Tech Talk

Chapter

04

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8 min

The interviewees

Sander van Harmelen, Wouter Simons, Hugo Trippaers

The latest technology is meaningless if it doesn’t add value to our customers’ business. The engineers at Schuberg Philis know this all too well. It’s about finding the best solutions for each specific context. We asked some of our technology specialists about the technology that excited them the most in 2019 and what they are looking forward to in the years to come.

Deep integration

Hugo Trippaers
Mission Critical Engineer

What is the role of Schuberg Philis in the current field of technology?

“It’s our passion for technology that sets us apart. But the customer’s challenge is always the focus here. Technology is only relevant if it really accomplishes something. A CTO recently said: ‘I’ve had it with suppliers who offer me a solution that I need to find a problem for myself.’ Designing solutions that really add value—that’s what matters to me. It also keeps you realistic, because sometimes good is good enough. A data-driven approach can sometimes work perfectly with just Excel.”

What is the most exciting technology you’ve worked with in the past year?

“I’m still really excited about command line tools, also for clouds like AWS and Azure. I can use the old Unix way to enter commands or whip up a batch script for a group of commands. This lets you take complete customer environments and spin them up or down, test and adjust them, etc. It still feels a bit magical to me.

“As you work for customers in the cloud, you’re always experimenting and building at the same time. Everything is faster, more efficient and cheaper. But that’s not the point. What matters is creating value for the business almost immediately. Improving processes, servicing more customers faster, reducing overhead, predicting damage more accurately, and creating a highly manageable infrastructure that will grow in step with developments, in an evolutionary way. When you interact with your customers on that level, nobody is talking about the cloud’s speed, efficiency or costs anymore. The added value is key.

“An interesting question is: what is modern technology? I work every day with technology that was invented as much as ten years ago. The greatest advances are in tools like Lambdas. They’re old, reliable programming languages but they take you from idea to production 1,000 times as fast.”

Do you have an example of results created for a customer?

“We ran a large project to get a banking customer ready for the European PSD2 directive. That involves standards that the market is developing for the exchange of data. In this context, you really see the power of the cloud, with functions and API gateways that let you set up something like that incredibly fast, without having to think about the infrastructure at all. You can start building and testing functionalities as early as the exploration stage. That’s a radical departure from what we were accustomed to before.”

Advanced AI models are now starting to develop themselves.

Hugo Trippaers

What technology do you expect to see great things from in the coming year?

“Artificial intelligence and machine learning are now still based on training. Humans train those models, which automatically limits them cognitively to the scope of human thought. But more advanced models are now starting to develop themselves. I expect great breakthroughs there. A factory that observes its own behavior for a month and makes suggestions for improvement. We are closer to achieving this than we think. 

“As a gamer, I expect us to use virtual worlds more effectively. Think of the coronavirus crisis: everyone at home, countries on lockdown, etc. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone could connect easily through VR?”           

What distinguishes Schuberg Philis in the market?

“You have to keep on playing, keep trying continuously. That’s the difference between a company like ours, with passion in its heart, and parties that just want to sell a solution—which usually becomes obsolete relatively quickly. As a tech expert I can paint the big picture for a customer, because I’ve lived through the technological journey. I understand the business challenge, and I understand the underlying technology. It’s not about a sales or marketing story, but about finding the solution that, in my view, guarantees the best results.”

Infrastructure as code

Sander van Harmelen
Technology Officer

What is the role of Schuberg Philis in the current field of technology?

“We are true engineers at heart. Technological know-how and technical insights are deep in our DNA. But we’ve been moving up in the stack for years and are increasingly evolving from an IT partner into a business partner. We used to start with the detailed technical design, but we now take our cue from a functional request or a business value that needs to be realized. We shape ideas and generate business value, often with reusable technology components.”

What is the most exciting technology you’ve worked with in the past year?

“The age of large Windows and Linux server farms is behind us now. The future is all about serverless computing. That means you have to continuously ask yourself whether and how you can resolve matters using the standard services from cloud suppliers. The last thing you want is that down the line, you’ll have to manage an OS. It’s a nice technological challenge that requires a lot of creativity. The ability to write good code is also becoming more important. In addition to having an infrastructure that is described and constructed in code as separate components, you can use things like Lambdas to connect a lot of those components.

“Designing for reusability is essential, and it takes place on two levels. The first one is functional: the automation needed to make the required functionality serverless. The second one operates on a logical level. For example, with the right abstraction level, you can decouple the entire data layer from a specific environment. This lets you use more or less the same setup for different customers, even if their functional needs and requirements are very different.”

Everything comes together on the platform.

Sander van Harmelen

Do you have an example of results created for a customer?

“The most revolutionary thing about our own smart industry platform is the integrated possibilities: a fully automated serverless environment that we can roll out worldwide with just 24 lines of code. That includes integrated components for sharing data with third parties, tooling for data scientists to work with the data, and the possibility to run models and dashboards on the platform itself. This is what enables Industry 4.0: collecting IoT data and processing, storing and keeping it generic it in such a way that customers can use it to power smart solutions. 

“We still have databases. Kafka or Kinesis for streaming data, Lambdas, containers, etc. But we can also link everything to the possibilities offered by IoT and data. Everything comes together on the platform. This allows us to run more and more backends for customers, i.e. IT landscapes with several applications, completely server-free.”

What technology do you expect to see great things from in the coming year?

“I don’t see true artificial intelligence gaining a broad user base in the short term. But there is a lot going on with virtual and augmented reality—doing and solving things through remote sessions or on location. In industrial environments, for example, you’ll find new versions of Google Glass that provide engineers with relevant information about the machines in their field of view.

“The first step is creating insight. That’s what we’re doing now, including algorithm-based dashboarding. As an extension of this we’re working on AI-guided process automation. For fast and secure local data processing, our platform is being extended with an edge-computing component that can use cloud-trained models locally.”

What distinguishes Schuberg Philis in the market?

“We are the enabler that lets the customer’s data scientists do the right things with an integrated view of the data in their own systems. This means that it always remains their data, logics and intellectual property. We want our role to be mostly facilitating and supporting, with our own data scientists’ contributions as an optional extra, if necessary.”

All components within reach

Wouter Simons
Software Architect

What is the role of Schuberg Philis in the current field of technology?

“The cloud has made things easier, as long as you use the technology as it was intended. In the end, what really makes a difference is the combination with people and processes. As an engineer with communication and people skills, you can have good discussions with customers and look into their world and challenges. Meanwhile, you rely on the toolkit of instruments and technologies that lets you build creative solutions.”

Cloud components are becoming so mature that they really work.

Wouter Simons

What is the most exciting technology you’ve worked with in the past year?

“Solutions that used to require a lot of work before deployment are now available as PaaS components in the AWS cloud. We used to use Kafka for a streaming messaging platform, but it was a lot of work to manage, install and maintain. Kinesis in AWS gives you something similar in almost a single click. The cloud components are becoming so mature that they really work. AWS’s Cloud Development Kit (CDK) makes me very happy, as it lets the infrastructure work as a code—i.e., as software. For example, a standard module from AWS can deploy Lambda functions—a tool for serverless computing—so that you don’t have to think about the infrastructure anymore. 

“In our own cloud we have virtual machines, networks, load balancers and other basic things. In AWS there is so much more to build your solutions. The development of these cloud platforms is going tremendously fast, which makes me very happy.

“The cloud does create a new lock-in, but that goes for all your preferred suppliers. If you build in a cloud-agnostic way, you are limiting your options. What you can do, however, is make sure that your key components and data do not depend on any specific cloud provider.”

Do you have an example of results created for a customer?

“PostNL had a platform with very high operational costs for licenses, servers, data-center management, operational hosting, etc. We rebuilt this platform in a cloud-native way, achieving a 10x cost reduction. Moreover, this platform makes them more relevant in the market, as it enables them to quickly add new products. In their old process, it would take nine months to build something new. We can now do the same within a month. Key success factors were: empowering the customer to do development, close alignment with business goals, and leveraging the cloud-native solutions offered by AWS.”

What technology do you expect to see great things from in the coming year?

“For a long time artificial intelligence was something for specialists. But if you look at the tools in AWS, it’s now becoming accessible for almost every developer. With a little coaching and experience you can create smart apps that work with existing backends and that automatically anticipate, for example, expected peaks in market demand. This field is developing very rapidly.
“With digital twins in smart manufacturing and logistics, you create a model of reality that is fed with data from the real process. You can use it to simulate things, and service operators can solve problems through virtual or augmented reality—on the other side of the world, if need be. Today’s solutions are still clunky and unwieldy, but the principle looks very promising.”

What distinguishes Schuberg Philis in the market?

“What matters is the use-case-driven approach. You need a long-term perspective to develop a system, but you also want to pick up a use case that immediately delivers value. The strength of Schuberg Philis is that we always keep on thinking about the long-term implications and at the same time start quickly with the first use case.”

  • Sander van Harmelen

    Technology Officer

    Sander van Harmelen

    01/03

  • Wouter Simons

    Software Architect

    Wouter Simons

    02/03

  • Hugo Trippaers

    Mission Critical Engineer

    Hugo Trippaers

    03/03