Control Systems

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Role and Responsibilities of QA in an Agile Team

Any agile team leader can tell you that teamwork is essential to delivering great software and that agile teams rely on greater collaboration and clear communication between the team members. Owning to the frequently changing requirements in an agile project, the designers, developers, testers, and business analysts work hand-in-hand with each other.  

 

Agile teams work to deliver products over short cycles. They embrace change and adapt easily. Flexibility, discipline, accountability, and technical skills are the most important attributes of agile team members. It is necessary to ensure that every cycle’s output is of high quality and conforms to the specified requirements. 

 

Despite sharing common values, there is no formula for the perfect agile team. Even though most agile teams possess all the required skills, more often than not it is necessary to call on specialists for specific work and a QA specialist is one of them. It involves testing from a customer point of view and it is performed from the early stages of the agile software development life cycle. The role of a QA specialist in an Agile Scrum Process is not about finding bugs, not about simple testing. It is to prevent defects and therefore ensure the quality of the development process and its results. This is a broad statement, and in this blog I will try to cover a few specifics to give an insight to what does a QA specialist stand for in an agile environment.

 

Skills and Expectations from the QA Specialist 

 

A QA specialist's role is quite diverse and demands a lot of skills and expertise, but above all else they should be able to identify defects aka bugs, a flawed piece of code that causes the system to fail to perform its required function. 

 

Here are a few skills that QA specialists possess and the business value their work brings. 

 

Face – To – Face Communication 

Face to face discussion with the development team is the most efficient way for QA teammates to communicate ideas all the time. They participate in technical meetings, like Release Planning in the Sprint, where major discussions take place. Also, the design meetings are usually held before the sprint planning is done and attending these helps the QA team hone their ability to think creatively all the time.

 

Ability to Work as Part of a Team 

Quality assurance is definitely a team effort, so a key QA skill is the ability to work as part of the team. The QA Specialist needs to understand the work that others in the department do and how it impacts their own. This understanding helps the QA team collaborate with each other and achieve greater quality standards. 

 

Attention to Detail 

The attention to detail ensures all the tasks are completed to the business’ specifications. Getting seemingly minor details correct every time can prevent major problems from occurring further down the supply chain. It also prevents tasks from needing to be redone or revised to meet requirements later. Solving bugs does not always mean that something does not work. It may just work incorrectly. This is why a QA specialist is an essential part of software development and this is how we operate at Nebb Group. 

 

Problem-Solving 

Problem-solving skills help the QA specialist find solutions if they are struggling to meet the required quality standards. Identifying weaknesses and inconsistencies in the product at all project stages is a quality indeed. It is a combination of creativity, logic and critical thinking that can serve them well when challenges arise. 

                              

Critical Thinking 

QA teams help meet clients' demands and expectations most fully. Skilled QA Specialists are trained to think from a customer’s perspective throughout the entire software development cycle. They are able to create many “What if” scenarios and make sure the software responds to each possibility. This way, when the customer encounters one of these scenarios, the software will continue to work properly. 

                              

Test Case Design 

Test cases provide the materials for how a QA Specialist assesses the system. Test cases should be detailed, well-structured and give comprehensive information about the level of quality of a product. QA Specialists design and write these specifications, and the better they are at test case design, the better they can ensure these test cases satisfy software requirements. QA Specialists must understand the purpose of a test case, as well as the level of specificity it requires. 

 

Exploratory Testing 

Exploratory testing is simply put a new way of thinking. This skill  is a very useful and powerful method in the agile process. Exploratory testing is used to check the system on the fly and the QA team performs this kind of testing to avoid risks and uncertainty in the product. It is all about discovery, investigation, and learning. The QA Specialist can get ideas from the initial design discussions and the meetings with the team to uncover the problems and discover more in the system.

DevOps & Agile Methodology 

With the pressing demand to meet delivery deadlines, QAs need to learn Agile & DevOps methodology due to the fact it promotes collaborative and iterative working models. While Agile methodology imparts speed to the test project, DevOps helps with cross-functional teamwork right from the development, analysis, and QA which yields high-quality product at a faster time-to-market. Moreover, learning these methodologies removes the role rigidity and silos, allowing teams to pay close attention to phase-wise development and continuous releases. 

 

Testing Tools & Techniques 

It is necessary for every QA Specialist to be aware of different testing techniques and utilization of tools. Regardless of the domain and application type, the knowledge of different testing types like black box testing, automation testing, security testing, system testing, etc. makes QAs versatile, and helps the team work simultaneously across multiple projects. Moreover, with the number of marketing tools such as bug tracking tools, test management tools, GUI testing tools, automation tools, etc. it is also important for QAs to get the knack of these tools to meet different requirements and tackle complexities in the project. 

 

Automation Testing 

With the increasing complexities and integrations in the application, relying on manual testing alone cannot get the job done. For regression testing, performance, headless as well as database and integration layers, QAs should possess automation skills since they impart higher accuracy due to the business logic and technicalities. In addition, there are several test automation tools that dedicatedly support a specific testing type and come with features to get the tasks done quickly and efficiently. 

 

                         

 

 

 

Written by: Goran Todorovski
Category: Control Systems

The Journey Of Your Data! From Your Sensors To Your Dashboards!

“The Journey Of Your Data! From Your Sensors To Your Dashboards!” is the title of the talk I gave at the last industry-science meetup organized by the University of South-Eastern Norway (USN) and Energy Valley. The meetup aimed to create an arena where regional high-tech industry players from the energy and engineering sector can meet and interact with strategic research initiatives, interdisciplinary research, and science groups from USN. Since the goal of the meetup was to show results from applying the latest state-of-art research in solving real industry problems, we have decided to give a technology introduction to Qlarm. My talk was a high-level journey on making the most important architectural design decisions that one must make while designing a solution like Qlarm.

Qlarm

Qlarm is an intuitive cloud platform that enables conditional monitoring, intelligent alarming, interactive notifications, reporting, and analytics tailored for industrial control systems and industrial IoT implementations. As a solution, Qlarm is the result of many years of experience in control systems, deep understanding of the core industrial problems, and Nebb’s recent R&D activities in cloud technologies and machine learning. Namely, one of the core services of Nebb is the design and implementation of complex control systems in various domains. The task at hand was to find a way to transform raw sensor data into meaningful information for our customers. Qlarm is not only doing that but going a step further. With Nebb’s cloud-based industrial IoT and control system cloud platform we bring to the table more benefits for our customers.

Cloud Gateway

When you build a cloud industrial control system or industrial IoT solution, all the sensor data will arrive at a certain endpoint in your cloud solution. You might have a couple of gateways in between, or mesh communication among the sensors, but eventually, the data will hit certain cloud endpoint. The cloud endpoint acts as a central message hub for bi-directional communication between your IoT application and the devices it manages. In general, the cloud gateway is defined by the following quality attributes:

  • Security: Security is equally important all over the solution. The cloud endpoint is the entry point in our cloud solution. It is essential that we control which sensor and what kind of data is to be sent at a given time frame.
  • Scalability: If our customers want to introduce more measuring points or more production units to monitor, then we must support that. The increased ratio of data messages/second must be supported out of the box.
  • Interoperability: The modern cloud solutions must scale in the number of endpoints (Industrial IoT or control systems), but also in the variety of the endpoints. The supported communication protocols can define the interoperability of the solution. There are a couple of protocols that are already accepted as standard, but still different products support and require different communication protocols.
  • Reliability: The cloud endpoint must be reliable, and it’s not allowed to lose any sensor data. Integrated buffer is one way to achieve higher reliability.

Time-Series Database

We already know how to get the sensor data to the cloud. Before we do anything with the data, we need to store it. To decide on the storage technology, we have to see what the structure of our data actually is. Namely, our data, both from Industrial IoT and control systems, is data that measures how things such as equipment, condition, weather, etc., change over time. The time is not just a metric, but a primary axis. This type of data is time-series data, and since we are dealing with time-series data, a logical solution is to use a time-series database (TSDB). The time-series databases are the most popular DB engines in the last two years and there are solid reasons for that:

  • Scalability:Time-series data accumulates very quickly, and normal databases are not designed to handle that scale. Time-series databases handle scale by introducing efficiencies that are only possible when you treat time as a first-class citizen. 
  • Usability: TSDBs also typically include functions and operations common to time-series data analysis, such as data retention policies, continuous queries, flexible time aggregations, etc.

Serverless Architecture

So far, our data will reach to the cloud, and we know how and where to store it, but there is still one more thing missing between these two components. The cloud endpoint is not responsible for data storage, neither is the time-series database for data ingestion. Looking back at the quality attributes of the first two components, what they have in common is scalability. Both the cloud endpoint and the time-series database can scale to support more messages per second. The component in the middle must support this scalability; otherwise, we lose the scalability of the solution. To achieve solution-wide scalability we can use Serverless Architecture pattern. Serverless Architecture is a software design pattern where applications are hosted by a third-party service, eliminating the need for server software and hardware management by the developer. Applications are broken down into individual functions that can be invoked and scaled individually. The main benefits of Serverless Architecture are infinite and instant scalability and pay per use. That means if we have more load, then the third-party provider will almost instantly scale to handle the load and also we will get charged only for the used resources. If there is no load, the customers don’t have to pay anything.

Anomaly Detection with Serverless Architecture

Functional Dashboards

So far, we managed to get the data from the sensors to the cloud and what we have is data, but do we have the information? From a developer point of view, the solution is almost ready, but from a customer point of view, we have nothing. The next thing is to build a web application that will display the data. Showing the raw time-series data is not enough. Customers demand meaningful information. Therefore, we need to design appropriate dashboards. There are multiple popular ways to categorize dashboard based on their purpose (Analytical, Strategic, Operational, Tactical, etc.). The operational dashboard is a digital version of the control rooms. They provide almost “real-time” information to the operators so they can act quickly. Very common dashboard type for this purpose is a “Live View” dashboard, where the latest sensor values are shown. However, showing the latest values from all the sensors and control systems is not useful enough. It will end up in broken UX very soon. A human being cannot extract meaningful information from about 10,000 sensor values. One thing that can help is showing only the sensors or control systems with anomalies. But how to detect an anomaly? One way is to use fixed thresholds. For instance, if the engine temperature is over 100 degrees, then you can show it on the dashboard. This approach is an improvement, but still, it has some disadvantages. First, it’s a manual work to enter all the thresholds, and second, the thresholds can change over time. Due to physical deterioration, the equipment can be depreciated, or the environment might change, and the thresholds are not valid anymore. On a large-scale solution with thousands of industrial IoT sensors or control systems, this can be very difficult to maintain.

Operational Dashboard

What if we can automatically detect an anomaly in the sensor data and display only the anomalies on the operational dashboard? In that case, we don’t overload the customer with information, and we show only the important information: We detect an anomaly in the second engine of production process X. Do you know the customer’s answer on this? Yes, that’s what we want! Great, we’ve found something that our customers need. Now, we need to make it happen. Fortunately, there is a solution that fits into our architecture very well. For time-series data anomaly detection, there are already mature algorithms that give highly reliable results. There are also libraries that implement the algorithms and enable running in a stateless fashion. Based on this, we can create a serverless component that will run the time-series anomaly detection algorithm on each stream of data and push only the detected anomalies to the dashboard.

Qlarm Anomaly View

We live in a time where technology changes faster than ever. One wrong design decision in your solution can reduce your time to market and that can lead to lost opportunities. In the journey, we have shown how proper architectural reasoning can result in a scalable and functional product such as Qlarm. If Qlarm is what you need or you want to find out more, feel free to reach out to us.

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