Zircon Brings Together Services to Provide Continuous Support of Police Force Telematics System

Zircon Brings Together Services to Provide Continuous Support of Police Force Telematics System

Zircon Brings Together Services to Provide Continuous Support of Police Force Telematics System

Operating Systems: Widows Server (2012)
Languages: C#, HTML, XML, Python, F#, CSS, SQL, Borland Delphi
Methodologies: Object Oriented Design, UML, SCRUM, Test Driven Development, Model-view-view-model, Structured Analysis, Structured Design
Frameworks: Angular.JS, .Net Framework, ASP.NET, AKKA
Technologies: RabbitMQ, Hibernate, Redis
Comms/Networking: TCP/IP, TETRA, HTTPS
Configuration Management: Git, Azure DevOps (previously TFS)
Software Development Tools: Microsoft Visual Studio (2010, 2012, 2015), Visio, Resharper, Moq, xUnit
Databases: Microsoft SQL (2014, 2016), Relational Databases
Our client has developed several software products for use by the Defence and Emergency Service sectors. One of these products is a telematics and fleet management system that was developed to support the police force.

Facing the loss of a key resource in the support of this telematics system, our client began the process of finding a new third line support solution. After a series of discussions, Zircon was asked to fulfil this role and with agreement from our client, Zircon provided a mix of services, to include support, feature development and consultancy.

Mindful of our client’s relatively low experience with an outsourcing partner like Zircon, the Zircon team were careful to ensure that regular communication was maintained at all points throughout the project. Key stakeholders were involved in all sprint planning, review and retrospective meetings, as well as regular updates to ensure that they were aware of progress and the state of any features or fixes being worked on.

From our experiences of working on projects of this nature, we know how important the onboarding period is for our clients. The product is a complex system, based around a C# ASP.Net front end coupled to a Microsoft SQL Server database and a collection of back end services that utilise a wide variety of technologies such as RabbitMQ, NHibernate, Angular.JS and Redis. To make the transition as smooth as possible and gain valuable insight into the system, Zircon team members invested several days to work alongside our client’s existing product teams and to attend meetings with key stakeholders.

As an additional part of this onboarding process, we ensure that time is given to familiarise ourselves with our client’s configuration management and build process. This involves doing a build of the system before making any alterations, or with a very slight change and carrying out system and integration testing, reassuring both ourselves and our clients that their process documentation is as accurate as possible and that our team understands them.

With this insight, we were able to provide our client with reliable ongoing support, as well as provide them with assistance in developing their life-cycle and deployment processes.

One of the components of this system is an ETL toolset that allows for the transfer of large quantities of data from fleet vehicles. Over time the stored ETL processes had become interwoven, where various architectures had been built up on top of each other. This complex structure made maintaining the system challenging and lead to the appearance of bugs.

To clarify the actual structure of the interwoven architecture, Zircon engineers created a user manual of all the stored procedures in both picture and flow diagram form, accompanied by descriptions and code examples. Having this clarity upfront not only aided our ability to debug the system but also gave the client a helpful manual that would allow them to work on the system without our assistance.

Alongside our development work, we also offered our consultancy service to help our client find a solution to a few additional issues. For example, there is an expectation for police data records to be retained for several years, but the database where it was being stored had reached capacity and historical data was periodically extracted and placed elsewhere. In this instance we provided our client with advice on how to achieve continuous integration of the service while backups could continue to be taken.

We fulfilled this role for 18 months before our involvement was brought to an end when our client made the decision to end-of-life the product. In light of this decision, our client wanted to bring the support back in house for the final few months. To ease this transition, Zircon assisted in the handover process, offering training for our client’s team from our offices in Trowbridge.

For this project we were able to come in quickly, rapidly gain knowledge of the system and successfully provide the support service that they required. We worked closely with our client right from day one, building our relationship to a point where they could trust us to make suggestions to improve both their processes and their product.

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Zircon Works With End Users to Produce HMI for Integration into Newcastle GLOSA System

Zircon Works With End Users to Produce HMI for Integration into Newcastle GLOSA System

Zircon Works With End Users to Produce HMI for Integration into Newcastle GLOSA System

Operating Systems: Andriod 5 (Lollipop)
Languages: Java, JSON
Configuration Management: Git
Software Development Tools: Android Studio
Hardware: LG Smartphone
Newcastle City Council had been a part of an EU funded project to develop and deploy a Cooperative Intelligent Transport System (C-ITS). Following the conclusion of the project in December 2015, our client received additional funding to further extend the capabilities of the system.

The aim of the feasibility study was to demonstrate how Carbon Dioxide emissions produced by public transport vehicles (e.g. buses) could be lowered by allowing drivers to know the status of traffic signals in advance. The system was to be comprised of roadside units that control the traffic light system and On Board Units (OBU’s) that communicate with the roadside units as the vehicle passes by.

Part of the study required a number of vehicles to be equipped with Android based devices to act as a Human Machine Interface (HMI) between the driver and the OBU’s, to allow the messages regarding the status of traffic lights and road hazard warnings to be displayed visually and audibly in real-time.

Initially Zircon were given the responsibility of developing the HMI as an Android application capable of displaying information on either a tablet or mobile phone. In order to ensure that the presentation of the application would align with user expectations, Zircon undertook a series of workshops to get advice from the bus drivers on which of the HMI prototypes would be suitable. The outcome of these workshops was to keep the HMI as simple as possible, to reduce the risk of driver distraction.

The application provides a map of the local area that displays hazard events. Overlaid on this are images that will display messages regarding the status of traffic signals so that the drivers will be able to anticipate the state of the junction when they arrive there. The application is capable of informing the user either, what speed to approach the junction or other information, such as the length of time left until a light will change from red.

Whilst working on the HMI project, Zircon discovered that the client was experiencing difficulties with sourcing a supplier of the On Board Units that was capable of fulfilling their requirements. As we had an in depth understanding of the project and our client’s requirements, Zircon offered to source suitable off-the-shelf OBU hardware and provide the required additional functionality.

Working alongside the OBU supplier, Zircon made updates to the hardware’s client software so as to enable the provision of real-time GPS data for use by the HMI. In addition to this, Zircon made a number of enhancements to the OBU’s so that they would be capable of logging data remotely and enable the ability to update the software installed.

As a result of Zircon’s assistance our client not only had a product that was able to fulfil their needs, but also the peace of mind that there was a solution to a very troublesome problem.

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Zircon Helps Hyder Consulting and Highways Agency Avert Major Reporting Pileup

Zircon Helps Hyder Consulting and Highways Agency Avert Major Reporting Pileup

Zircon Helps Hyder Consulting and Highways Agency Avert Major Reporting Pileup

Operating Systems: Windows
Languages: VBA
Methodologies: Agile, SCRUM
Databases: Postgres
Other: Microsoft Excel
Zircon recently worked with Hyder Consulting to redesign a crucial spreadsheet for the Highways Agency (HA). Despite a number of difficulties and a very tight time frame Zircon successfully delivered a solution, enabling the HA to create higher quality reports with greater ease and efficiency.
Background to the Project
The HA is an executive agency of the Department for Transport (DfT) and responsible for managing, maintaining and improving the strategic road network in England. Their primary functions are managing traffic, tackling congestion, providing information to road users and improving safety and journey time reliability, whilst minimising the adverse impact on the environment. The DfT has a clear set of goals and the HA rigorously monitors its performance against specific targets then creates regular reports to demonstrate progress.

Due to internal restructuring within the HA the management of a key spreadsheet was being passed from one department to another. This spreadsheet was used to create regular reports relating to roadside incidents and demonstrate how well the HA team had handled these situations.

This handover was fraught with problems, but it also provided an opportunity to improve the efficiency of the process and the quality of the output. Hyder Consulting is retained by the HA to give strategic advice, so the project was passed to them.

“This was personally the first time I’d worked with them and they met the brief perfectly…can’t fault them really!”

Thomas Ueber

IT Consultant, Hyder

The Challenge
Thomas Ueber, an IT consultant within Hyder explains that “The existing model ran in a very big excel spreadsheet, with 23 worksheets. It was fed with information from various disparate systems and different departments within the HA. However, they’d implemented some new systems, they were going to add an extra set of statistics, they needed to report on a number of additional features, on top of which the model was being handed over to a different department…so it needed updating.”

The job had to be done in just four weeks, so getting everything right first time was an imperative. “The biggest challenge,” Thomas continues, “was actually getting the knowledge out of them. Because the information came from different systems and from different departments, there wasn’t a single feed of data. The model was being populated from about 10 different sources, then all that information was being pulled into a high level view of how the division had performed over recent weeks. All that work was essentially being done by one person – they were populating the data worksheets and calculating all the averages to produce the high level performance figures.

We needed to understand how they had been doing that, but this process was not well documented and the majority of the knowledge was just in their head! It had all evolved over time, much of the data was being entered manually, and the only notes were mostly handwritten jottings.

On top of that we also had to import all the new figures they needed, and make everything function smoothly. Finally we needed to create a document to explain to the new department how the updated model worked and how to run it…to provide them with what was essentially an operators manual.”

This was compounded by the fact that the Hyder team were already very busy and had no spare capacity.

The Solution
Thomas explains that “We’d worked with Zircon on a few projects in the past, they’re on our preferred suppliers list, and we knew they were perfectly capable of handling this…so we had no hesitation in calling them.”

Thomas worked with a small team from Zircon to gather all the necessary information from the key people within the HA and fully understand what was required. “Once we knew how they had been operating the model, and what was needed going forward, Zircon went off and created the new spreadsheet. It was a ground-up reproduction to incorporate the new features alongside the existing ones. Zircon also produced the documentation to allow the handover to a new department that had no awareness of how it actually worked.”

“We had absolutely no problems whatsoever, which is remarkable, given the set of challenges we faced.”

Thomas Ueber

IT Consultant, Hyder

The Results
The tight deadline meant that Zircon had to get the job completed swiftly, and that it had to be absolutely right first time. “The sample data outputted from their system in the new format was only received a week before the final report needed to be run for that period,” explains Thomas.

“There was only a week’s worth of time for potential bug fixing so it was very tight in terms of risk. Zircon tested the new system, but I did additional quality assurance tests to make sure everything met the clients requirements…which I’m delighted to say it did! The outputs from that report are going to senior people in Whitehall so it would have been very embarrassing if there was a problem with late delivery or incorrect figures.”

Conclusion
When asked to comment on Zircon’s performance Thomas replies that “This was personally the first time I’d worked with them and they met the brief perfectly…can’t fault them really! Everything went very smoothly. We had absolutely no problem whatsoever, which is remarkable, given the set of challenges we faced. It was generally a very successful project that went extremely smoothly.”

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Incorporation of MOVA Algorithm Optimises Effectiveness of New Traffic Light Controller

Incorporation of MOVA Algorithm Optimises Effectiveness of New Traffic Light Controller

Incorporation of MOVA Algorithm Optimises Effectiveness of New Traffic Light Controller

Operating Systems: Linux
Languages: C++, Python
Comms/Networking: Serial Communications
Hardware: ARM Processor
Zircon’s client is a provider of technology and network services for a wide number of the UK and Ireland’s largest operational systems, in industries that range from defence to rail and traffic. As part of their traffic solutions range our client were beginning the process of developing a new traffic light controller. MOVA is an Optimisation Algorithm designed to optimise traffic flow at isolated junctions and our client wanted it incorporated into the new product.

The source code of the optimisation software was designed to run on a x86 processor, however the client needed it to run on a Linux ARM based system. In order for the software to be successfully integrated into our client’s product it would need to be ported over.

The responsibility of performing the software port was given to Zircon, with the addition of developing and integrating a serial communications library, as our client did not have ready access to the necessary resources and knowledge in house.

Before delivering the ported code back to the client Zircon developed and implemented a system test specification to ensure that the software would function as expected when integrated with the traffic controller’s system, as well as ensuring that the final outcome was compliant with the client’s requirements.

The traffic controller is now fully functional and the client has installed the system in locations across the UK.

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Zircon Successfully Delivers Peace of Mind to the Highways Agency in Partnership With WSP

Zircon Successfully Delivers Peace of Mind to the Highways Agency in Partnership With WSP

Zircon Successfully Delivers Peace of Mind to the Highways Agency in Partnership With WSP

Operating Systems: Windows
Languages: C#.NET, XML
Methodologies: Object Oriented Design, UML
Comms/Networking: TCP/IP, CORBA
Configuration Management: Source Safe
Software Development Tools: Visual Studio
Zircon recently helped WSP Intelligent Transport Systems to develop a Video Information Highway Certification Package (VIH CP) that will be used by the Highways Agency to ensure that new Video Clients and Television Base Stations comply with the agency’s VIH specifications.
Background to the Project
Our client, WSP Intelligent Transport Systems, play a pivotal role in the development of innovative and technology based solutions for a variety of transport systems and networks.

In this capacity they were asked to help the Highways Agency cope with an increase in demand from commercial and public organisations for access to the Agency’s CCTV images.

WSP were tasked with developing a supplier independent certified test system to ensure that all new Video Clients and Television Base Stations fully complied with the Highways Authority’s CCTV VIH specifications. What’s more, the new system had to be designed in such a way that it would not adversely affect the existing CCTV network or compromise its integrity in any way.

“I found them quite flexible – if anything needed to change from the original requirements, they were very good at taking this on board.”

David Weston

Project Manager, WSP

The Challenge
WSP decided to call upon Zircon’s expertise to help them complete this project. David Weston, Project Manager at WSP explains that “We’d used Zircon before on the original certification system, and that went well, so it was suggested that we contact them again for this. We just decided they were right for this…there was no tendering process.”

The project, which ran from November 2009 to July 2010, went very smoothly from start to finish, without any major challenges. “The project was well managed and deliverables were on time and to a high standard” commented David Weston.

Teamwork
“We worked together very closely, in effect as one team, and that was a big factor in creating such a good solution” David adds. “We were able to combine our skills very effectively.”

He was also particularly pleased by the fact that “[Zircon] were happy to send us code at regular intervals so we could do testing as it was being developed – it worked well in that respect. Some contractors want to be very protective of the code and will only release it all at the end. Zircon was very open to this collaborative style of working.”

David has no hesitation when asked whether he would use Zircon again. “Yes, I would recommend them, if it was a software related project.” He adds that “Obviously unexpected things happen along the way, and you have to take things in your stride.

The guys at Zircon were very good in this regard. I found them quite flexible – if anything needed to change from the original requirements, they were very good at taking this on board. Other companies are often not so accommodating. They will insist on reviewing the costs whenever there’s minor change.”

“They were happy to send us code at regular intervals so we could do testing as it was developed.”

David Weston

Project Manager, WSP

Conclusion

The package has been successfully delivered and is performing as required.

It is now providing Video Clients and Television Base Station developers with a controlled and closed environment in which to test the functionality and interfaces of their device without any danger of interfering with the live operational systems.

The last word from David Weston was that “Everything, design, development, testing and deployment, went as I expected it to, and as I had hoped. You can’t say fairer than that.”

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