanced level. In addition, every now and then ICT organizes an International Night, an evening set up to provide internationals with knowledge and support to help them deal with issues they encounter, such as taxation, housing and cultural differences. They do their utmost to help internationals get settled in in the Netherlands. Unfortunately I couldn’t attend the last session because I was visiting my family in Indonesia.” Are you happy at ICT Group? “Absolutely. For now, it’s perfect! Either way, I feel very much at home in the Netherlands, so much so that I’m even considering applying for Dutch citizenship. Everything is so well organized and structured here, which is the opposite of Indonesia. Take the traffic, for instance. Nearly everyone sticks to the rules. In Indonesia, no one observes the rules. If you do, you just don’t get anywhere.” What advice would you give to internationals who want to take up a job with ICT Group? “Learn Dutch, because it makes your contacts with colleagues and clients easier and more fun. It also opens doors that otherwise might have remained closed.” Do you want to work on IT projects that are truly challenging? Consider a career at ICT Group! Find our up-to-date jobs page here.

‘Working in IT: breaking the stereotype’

Recent data from expertise agency VHTO shows that the number of women working in IT is alarmingly low. This is despite the fact that the market has a need for more IT-specialists. High time, therefore, to take a look at the image of IT jobs amongst women. We asked Sanne Meinders, software engineer at ICT Group, for her input.

Why did you choose this profession?
“I always said that I wanted to be an elementary school teacher. Until I was standing in front of a classroom, getting glassy-eyed stares from all the children. Not for me, I decided. At my high school’s job fair I took a look at the IT booth.  Suddenly a light went on in my head: this is it! I had always wondered what exactly that magical box on the table does. As a result, my mind was made up and I chose for technical IT studies!”

Why is it that so few women end up in IT jobs?
“The profession is still relatively unknown among girls considering their future career. They often think that they have to be math wizards to work in IT. That hasn’t been the case for quite some time now. There’s also the issue of the poor image: IT professionals are thought of as nerds without any kind of social life. I’m living proof of the fact that ‘being a nerd’ has nothing to do with your social capabilities. Rather, it has everything to do with being extremely passionate.”

What are some of the capabilities you need to become a good IT specialist?
“For me, what counts is that you have to love puzzles and you can never quit. When writing a piece of software, you will inevitably run into a range of challenges. Don’t get scared off, just solve them. This is something women can do just as well as men.”

 What does a day in the life of Sanne Meinders look like?
“The day starts with a scrum, during which all teams briefly discuss the status of running projects. Afterwards, I’m mainly occupied with building products by writing code. I do that in cooperation with the people on my team, and sometimes with the client as well. One thing is for certain though: it’s never boring! Every application brings its own challenges and often requires creative solutions.”

Can you give us an example of such a product?
I developed the WaterstandLimburg app. We are obviously proud of the result. Thanks to this app, inhabitants of the province can check out the local water level. Application like this are built from scratch. Usually, you have to write the entire app separately for Android and iOS because they don’t speak the same language. However, thanks to a useful tool called Xamarin, you can just write everything in the same language. That’s is a lot more efficient, because you can then use the same code for both applications.”

What makes working in IT fun?
“You’re working in an environment that develops at crazy speeds. Every week someone will come up with something new. There’s no end to the learning. This makes the job dynamic. Other than that, there’s a strong community of passionate coders, real tech-heads, that help each other out and share knowledge.”

And what makes ICT Group a fun employer?
“When I joined ICT as a junior, I was already sold on Xamarin. I remember saying: ‘This technique is very promising. We have to do something with it.’ Even though Mobile App Development was still in its infancy, I was given the freedom to master it. That’s one of the signature characteristics of ICT Group: there’s room for innovation. If you come up with good ideas, you get the opportunity to develop them.”

Do you want to work on IT projects that are truly challenging? Consider a career at ICT Group! Find our up-to-date jobs page here.

‘Software is critical for matches between soccer robots and human teams’

Can a team of soccer robots ever beat a human team? According to the organisers of the Robot Soccer World Cup (Robocup), the answer is yes. What’s more, they think it will happen by 2050. ICT Group and Fontys hope to contribute to this goal by founding a soccer robot team. Oscar Reynhout and Wim Hendriksen, consultant at ICT Group and lecturer at Fontys ICT college respectively, tell the story of how things came together and what challenges the team faces. The Netherlands have been active in the Robocup since 1998. The TechUnited soccer robot team from the Technical University Eindhoven (TU/e) has participated regularly and were world champions in 2012 and 2014. For many years now, the team has been alone at this high level. This is partly because the competition has been thinning out, largely due to a steep entry cost of about 25,000 euros per soccer robot, but also due to the high technical complexity of the robots. Affordable soccer robots In order to attract more competitors, the TU/e took up the challenge of developing an affordable soccer robot a few years ago: the Turtle 5K. This redesigned version of the 2012 cup winner is available for ‘just’ 5.000 euros. The main difference with its illustrious predecessor is that the Turtle 5K does not know how to play soccer. It comes with just a bare bones Linux-based Robot Operating System (ROS). The ROS contains the necessary drivers for the available hardware, like the omni-wheels the robot uses to move around. The buyer has to tweak both software and hardware to achieve a functional soccer robot. One of the buyers, photolithography systems manufacturer ASML, has achieved success in this regard, taking part in the 2015 Robocup in China. Software development Near the end of last year, ICT Group got involved with the project following a request from Frank Steeghs, project leader of Turtle 5K. As a side project, ICT’s Oscar Reynhout guided sixteen students of ICT college and Avans colleges through the development of soccer robot software. This software aims to improve the soccer robot’s performance. For ICT group, this project is a unique opportunity to gather experience both with robotics and artificial intelligence. Oscar comments, “For my colleagues and I this is a fantastic hobby project. As a business we recognize the immense value of being able to experiment with new ideas and technologies, especially given the rise of robotics in sectors like care taking and industry. Additionally, we maintain intense relationships with both education institutes and SME’s thanks to this project. It is very interesting, both from a business and recruitment point of view.”

Their own soccer team The students started developing the software in September 2015. They were divided into four teams: architecture, motion, model driven development and ROS. In just 6 months’ time, they got the robot to detect the ball, drive towards it, and kick it at the goal. Fontys’ Wim Hendriksen speaks with pride about his students, “They started from scratch, so this is really an astonishing feat”. This success got Wim and Oscar dreaming about a soccer robot team of their own. Wim elaborates, “We are now looking for SMEs with complementary abilities, in order to found a soccer robot team together. Such a partnership would allow us to purchase several robots at once, cutting down production costs. A lot of companies showed interest at the High-Tech Systems expo last March, so I fully expect the team to materialize.” Model driven development According to Oscar, the new team will initially focus on beating ‘mechanical engineering’ teams from the region. “TechUnited and ASML’s robots for example, are primarily made by folk working in electronics and mechanics. We want to beat them with excellent software.” One of the biggest challenges will be avoiding as many mistakes as possible during programming. Wim explains, “Robots can’t make logical mistakes like a dead lock (robots waiting for one another). Currently, one in a hundred lines of code contains a bug. However, thanks to programming methods like model driven development we can code at a more abstract level, reducing the chances that faults will slip in.” Oscar adds, “You can compare it to Microsoft Word’s spellchecker. Currently, if you make a mistake you’ll see a red line. It’d be a lot better if Word automatically corrected grammatically incorrect sentences, and in an ideal world the tool would even change sentences with faulty content. That last example is what model driven development allows us to do.” According to Robocup’s organisers, software will allow soccer bots to beat human players by 2050. Oscar elaborates, “The difference between FC Barcelona and PSV is not in physical conditioning, but rather in technique and strategy. This is no different for robots: their technique needs to be on point to allow for skilful passing and dribbling. However, great team play will ultimately bring the soccer bots victory. Unfortunately, by the time that happens, I think I will be retired.” Reading about robot soccer is fun, but really you should see it. For more information on the cooperation between ICT and Fontys refer to this page.

Get more out of testing automation and professional testers

According to Peter de Winter, Test Architect at ICT Group, organizations are still not fully benefitting from automated testing. In fact, testing automation can sometimes even detract from the strengths of professional testers. In this blog, Peter explains how software businesses can complete new functionalities quicker and better by making smart use of testing automation. The digital development cycle has drastically impacted time to market and the way markets work. Organizations would try to push their software products onto the markets yesterday, if they could. As a result, businesses are looking to testing automation as a way to speed up product development cycles. In theory, this is a good idea. Testing automation has the potential to boost both efficiency and effectiveness. In practice, a lot of organizations end up feeling cheated because they do not respect a very important caveat to the theory; only automate when it makes sense. What typically happens is the following: once a company decides to go forward with testing automation, they tend to stick with it… a little too much. Skilled testing professionals end up spending endless hours creating automated tests. This leads to an effective net loss in time ‘saved’ and the number of bugs found. Another unintended consequence is that human testers have a lot less time to look for bugs manually. Ironically, this is where human testers add the most value. How to test thoroughly? My advice to businesses is to carefully consider and decide in advance to what extent you want to implement testing automation. Weigh the expected efficiency gains against time invested to create the automation. And use risk analysis to test the functionalities that have the most potential for negative consequences. This also leads nicely into regression testing. For example, try testing entry fields with all possible and impossible combinations, but limit your regression test (or part of a larger test) to a single combination (which you preferably vary). In this regard it is very important for the test data to be independent of the testing scripts. This gives you the advantage of being able to add variation, while ensuring fast and easy maintenance of testing scripts.  You can add to these advantages by keeping automated tests small (by focusing on a small piece of functionality), which grants you the additional benefit of using it in other, more abstract automatic tests. Finally, it is good practice to determine whether or not all automated tests are used and need maintenance, potentially saving a lot of valuable time. By pre-determining these steps, organizations can get the most out of testing automation and their testing professionals. This lets your testing professionals focus on what they’re good at and passionate about: finding the bugs that fall outside of the range of automated testing. Focused manual testing combined with smart testing automation results in highly qualitative functionalities that get delivered on time. This allows businesses to quickly capitalize on new market opportunities. Want to learn more about smart testing automation? Get in touch with Peter de WinterTest Architect bij ICT Group.

The magic of the Internet of Things

The British science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke posited three laws while writing his vision of the future: 1. When an expert says something is possible, they’re probably right. When they say something is impossible, they’re probably wrong. 2. The only way to really discover what the limits are, is by crossing them a little bit. 3. Every sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. When it comes to the Internet of Things (IoT), these laws certainly seem to be true. No longer does technology limit us from making magic. The blending of physical and virtual technologies brings the world around us to life, as if we were living in a Pixar movie. I regularly get sent clips of Kickstarter projects or TED talks that showcase amazing new applications. One that I recently received demonstrated Flic: the wireless smart button. In short, it’s a button that can be connected to all kinds of services. For example: You can stick it on a wall in your living room, push it, and the lights will go out, the TV will turn on and automatically tune in to Netflix. If my mother were to see this, she would be convinced it is magic. The difference is that at ICT we spend so much time working with technology that within 10 seconds the “illusion” can be explained, and can be recreated after half an hour of playing around with various components. You would think that this would quickly take away the magic, yet nothing is less true. This is because Flic shows us something beautiful: it’s not the enabling technology that brings the illusion to life; it’s the show around it. Or in case of IoT solutions: the ease of use, the aesthetic design and the seamless integration with the services that makes it all possible. So what makes the illusion reality? The integration into the end user’s life! That is where everything comes together. Users do not have to adapt to the technology any longer. They do not have to learn special skills, or take time to learn the ‘trick’. The illusion is effortless and without thought. And this is the real power of IoT. Not everything in my life has to be connected, but if it improves my quality of life then it is indeed very welcome. The power of ICT Group is that we have spent nearly four decades building up our expertise in deploying a wide range of technological solutions across several market segments. Along the way we have encountered limits, and stretched them. With our signature approach that places security and privacy at the core, and focuses on added value for the user, we are looking for challenges. We want to make magic: an illusion for the end user, and an added value for smarter cities, smarter industries and smarter healthcare.

Beware where you are POSTing!

Recently I had the pleasure to work with Highcharts, a Javascript library for creating dynamic diagrams. Recommended! The client also wanted the ability to download the data that is used in the diagrams as a CSV file. A quick browse in the documentation learned that Highcharts supports this scenario. There are multiple ways to do this but the one I’ve seen the most involves POSTing your diagram data to a page that resides within the Highcharts domain. See: That csv.php page only adds the headers to create a download: This means that if you use this construction all your diagram data will be passed to a page that is within the control of Highcharts. Remember, I’m not claiming that Highcharts will do anything malicious with your data! On the contrary, Highcharts even advises in their documentation that you should create your own page if you don’t want to expose your data. Not to mention that they explicitly tell you that the page could disappear at any moment. However, a quick search on Github learned that a number of projects are still using the Highcharts csv.php page meaning that all their data will be posted to another party (over HTTP as well). So kids, whenever you start to POST data to a third party, ask yourself if you don’t mind that the data being posted is now potentially public. And create your own page to handle that download. In ASP.NET MVC it is as simple as creating the following controller method:

Small tip: use QueueBackgroundWorkItem for asynchronous work in ASP.NET

This is a small tip that I’m mainly publishing as a reminder to myself, but it could come in handy for someone else. Background processing tasks in ASP.NET are hard. At any time IIS could decide to recycle the application lifecycle. The usual solution is to farm out these tasks to a (Azure) queue and let some other machine (for example an Azure worker role) process that queue. However, with ASP.NET 4.5.2 Microsoft introduced the QueueBackgroundWorkItem method. This makes it possible to create small background processing tasks within the application lifecycle context. See the following (extremely simple) example:  

  • Caveats: A task started this way will only delay the recycling of the app pool for 30 seconds. So you need to complete your work within those 30 seconds. If not, the task will be killed.
  • You need ASP.NET 4.5.2.

See for more detail the following links:

Techorama 2015

Voor het tweede jaar op rij wordt op 12 en 13 mei Techorama georganiseerd. Dit technologieseminar wordt niet door Microsoft georganiseerd (zoals TechDays, TechEd en Build) maar door de .NET community in Belgie. Locatie is opnieuw bioscoop Utopolis in Mechelen. Grote zalen, grote schermen en fantastische stoelen gegarandeerd! Dinsdagmorgen op tijd richting Mechelen want de keynote start om kwart voor negen. Er was een keur aan sprekers aanwezig waaronder Hadi Hariri (keynote), Marcel de Vries, Jan Tielens, Bart de Smet en Mike Wood. Twee volle dagen (tot woensdag 21:00 uur) met heel veel interessante presentaties. Tracks Alle sessies zijn onderdeel van een track. Tijdens Techorama 2015 worden de volgende tracks verzorgd:

  • ALM & Testing
  • Buildorama
  • Cloud
  • Language & Tools
  • Mobile & Xamarin
  • Web
  • Other

Voor ICT en voor mij een uitgelezen kans om nieuwe kennis op te doen en con-collega’s te ontmoeten. Kijk op de Techorama website voor informatie over het programma van de twee dagen. Presentaties worden daar ook geplaatst. Twee handige links tot slot: