Top 10 Practices for System Integrators

S.I. engineers need to be conservative, below are some best practices.

  1. Backup and Write Changelog

    Needless to say, creating backup is a very basic surviving skill in project life. Not only you should create a backup before leaving site. You should also create a backup upon arrival, before making any changes, while the work reaching one stage, despite still more to go. Create a “version.txt” or “changelog.txt” in your project directory. Name your backup file with date:

  2. Proper Naming and Documentation

    This sounds so easy yet so little people doing it right. Proper naming is needed in all aspects, from tagname, filename, directory name, project name to everything. To understand proper naming, look at some keywords in bad naming examples: “new”, “old”, “latest”, “test”. These types of description only relevant for few days, it will become confusing after that.

    Additional project documentation is not “allowed” in most conditions, so you need to create the tag name in a descriptive manner. Add in description wherever possible, as if you are trying to explain the system flow to your colleague, whoever takeover will appreciate it. And you will love it when you need to revisit the site 3~4 years later.

  3. Restrict Operator Access

    Plant operator working life can be boring at times, especially when working at night shift. The SCADA system that sitting idle can be very tempting for them to use it as game console, movie player or use it to print some documents since SCADA system normally equipped with a report printer. We don’t really mind they leave the SCADA system running at the background, but what we dislike is they insert a USB drive which infected with malware or any type of virus into the system and mess up the SCADA before the end of warranty period.

    Running the SCADA with fullscreen mimic will not work, you will need sometimes to acquire the skill to restrict the operator access. Learn How To Use the Group Policy Editor to Manage Local Computer Policy in Windows XP.

  4. Install Antivirus Software

    No project budget? “Proven antivirus protection for free? that’s what I need.” Microsoft has released a free antivirus software, Security Essentials. S.I. Engineer should install it and at least patch it with the latest virus pattern before shipping the system to site. Project development stage and commissioning stage is the time that the system will exposed to most threats, this is the time you need the protection most.

    Most of the time the end user may not want to connect the server to the internet to avoid any misuse. As such the Antivirus software may no longer be up to date after a while. However, this is still better than nothing and very likely it’s recent enough to sustain for one year to block most threats. You don’t want to receive call because of virus/malware slow down the system or hogging the network during the warranty period.

  5. Backup Disk Image

    Backing data and Restricting user’s access do not guarantee that the system will not corrupt. Reinstalling the OS, patching security fixes, setting up programs, tools, database are tedious, time consuming and totally no fun, and you can’t be sure you or your colleague can restore the system to the original working state, after leaving the site for a year or even more.

    In order to ensure the original working condition can be restored, you will need to save the drive partition image, this is the best way to put things back to exactly how it was left. This Taiwanese made tood is our favorite: Clonezilla, however, be aware this is Linux based program and you may need some times to learn up. Otherwise, go for commercial package.

  6. Split System and Data Partition

    Operating System and Program Files is always good to be stored separately from Data Files. Data Files can be stored in a separated partition or simply another disk. So that when the the operating system corrupted or behaved strangely, S.I. engineers can simply restore the System partition without worrying of data, and it’s normally more convenient to do it before rather than after the problem has occurred. For instance, you can easily restore previously backup Drive partition into the System partition without overwritting the accumulating data.

    A newly purchased PC do not normally split into two partition in advance. So you will need a good tool to “Make your life easy!” Check out EASEUS Partition Master.

  7. Avoid Changes at Site

    The rule of thumb is “If it doesn’t break, don’t fix it.”, this sounds like the SI engineer is incapable of handling the work. However, the fact is human make mistake, especially in the rush, under pressure, in unfamiliar working environment, noisy site etc.

    Any single minor or major changes must be tested in its functionality. For instance, if your change a report layout, although just a title, just print it before you leave. Who knows if you accidentally disturbed the structure of the report and break the entire report generation?

    If the customer do not mind to pay for you to standby for monitoring one more day at site, do it. Otherwise, try to convince your boss to allow you to check in hotel and stay till check out time. Stay one more night is normally cheaper than traveling back to site. Prepare yourself with book, video or anything to fill up your time like preparing claim form. This will give more buffer for the operator to test run the system after your site service. Give a call to control room before you check out hotel, they will appreciate it. And because you know you will be eating your own dog food, this will force yourself to carefully do an extremely great job when you are at site.

  8. Use Remote Access Program

    If the site has Internet connection, train the site operator to start up TeamViewer. Otherwise, spend a little budget to insall a modem at site so you can call operator to plug in the phone line and dial in to check what’s going on at site. This is far cheaper than traveling to site.

  9. Don’t trust site personnel completely

    When you have to talk to operator either at site or over the phone, do your own judgment. Use system event log to track what had happened. You can’t expect the operator who has messed up the system to tell you the truth. Firstly s(he) doesn’t want to be scolded by boss, secondly they don’t want to void the warranty.

    And when you have to ask question, especially over the phone, ensure you ask Open Question. Don’t ask “can you see the button on the top right corner?”, a better question is: “What can you see on the top right corner?”. If the operator answer a Blue Tank, then you know he could be on the wrong screen.

  10. Stick Name Card on Site PC

    Do not try to avoid calls from customer, this is like avoid to face the problem if any. What a good engineer should do is to stick his/her business namecard onto the site PC to make him/herself very accessible to customer. This is a simple good marketing channel and you will gain good reputation by doing this. And the best way to avoid the customer to call you for problem is to do a good job.

Disclaimer: All listed methods or tools are not associated with nor warrantied by ECAVA or IntegraXor. You shall take your very own full responsibility for using anyone of them.