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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New Web Portal Feature Satisfies Emerging Needs of Client’s End Users

New Web Portal Feature Satisfies Emerging Needs of Client’s End Users

Introduction of New Web Portal Feature Satisfies Emerging Needs of POS Device End Users

Operating Systems: Windows (XP, 7), Microsoft Windows Server 2003
Languages: C#, Javascript, VB.NET, XML
Frameworks: ASP.NET, WCF
Technologies: AJAX
Comms/Networking: HTTPS, SOAP
Software Development Tools: Visual Studio
Our client is a well-known provider of innovative and secure Point Of Sale (POS) systems. In order to support companies in possession of these systems our client offers a 24/7 helpdesk that utilised a database to track and manage maintenance of all the POS terminals currently in the field.

One of these companies expressed a desire to take complete control over the maintenance of the terminals on their premises, and as a result would require some degree of access to the maintenance information database. Our client needed a solution that would interact with the database and provide access to only the relevant information.

Knowing that they did not have access to the necessary resources in house the client approached Zircon for help with developing and implementing a solution.

Initially, Zircon took on more of a consultancy role, the client knew that they wanted a web based solution but were unsure of the best way to proceed. By working alongside the client and maintaining a clear view of the requirements it was decided that a web portal that utilised ASPX.NET, AJAX and JavaScript technologies was the best way forward.

Upon the completion of the final development and testing stages the solution went live to the client’s end user, who immediately put it to good use. With Zircon’s help, our client managed to avoid a potentially difficult situation and allowed them to continue providing a revenue earning service.

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Zircon’s Expertise and Agility Proves Invaluable to Invensys Rail

Zircon’s Expertise and Agility Proves Invaluable to Invensys Rail

Zircon’s Expertise and Agility Proves Invaluable to Invensys Rail

Operating Systems: Windows
Languages: C#
Frameworks: ASP.NET
Comms/Networking: Serial Communications, RS485
Other: Microsoft Excel, BS EN 50155
Zircon recently worked with Invensys Rail to develop an on-train data logger and decoder for the upgrade of London Underground’s Victoria Line. This enabled them to successfully get a new control and signalling system into service within a tight time frame.
Background To The Project
Invensys Rail was recently awarded the contract to provide a new signalling system and control centre on the Victoria Line of the London Underground. Part of this project involved developing and installing automatic train control equipment on the new rolling stock – an automatic train protection (ATP) unit and an Automatic Train Operation (ATO) unit.

Although there is a driver on the train who can handle all operations manually, these two units will do everything completely automatically – pulling away, braking, responding to signals, operating the doors, and so on. Given this fact, the system had to be totally reliable and dependable.

As with any new system there are bound to be teething problems, so rigorous testing is essential – any anomalies must be identified, rectified, then retested. This process involved the collection and analysis of huge quantities of data so that engineers could accurately observe exactly what was happening – this information was to be captured by an on-board logger.

“Zircon… overcame a variety of different technical problems to provide an excellent solution within a tight time frame.”

Andy Chapman

Automatic Train Control Project Engineer, Invensys Rail

The Challenge

A few months before the system went into service it became apparent that the logger, which was not supplied by Invensys Rail, was not performing as well as expected. All the elements of the Invensys signalling and control systems were successfully communicating with each other, but the information was simply not being recorded in a way that made for sufficiently detailed analysis.

Andy Chapman, Automatic Train Control (ATC) Project Engineer overseeing this aspect of the contract at Invensys Rail, explains that “we decided that a new logger was required. Whilst we had the people in-house to develop it, they were busy, and we wanted to be sure the task would be successfully tackled in the time frame. So we decided to outsource the job.”

The Solution

“To be honest, the list of possible companies capable of doing this work was pretty short,” continued Andy. “We regularly work with Zircon, and were confident they could do everything that was required.Instead of spending a month drawing up a detailed specification of what was required we took a more flexible approach – outlining the situation in general terms, then moving forward together on a day-by-day basis with constant discussions and updates.

This collaborative way of working saved an awful lot of time and proved very efficient – much better than giving them a huge document and then hoping they’d come back with a suitable solution in a few months.”

“This also allowed us to develop two solutions in tandem. The first was a quick and easy option, if you like, running on a standard laptop, just to get the system into service. It did everything that was asked of it, but long term it wasn’t suitable – laptops don’t last forever, and aren’t designed for use on trains.

So we also developed hardware that would run off the train’s power supply, rather than batteries, plus was smaller and more robust. Using the laptop solution got us into service on schedule, while giving us more time to develop and thoroughly test the unit we’d use for the long term.”

Further Developments

Every day three Victoria Line trains now carry these loggers. They generate a huge number of files which are downloaded every night and sent to the Invensys Rail office in Chippenham, so anomalous events can be identified and analysed, then improvements made.

Zircon were also asked to develop a decoding tool that made this task easier. “We get large text files from the trains” explains Andy. “We needed something that would import this data into Excel so we could investigate everything with less difficulty. We worked together on this, through a number of different iterations. The decoder we eventually came up with is working extremely well and we’re still using it today.”

“The decoder we eventually came up with is working extremely well and we’re still using it today.”

Andy Chapman

Automatic Train Control Project Engineer, Invensys Rail

The Results

Andy comments that “we found ourselves in an awkward situation that was not of our own making. Zircon not only overcame a variety of different technical problems to provide an excellent solution within a tight time frame – they also understood that a very flexible approach was required, given the situation and the fact that the scope of the project was continually changing. It was demanding for us, and for them.

Because we have developed a very close relationship with Zircon over the years we were able to collaborate successful and rise to some very awkward
challenges. The outcome is we got the system into service, safely and without taking risks, on time. That’s a great result.”

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Prototype Web-Based System Aims to Display Traffic Information to the Public

Prototype Web-Based System Aims to Display Traffic Information to the Public

Prototype Web-Based System Aims to Display Traffic Information to the Public

Operating Systems: Windows
Frameworks: ASP.NET
Technologies: AJAX
Databases: Microsoft SQL Server
As a long trusted partner of the Highways Agency, Zircon’s client have helped to deliver a number of improvement projects on the major road network in England. One of these many improvement projects required the development of a web based solution that was capable of displaying regional traffic information in an easy to read format.

Our client had been appointed the responsibility of managing the process to develop the desired solution; however, they lacked the capability to perform software development activities internally. Through communication with the client, Zircon proved that they could provide the skills and knowledge to fulfil this role and help to alleviate some of the pressure on the client’s shoulders.

The prototype developed by Zircon displays traffic information on schematic diagrams of the motorway and trunk road network via a standard web browser. The network is divided into several nodes and links, which allow users to view more detailed information on specific sections of road.

Planned incidents, such as diversions or roadworks, are displayed as icons whilst speed and journey time information is conveyed through colouring the links to reflect the comparison of incoming data against user defined thresholds. By using this method areas where journey time is out of character for that location and time of day, which will more than likely be an unplanned incident such as a collision, will be highlighted and can be addressed appropriately.

The information used to populate the generated maps was to be sourced from National Control Centre data feeds. In order to obtain this information Zircon developed a Windows service that would download information from the data feeds to be configured into a format suitable for displaying over ASPX pages.

Upon completion of the prototype development, the solution was put through an evaluation period to assess its impact on the RCC and whether it would prove useful to RCC staff. The system users reported that the prototype:

  • Increased the level of intelligence at the control centre through the ready availability of real-time traffic information
  • Improved the management of resources within the control centre
  • Made a marked improvement to road journey times and the reliability of displayed journey time information

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Newly Developed Web-Based Tool Facilitates the Analysis of M25 Road Data

Newly Developed Web-Based Tool Facilitates the Analysis of M25 Road Data

Newly Developed Web-Based Tool Facilitates the Analysis of M25 Road Data

Operating Systems: Windows
Languages: C#
Frameworks: .NET
Databases: Microsoft SQL Server
Our client was a leading infrastructure consultancy with particular expertise in the Highways & Transport industry sector. As a result of this experience, our client was contracted by the Highways Agency (now named Highways England) to manage the M25 sphere.

As part of the management service our client needed to be able to analyse data regarding events that had occurred on the road network within the M25 sphere. This data was collected from a number of disparate sources and held in a variety of databases and file formats.

Zircon were approached to develop a web-based tool that would facilitate the analysis of held data by connecting to, and extracting data from, each database/file and mapping it to a common location referencing method before loading it into a single SQL Server database residing on a Windows Server.

Once in place the user was provided with methods to query for occurrences by location, time and date, or by type. In turn these queries could be merged so that, for example, congestion occurring on specific sections of motorway following an incident could be investigated. Once a query had been made the tool displayed the results in tabular format via a web-based interface.

Zircon’s tool, thanks to its query function, provided our client with powerful data mining capabilities to allow them to fully analyse the data regarding events on the M25 sphere.

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