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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Looking for a team to support your next software venture in Highways?  Zircon is there to help you ensure project success, contact the team today.

Zircon’s Real-Time Data Server Solution Helps Client Pinpoint Structural Concerns

Zircon’s Real-Time Data Server Solution Helps Client Pinpoint Structural Concerns

Zircon’s Real-Time Data Server Solution Helps Client Pinpoint Structural Concerns

Operating Systems: Linux
Languages: Javascript, Python
Methodologies: Agile, SCRUM
Frameworks: Django
Technologies: AJAX
Databases: Postgres
Zircon’s client is a world leader in the development of monitoring solutions, which include load, strain and stress measurement technologies. In preparation for a couple of future contracts our client approached Zircon to develop a real-time data server, which would collect data from a number of sensors to establish the condition of the structures being monitored.

This real-time server was to be an integral part of one of our client’s monitoring solutions; however they did not have access to the required skill resources to complete the development in house.

A key requirement was for the software to be able to support the introduction of additional sensors from a number of different suppliers and of different types.

Zircon developed a tailored, web based, real-time data server that successfully gathers data from the client’s sensors. The data is initially stored in its raw state and then put through a series of, customisable, threshold checks. When a breach is detected then either alarms are triggered and/or the data sample rate altered.

Data is presented to the end user via a web front end and the system allows an engineer to transform the gathered data into a variety of easy to read formats, such as graphs, in order to pinpoint any patterns or continuous periods of excessive stress in the data. This process allows our client’s engineers to focus their efforts on the most relevant areas. The software also allows for both event logging and user management from a single access point.

For this project an agile development methodology was agreed and a Scrum method, consisting of a mix of four and two-week Sprint cycles, employed. This enabled Zircon to be flexible in when functionality was developed and enabled the client to provide continuous feedback and introduce and modify requirements throughout the life of the project.

Zircon once again worked closely with our client to ensure that the software met the client’s expectations, with special attention given to ensuring compatibility and the ability to integrate new sensors. The system has been successfully deployed and Zircon has provided additional support to enhance the software further.

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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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Looking for a team to support your next software venture in Highways?  Zircon is there to help you ensure project success, contact the team today.