Autumn 2019

Under the surface with: Alan Summers

We meet Alan Summers, who is the software applications tester at JF Asset Information Systems responsible for stream-lining one of the group’s leading digital products, R2S Mosaic.

Tell us a bit about yourself

I’ve always had a passion for computers and I started doing a bit of coding at the age of 11 so I could hack into my computer games and find out how they worked.  At school I took every possible tech option and spotted flaws in the school’s firewall which I urged the IT team to change.

I jumped at the chance to study software development at college and that led to taking a degree in ethical hacking at the University of Abertay Dundee learning all about the ways hackers exploit security flaws so we could work out ways to better defend against them. I was part of a team which won the annual university ‘hackathon’ (a two-day coding competition) for building a piece of Trojan software which could access passwords – it was quite an eye opener to see how easily key information could be accessed.

How did you come to join the James Fisher group?

My first job out of university in July 2017, was as a software tester for Return To Scene in Aberdeen. Our main product, R2S Mosaic, uses specialised photography and spatial awareness to provide a completely immersive 360 degree visualisation of an asset or location which allows you to ‘walk around’ the whole facility without actually being there.

Although I was employed to test the R2S Mosaic system for bugs and glitches, after just a few months I identified a way to automate and shorten the process of icon creation for any job from two to three days to a matter of minutes - saving a huge amount of time and making it more cost-effective for the customer. It’s hugely rewarding to be able to put my skills into practise and I’ve been consciously nudging my job in that direction and looking for those kinds of opportunities. For example, I found a way to automate our server maintenance in a way which has improved the customer experience and has taken quite a bit of strain off our IT team.

Tell us a bit about your job?

Much of my time and energy is spent identifying improvements to R2S Mosaic and helping it to achieve its full potential.  We are now working under the umbrella of James Fisher Asset Information Systems (JFAIS) which has generated a big drive to understand and interrogate the data held in Mosaic through using the latest data science techniques and artificial intelligence.

It’s really fascinating. We hold regular ‘design thinking’ workshops to brainstorm potential efficiencies and areas of benefit for customers and other companies within the James Fisher group. This has got me involved with ‘proof of concept’ work where I take a customer’s idea, challenge or problem and then try to work out ways that R2S can help.

Customers had been asking if there was a way for them to see ‘point clouds’ within Mosaic so using existing tools I was able to integrate point clouds into the software so you can view an asset from any angle, look around corners and get a better sense of position. We have already started winning new business as a result.

One fun part of my job is working on ‘user analytics’ which involves tracking key users of our system to help us identify potential areas for improvement. We’ve also been using images and plans of oil and gas rigs to train AI to identify various bits of equipment so that they can be located without having to walk around the site or scan the entire R2S capture.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I’ve always loved coding, and I’m really enjoying the research and development aspect of my job. It is fantastic to be working with the very latest technology in a fast-evolving arena. I think I assumed I’d end up with a job in computer security but I’d never have found that as rewarding as this job.  I spend less time computer gaming at home these days – my two small pet dogs keep me pretty busy instead!

What does the future hold?

There is a huge potential for integration with JFAIS and other group companies as we look for ways to capitalise on the vast range and quantity of images and data within the group. We are working on a joint project with Prolec, for instance, and developing ideas for Mosaic in the wind turbine market too.

 

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