“Systems integration, testing and pilot operations”, An event hosted by Railforum-Review

Systems Integration Event hosted by Railforum

An interesting event on the topic of “systems integration, testing and pilot operations” was hosted by Railforum on 20th of November 2018. Program description of this event can be accessed here. Railforum is a Dutch organization that provides a platform to stakeholders from public transport and railways sector for sharing knowledge, experiences and ideas with each other.  This post is divided into three sections, first section provides a brief summary of main points covered by different speakers during the event and a reflection on their talk. Second section digs deeper into identifying key differences in approaches followed for systems integration and last section mentions some of the best practices of knowledge sharing that were observed during the event. 

Brief summary:

The event started with a brief introduction by the hosts Lex Frunt and Joroen klinkers, head of quality management at the Netherlands Railways and manager system integration at Prorail respectively. They briefly stated their vision for the event and highlighted the importance of systems integration in accordance with their experiences. Afterwards, Frank Bokhorst, a system architect in Prorail, presented his system model applied in Prorail for Netherlands Railways. The model accords an overview of services that need to be provided that include moving people or goods; running trains, making infrastructure and equipment available; and suppling technical systems. Consequently, the model identifies the parties responsible for delivering these services and connection between them. The model provides an eagle’s eye view of the systems integration challenges in rail network. Frank was followed by Ronald Heinis, test manager of north/metro line of Amsterdam. He shed light on the testing procedure of the metro line taking into consideration four different scenarios that include moving of the passengers; driving metro’s; infrastructure and equipment; and technical systems. Consequently, he highlighted some of the areas where integration issues were identified for example fulfilling of the operating targets and dealing with business disruption. Ronald also shared his personal learning experience and stressed to focus on realizing the multidisciplinary aspect of the problem, identifying what is important for governance, testing step by step and clearly defining the integration principles for smooth integration. Just before the tea break Luuk Kessels and Beert Spijkervet both test leaders for new rolling stock at Netherlands railways shared their experiences of introducing Fast Light Innovative Regional Train (FLIRT) trainsets in the Netherlands Railways network. Their talk was an interesting insight into the integration problems faced by them during the introduction phase and the lessons they learnt in that period. Furthermore, they also presented the change in operating and maintenance strategy after incorporating the identified integration challenges, for example the cleaning of toilets based on condition monitoring rather than cleaning them every day which resulted in formulation of a better maintenance plan. Similarly, they are currently reflecting on revising the preventive maintenance cycle for FLIRT trains and executing it after 45 days rather than 30 days which is a consequence of reflecting on and learning from past practices.

The tea break was followed by Henk Cruijssen, a system engineer at Airbus. His presentation was very insightful to realize the challenges that air industry faces from systems engineering perspective. The criticality of having only one chance of launching and low extremity of safety factors gave insight into the nature of challenges that they must confront. Henk later in the panel debate stated that he believes the incremental strategy of systems engineering was the best strategy in his contemplation for air transport industry. Henk was followed by Frank Simmerman a test leader at Rijkswaterstaat, which is the Dutch ministry for water and infrastructure, who stressed on the significance of various tests plans and test readiness reviews that must be realized beforehand for smooth integration of the system elements.

The final session of the event was the panel debate which was moderated by Leo van Dongen, chief technical officer of the Netherlands railways and chair of maintenance engineering at University of Twente. Leo gave a brief introduction about his experiences in the rail industry and how he saw challenges of rail transport evolve with time before opening the floor for questions and answers.

Key differences in approaches:

It was interesting to see different approaches applied by different organizations for systems integration. Many factors can be at play that result in this division. Some of these factors are, but are not limited to, organizational culture, experience of the individual’s in charge, context of systems integration, and intended purpose of integration. For example, Rijkwaterstaat is a government agency that would not only like to have a smooth integration in less time but also have a plan in place if the integration procedure takes more time than originally planned. So, there focus on the presence of “plan B” is understandable and in most cases necessary.

Similarly, organizations like Netherlands railways that regard their passenger’s opinion of the provided service very highly would prefer to go through a through procedure of testing the new rolling stock before committing to introduce it for service. So, the dominant mentality of “promise less deliver more” fits well with the challenges at hand.

Best practices:

I reckon the panel debate was one of the most efficient practice for knowledge sharing and it enabled the audience to interact with the experts in a very effective manner. Several questions were asked by the audience from question related to applicability of Frank’s model for systems integration in European context to the role of organizational culture in safe and smooth systems integration. Furthermore, each presentation was followed by a question from the audience providing a platform to address any confusion developed during the presentation. Such practices facilitate easy sharing and transfer of tacit knowledge to explicit knowledge. I believe such sessions must be encouraged in any organizations that inspire for safe and smooth integration. Furthermore, these sessions should also be documented preferably in video format which will not only facilitate in transferring and sharing of tacit knowledge among organizations but also in compiling a robust body of knowledge for systems integration.

Summing up the event provided an excellent platform to highlight the importance of systems integration in public transport sector. It emphasized the need to work together for systems integration considering it as an ongoing process and provided insight into challenges faced by various organizations in systems integration.

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