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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Driver Development Introduces Valuable Functionality to Client’s Signalling System

Driver Development Introduces Valuable Functionality to Client’s Signalling System

Driver Development Introduces Valuable Functionality to Client’s Signalling System

Operating Systems: Windows (7)
Languages: C++
Software Development Tools: PRQA, Microsoft Visual Studio
Other: BS EN 50128 (SIL2)
Zircon’s client develops and maintains Rail Signalling control software. One of their products, a signalman’s workstation is used by a number of rail operators around the globe to control signals and points in order to direct trains to their destinations, whilst avoiding route collisions.

Our client routinely makes modifications to the core software, to accommodate the differing operational practises of their clients.  Additional functionality can be added through the development of additional software drivers and Zircon was asked to carry out the development of one such driver.

Our client’s software allows signalling technicians to monitor and control the rail network. Trains are routed by the system and often these routes will use the same set of points. To avoid a collision, once a route has been set for one train then all points along that route are locked until that train has passed through the entire route, thus preventing any other train occupying the track along the route.

However, there are occasions when it is desirable to be able to partially release a route in order to let another train cross over the set route, once that track section has been cleared by the preceding train. Prior to the project, there was no way to override the system to clear a locked point.

Zircon developed a driver that utilised the products existing driver framework to provide the functionality to allow a signalling technician to clear locked points.  It integrated with the products logging and diagnostics facilities to ensure all actions are logged for later analysis. All of the code produced was developed to our clients coding standards and verified using peer review and static analysis.

Upon the projects conclusion, the driver had been successfully integrated and fully tested, including component level testing, to ensure the software met the requirements of EN 50128 SIL2.

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Helping our Armed Forces Prepare for Future Conflicts with up to Date Electronic Warfare Software

Helping our Armed Forces Prepare for Future Conflicts with up to Date Electronic Warfare Software

Helping our Armed Forces Prepare for Future Conflicts with up to Date Electronic Warfare Software

Operating Systems: Windows (XP, 7)
Languages: C#.NET, C++
Cobham Aviation Services provides operational readiness training, mission rehearsal and electronic warfare training for military and international armed forces. This involves using complex software to simulate attacks and when Cobham decided that this was nearing the end of its useful life they asked Zircon to update it.
Background To The Project

During the Falkland’s War Exocet missiles inflicted heavy damage on the Royal Navy.  After the conflict there was an obvious need to train naval personnel and pilots in how best to cope with the evolving threats posed by hostile guided missiles.  For many years Cobham Aviation Services has been performing this role for the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force and NATO, amongst others.

The company operates a fleet of Falcon 20 jets fitted with a number of pods that create a variety of different effects to recreate hostile environments.  These include radar jamming and threat simulation, communications jamming, false target generation, electronic surveillance, platform location and attitude logging, and height-keeping towed targets with controllable radar cross section.  The Electronic Warfare Officer on the plane controls the system and produces whatever effects are required to stage realistic end-to-end rehearsals of complex and demanding missions.

When the multi-million pound contract was recently renewed for a further 10 years it was decided that the legacy software needed updating.  It was written in Borland C++, a language which was no longer supported.  This meant it was becoming increasingly difficult to further develop the application to allow enhancement of the training schedule.  What’s more the hardware had become dated and was difficult to maintain.  So Cobham felt the need to translate it into a more modern language.

“They were very focused on building a good relationship with us, and pretty driven in terms of accomplishing what was required on schedule.”

Colin Rebettes

Cobham

The Zircon Solution

Colin Rebettes, one of Cobham’s electronic warfare experts, explains that “We’d written the original software ourselves, but that needed translating from an old Borland compiler to an integrated development environment.  We had the capability to do that in-house but our workload meant it was more sensible to outsource it.”

When Cobham started making enquires about a suitable software house to undertake this project Zircon’s name came up.  “We went to their offices,” Colin explains, “had a look around, reviewed their capabilities, and were impressed with the work they’d done in other environments.  Also, the fact that they had BSI ISO9001:2008 (TickIT) accreditation was important to us.”

We were able to port the software over into a current language (C# .NET).  This enabled us to retain much of the core application code.  In the process we also fixed a number of bugs that had either become apparent over time or which we discovered once we set to work.  This approach was much more cost effective than a complete re-write and has successfully extended the life of this legacy system and made future enhancements a lot easier.

Rising To Every Challenge

Colin explains that “There was a bit of an issue in that this environment was new to the Zircon engineers.  They weren’t familiar with the kind of tasks the software was being asked to perform, but they soon developed a good understanding of what was going on.”

Another issue was the fact that “We couldn’t supply Zircon with the actual hardware and had to rig up an environment on which the software could run and be tested – we had to create some simulated interfaces for them to work with.  Then there was the fact that there was a huge quantity of legacy code which was not written to current standards and which contained a lot of bugs  So it was a big job.”

Despite all these difficulties we were able to hit our milestones on schedule.   “They were ahead of us much of the time,” concedes Colin, “we were pretty busy on other projects and weren’t always ready to verify and sign things off as soon as they were completed.”

“There was a bit of an issue in that this environment was new to the Zircon engineers …..  but they soon developed a good understanding of what was going on.”

Colin Rebettes

Cobham

Easy To Work With

Colin comments that “The level of services from Zircon was excellent, they were very professional.  Although their offices weren’t nearby to ours we stayed in close touch with their engineers on the telephone.  We had no difficulty sorting out challenges as they arose – they were good at communicating.   And if it was something that needed discussing face to face they’d come down to see us at a moment’s notice.”

“I liked the fact that they weren’t too big, or too small,” Coin continues.  “They had all the necessary skills, capabilities and resources, but weren’t so large that working closely with us was a problem – it was a good fit.  They were very focused on building a good relationship with us, and pretty driven in terms of accomplishing what was required on schedule.  If we had a similar project I’d definitely be looking to use them again.”

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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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Next Generation CCTV System Boosts Passenger Safety and Supports Driver Only Operation

Next Generation CCTV System Boosts Passenger Safety and Supports Driver Only Operation

Next Generation CCTV System Boosts Passenger Safety and Supports Driver Only Operation

Operating Systems: Linux
Languages: C++, Python, XML
Comms/Networking: QT
Other: BS EN 50128 SIL1
Our client provides CCTV systems to passenger train manufacturers across the world. Our client was developing its next generation CCTV system and Zircon was contracted to work closely with them to provide the software element of the system.

Zircon was responsible for the design and development of the software and its integration with client provided hardware and subsequent testing. The system was required to be developed in accordance with EN 50128 Safety Integrity Level 1 as Driver Only Operation, where the driver is responsible for ensuring whether it is safe to move off, was a requirement.

The CCTV system consists of a number of components:

  • Saloon, Door, Front/Rear Facing and Roof cameras
  • Video Recording Unit
  • Network Switches
  • Drivers Touchscreen Interface
  • Off-train playback software

Zircon developed software for all of the above elements.

The software was designed to allow the system to self-configure itself as components are added and removed from the CCTV system network.  Video footage is continually recorded onto hot swappable disks until all available space is filled before the oldest recordings are overwritten.

The CCTV system receives alarm messages (passenger or fire) from the train and if an alarm is triggered then the recording of the incident, and a period of time either side, is archived.  Video is recorded in a secure format in accordance with Home Office regulations and separate playback software developed to prevent tampering to allow video footage to be used in legal cases.

On arrival at a platform, the drivers in-cab display is activated to show images from the Door cameras.  The driver is then able to ensure they are free from obstruction before moving off.  If an alarm is raised, then drivers display will switch to the nearest camera to give them a view of the incident.

Zircon’s involvement started with developing and defining the client supplied system requirements into a set of clear and traceable points.  These requirements were then used as an input into the System Architecture Design, where the System was split into a set of components.  Each of the identified components was then analysed, designed and captured in a Component Design Specification.  These specifications could then be used by the Zircon development team to develop the code.  In order to ensure the production of maintainable code, and reduce cost at later stages in the products life, Zircon worked to a set of coding standards and gave great care to carry out regular code reviews and static analysis.  Component, System/Integration and Acceptance testing was then used to ensure that the developed software conforms with the original requirements and was fit for purpose.

Due to the safety aspects of the system, the software had to be robust and reliable and the integrity of the live and recorded video footage maintained at all times, and as such the software was developed in accordance with EN 50128 SIL 1 procedures and to Zircon’s BSI accredited Quality Management System. 

Before final handover to the client the system was tested and reviewed by an independent third party to ensure the system met the EN 50128 SIL1 standard and that the system assurance procedures had been followed correctly.

Zircon successfully delivered the software to our client and has subsequently provided support services to our client as they introduced and modified the system for new clients.

 

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