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Stuart Daughtridge Interview Addendum
Providing the BIG Picture for Satellite Systems
Over the past decade, there has been a significant increase in the use of “enterprise solution” software to monitor, analyze, and improve business operations for various applications and corporations. Applied appropriately, these “business process management” (BPM) tools offer an effective way to visualize an organization’s activities and improve operational efficiency.

To accomplish these results, BPM tools use “data mining” strategies to access and integrate disparate data from multiple parts of a system. Key performance metrics are then added to the resulting data to produce meaningful business intelligence. The resulting data is displayed through the use of dynamic/interactive data visualization techniques designed to quickly communicate complex data to busy executive managers and operations personnel.

The approach used to display data in a concise and visually effective way is often referred to as an “executive dashboard”—due to the similarity of trying to obtain information quickly from an automobile dashboard. The goal is to provide a fast and effective view of complex data or business operations “at a glance”, while allowing users to “drill down” to obtain additional detail, when desired.

Integrated, Open, and Accessible Systems Required

Until recently, comprehensive enterprise solutions have been mostly applied to financial applications, sales organizations, and even manufacturing applications. However, such use has been slow within more complex environments—satellite command and control as well as communications systems. This is partially because, to be effective, data must be available from multiple portions of the system and across different operations environments.

Historically, satellite ground systems have been built using “stovepipe” solutions with minimal communication between the unique system components. This inability to communicate across system components made it difficult for these systems to benefit from the use of BPM tools or other enterprise solutions.

A Helping Hand: An Enterprise Executive Dashboard Feature

Much of this is changing as Integral Systems Incorporated (ISI), based in Lanham, Maryland, takes the lead to provide fully integrated solutions and applies enterprise level strategies to the satellite command, control, and communication industry. Building on an existing strategy of providing “fully integrated solutions” to end users, Integral recently announced the development of a new control system feature referred to as the Enterprise Executive Dashboard for the Satellite Ground System. As the name implies, the Executive Dashboard feature is designed to collect critical data from the entire system, apply strategic “business logic” to the raw data, and generate and display key performance data using highly graphical and interactive web based displays. The strategy is to exploit the best features of interactive web technology and enterprise solutions to benefit complex control system applications/systems.

The First Step—Foundation Building

Truly effective enterprise solutions are built on integrated systems. Integral’s unique emphasis on fully integrated solutions makes it possible to connect primary system components so that system wide data can be accessed.

The core components of a satellite control system are shown in the figure on the next page and include Satellite Operations (command/control), Payload Operations/Monitoring, Network Operations, and Ground Equipment M&C. While previous systems were typically integrated using “stovepipe” solutions, Integral Systems has taken a fully integrated approach to control system development. This approach breaks down the walls between the different components and opens up a range of possibilities to improve system operations. (For more information on Integral’s “fully integrated solutions”, refer to the November 2007 Edition of SatMagazine –“Integrated Solutions: Improving Operations and Quality of Service,” By Mark Schmitt and the interview with Stuart Daughtridge in the Q&A section in this edition of SatMagazine).

A core component of this enterprise solution comes from Newpoint Technologies, a wholly owned subsidiary of Integral Systems, based in New Hampshire. Newpoint’s Compass product serves as both a system wide “monitor and control” function and also establishes a system wide data conduit between system components. To accomplish this, Compass interfaces with disparate system elements (software processes and hardware components) and other element management systems; collects data from each critical component of the system, and makes that data available via standard database access methods.

Using data made available from Compass, enterprise applications (such as the executive dashboard) can collect and apply “business logic” to critical system wide data. This data can then be used to produce, evaluate, and store Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and other data for each system component in an open enterprise database. In addition to storing the core data, “end of period” processing can be done on the data to support historical data access and regular/periodic reporting purposes (e.g. End of Month, End of Quarter, End of Year, etc.) With critical data from the major system components now easily accessible, the data can be processed and presented to the user in multiple ways.

Defining Initial Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

Identifying the most effective key performance indicators for each system will vary, based on overall mission, number and types of satellites, type of equipment, and even the specific personnel handling operations. In addition, preferences of how operations are performed at individual locations and what specific information is useful to executive users will influence the way KPI’s are defined, processed, and displayed.

For example, the level of actual transponder use over a one month period might be more important to analyze than the utilization during a much shorter period of time (e.g. a one minute or even a 24 hour period). Similarly, to monitor the “bigger picture” performance of the system, it’s typically more useful to highlight repeated or pervasive outage conditions than individual spot outages that might be expected to occur from time to time.

While target KPIs for each system are expected to evolve to support different systems, the following core data types and status information are targeted for support in the initial versions of Integral’s Executive Dashboard feature:

Satellite Status - Command and Control Operations
  • Out of Limits Data Summary/trending of out of limit items (alarm and warning violations)
  • OOL information overlaid with satellite commanding events (for expected OOL violation bursts)
  • Scheduled Events (recent and future event execution)
  • Rolled up system status displays across components
Transponder and CSM Related – Use and Outage Information
  • Fleet transponder utilization summary, satellite transponder utilization summary (PEB, Backoff, Utilization, Utilization by Region)
  • Summary of in alarm carriers and outages by types (e.g. missing, too much power, too much b/w, unauthorized carrier, experiencing interference)
Ground System Status
  • Roll-up of site status - Outage/Fault summaries (Major/minor alarms, average recovery times, etc.)
  • Planned satellite activities (like maneuvers, or the commissioning and new customers, or even listings of occasional use customer events)
Providing key system data from multiple system components on one single display will save executives, operators and operations management teams significant amounts of time as well as prevent them from wading through multiple databases, spreadsheets, and control system displays each month to gather the necessary data.

Example Dashboard Data and Displays

The screen image below shows a portion of a composite display for an individual satellite in a fleet. The data presented includes a top-level view of satellite status data, ground system outage info, transponder utilization, transponder outages/interference, and an indication of recent and upcoming events.

The goal is to provide a “dashboard view” sufficient for a quick but comprehensive picture of each primary system element. In addition, the goal is to show the “current” status as well as to provide a broader view of the overall system operations status. The latter is accomplished by showing current (summarized over the past hour), recent (past 24 hours), and past (previous 30 days) of data.

The idea is that even if a specific indicator was “OK” at a particular point in time, it would also be useful to know how the identical data appeared at slightly different, relative points in time. Similarly, if a status currently indicates a “not ok” status, it’s useful to know whether this might be a persistent condition or if the data might be somewhat spurious.

As part of the display, the goal is to provide multiple options to view the data graphically. A default graphical display is provided (in this case, the combined satellite transponder utilization over the past 30 days). The user can select different data sets and overlays by clicking on numbers in the cell, drilling down right through the graph, or using other user interface controls. Consistent with providing the broader picture of the system, if the satellite exploits the automated scheduling tool, the dashboard can display the most recently executed “event” associated with the satellite and the “next scheduled” event.

“Business Logic” and Derived Limits

To present an overview of the system status, “business logic” and additional processing is applied to the raw data. This results in data that has been trended and derived from various sources. In effect, a new set of “derived limits” is used to process the raw data and derive summarized states (e.g. OK, Warning, Alarm/Alert). For example:

Example of Derived Limits: Satellite Status – It is standard to derive the “state” of the satellite using the current Alarm/Warning “Out of Limits” data.

Current Status - More than Just an Instantaneous Status Check – Rather than evaluating the “current” status as an instantaneous check of the OOL violations/status, the dashboard uses a KPI that measures the number of violations experienced during a target timeframe. This is to determine if they exceed an expected number. For example, over the past hour, it might be considered “OK” if only a handful of data points have gone in and out of “out of limits” (as limit violations do sometimes occur), but it might be more worrisome if the number of violations exceeds a certain pre-defined number. This is especially true for longer duration periods (such as 24 Hour and 30 Day data points, as some number of OOL violations are certain to occur in those periods).

Longer Term Period - 24 Hours and 30 Days – to evaluate the status over a longer period of time, the display would consider the peak number of violations that occurred during that period and derive the overall “status” based on the number of limit violations considered acceptable or expected during that time. Using this approach, the “Satellite Status” for “Current,” 24 Hours,” and “30 Days” might be considered acceptable, but that would not mean that no OOL violations were experienced during that time. It would only mean that the number of violations did not exceed the predetermined or expected level.

Drill Down to Get Detailed Data – While users can view the derived state of the satellite, they can also drill down to view the source data used to derive the higher level status. For example, in the example provided, while the “30 Day Status” for the Transponder Utilization indicates “OK” at 81 percent overall utilization, there still may be certain days of the month where the overall utilization dropped below acceptable levels (as depicted in the graph above). Drilling down into these data points makes it possible to view the more granular data used to derive the higher-level status.

Data Fusion: Combining Data to Derive Additional Information – By graphing and overlaying multiple data points and types, it’s possible to derive information that is more useful. For example, the graph below shows utilization data overlaid with the outage/interference data. In some cases, lower than desired utilization numbers are coincident with higher than acceptable outage/interference events. This suggests that interference/outage events could be the cause for the low utilization. However, if the data point indicated lower than acceptable utilization, but the interference/outage data appears within normal ranges, it might suggest the need to look for other causes of the lower than expected utilization.

Enterprise Solutions for Satellite Systems – Just the Tip of the Iceberg

The application of enterprise solutions to access, analyze, and display critical data across the entire system using a single display offers a powerful first step in exploiting the power of a fully integrated system. A central interface and source of critical data from multiple system components opens a number of options for use of this data in creative and effective ways. The use of standard tools, advanced web based technologies, and open architecture designs will allow this implementation to evolve as additional data points, business logic, and KPIs are identified by end users.

Combining strategic enterprise solutions, business process management, and fully integrated solutions for complex satellite systems offers yet another reason why Integral Systems continues to be an important asset to the industry with reliable and technically advanced solutions for the satellite industry.

Scott Norcross is the President/CEO of Rolling Storm Communications Corporation, a strategic communications, information technology, and media production company in the Washington DC area. Mr. Norcross has more than 20 years experience in the satellite industry, focusing on complex solutions for satellite command/control, remote sensing, video technology/production, and complex data visualization. Mr. Norcross can be reached at: