Case Studies


Our quality centred approach to development has helped us deliver a huge range of projects – on the web, the desktop and mobile.

We work with customers ranging from ambitious startups to multi-national organisations.

For an idea of our development capabilities see the case studies below or give us a call.

Web
Mobile
Application

BBC - Live Events CMS

More

Softwire were commissioned by the BBC, through a competitive tender process, to develop a Content Management System (CMS) to assist with the BBC’s comprehensive coverage of music festivals. The BBC required a system which would reduce the cost of publishing festival microsites, enabling the BBC to focus resources on producing great festival coverage.

The BBC develops dedicated microsites for the major music festivals it covers, such as Glastonbury and the Proms. These sites provide lots of useful information: practical advice on how to get there; live coverage; profiles of the acts performing; and tips on who to watch. They also contain a large amount of audio and video content and, in many cases, offer live multiscreen viewing. To date, these microsites have been built on a constantly improving template. The BBC wanted to commission a CMS that would radically reduce the amount of effort and time needed to get a new event site up and running. Softwire were very proud – and excited – to be selected to develop this CMS.

The application was built using a combination of Java and PHP. The CMS was based on Java, Spring and JSPs with a MySQL database, and the public-facing site was written in PHP and Zend, interacting with the CMS database via a Java service layer providing a JSON API.

There were two main technical challenges: handling the extremely large usage spikes associated with a live event, and integrating with a wide array of existing systems. These live event sites are extremely popular, attracting large numbers of visitors during the event. This can generate major usage spikes in the region of 100 requests per second.

We delivered a system capable of handling this level of usage via multiple levels of caching, at the database, the JSON API and in the browser.  This was particularly challenging in the browser, where we had to manage the competing requirements to cache extensively and to provide a responsive, personalised experience to logged-in users. There are a number of integration points:

  • information on the artists pulled in from BBC Music
  • live streaming and pre-recorded video clips via iPlayer
  • social media content delivered via Twitter
  • photos from the BBC’s image services.

In addition, we had to ensure seamless onward journeys to related BBC programmes. We successfully managed the integration of these disparate systems by pro-active and frequent communication with a wide range of BBC stakeholders, running multi-site daily stand-ups and regular sprint planning sessions.

We delivered the completed system in time for it to deliver the online coverage of Radio 1’s Hackney Weekend 2012 – the BBC’s biggest ever free-ticketed live music event. The resulting system has been very successful, and we have since worked with the BBC to expand the platform’s remit and feature set to cover new types of music events and enhance the user experience. For example, one of our event sites was the first BBC site to deliver live streaming video to mobile users.

Our system has proven highly cost-effective for the BBC as it dramatically simplifies the process of creating an event site for major events; BBC editorial staff can set up a new festival or Proms site in only a few hours, and quickly and easily update performance details during a live event. In addition, it has allowed many smaller, regional events to have their own micro-sites for the first time, and these can be created in multiple languages to support the BBC’s audience in the different regions of the UK.

David Lloyd Leisure - Bespoke Booking System

More

Softwire were commissioned by David Lloyd Leisure to create a bespoke web based booking system. This involved adapting David Lloyd’s preexisting booking system to handle group exercise classes as well as tennis court bookings and courses at their club receptions and also online.

Performance of the system had to be guaranteed to meet peak member booking rates at 8pm each evening, when new classes are made available. Members aim to book places at popular classes at the earliest opportunity, so load on the system is concentrated on a critical few peak minutes each day.

The development was based on an existing system, which proved a potential challenge to our developers because of the significant technical debt and lack of automated tests, as well as the need for a complex migration of bookings to our new system. Softwire worked effectively to gain a thorough understanding of the existing system and David Lloyd’s business requirements to produce a solution that exceeded their original specification.

It was imperative for the business that the new system could cope with a high number of bookings per second, and Softwire assigned a dedicated tech lead to performance testing early on in the project, while the team continued working simultaneously to deliver the new system. We created comprehensive automated performance tests, which measured the number of supported bookings per second for each test release, and identified that the existing capacity would need to be significantly enhanced.

We prioritised the need for increased system capacity by delivering regularly, enabling continuous stakeholder feedback and providing confidence in the release date. By delivering the core functionality early, we reduced the risk around the complex and critical features, whilst leaving enough time to incorporate new features.

Before we completed the system development, we worked with the membership team to carefully plan a staged roll-out of the system within David Lloyd clubs in order to de-risk the deployment and minimise any potential problems. Our system has given David Lloyd members a more convenient and modern booking experience, and significantly reduced staff workload compared to the previous system.

David Lloyd were very happy with the service provided by Softwire and the way in which we worked closely with the membership team to understand their requirements and test the system at scale. Club members can now simply book everything in one place, and the system can now handle the required volume of bookings. David Lloyd have complete control over the management of their classes and booking procedures and can tailor the experience to each member as they please.

Redburn - Financial Research Platform

More

Softwire built a financial news and research site for Redburn, a leading equity broker and research provider. Redburn were looking for a fresh direction for their online investment research offering and needed a company able to implement their desired graphic design to a high degree of fidelity and technical quality.

The project posed a number of challenges for our team including high fidelity implementation of designs without compromise on functionality. It was vital that the site was responsively designed for mobile, tablet and desktop, as well as having a high-quality appearance when printed. The team were also required to ensure the smooth integration of multiple data sources (APIs, databases, emails) from a variety of organisations, in a live update manner.

We delivered the project in an Agile manner, and in close collaboration with the Redburn product owners and stakeholders. We also worked with end users to elicit feedback about releases prior to go-live, which was incorporated into the product backlog, and ultimately resulted in a positively received live launch.

We architected and built the platform as a responsive website using a Microsoft tech stack, with our design team providing iterative updates to the original designs following initial user feedback. For the front-end, we chose the modern framework AngularJS to provide the look and feel Redburn were looking for. A significant amount of system logic was implemented client-side, improving responsiveness and user experience.

When faced with areas of technical risk, we undertook a technical ‘spike’ early on in the project, a short burst of focussed development with the sole intention of reducing or eliminating the risk. One such example was the risk around third party dependencies: integrating third party APIs, various Redburn databases, and in particular parsing human-written emails to integrate content into the system.

In keeping with our culture of automation, we delivered a full suite of automated tests at all levels of the system, including code-level tests (JavaScript and C#), integration tests, smoke tests and browser tests (via Selenium).

The system is hosted in the cloud on Microsoft Azure, and deployed automatically to three environments (UAT, stage, live) with a blue/green production setup (running identical environments which traffic can be switched between, providing zero-downtime updates and an immediate rollback path in case of issues). We tackled risky areas early and communicated frequently with Redburn stakeholders to achieve a successful result

Our investment in testing and tooling delivered significant value over the course of development, and contributed to higher quality and lower cost of ownership. Our in-house UX and design capability, and our strong front end developers meant we could quickly deliver the high quality UI required, whilst using our management and consultancy expertise to refine Redburn’s business requirements.

We are continuing to support and extend the research platform for Redburn’s internal users, and it will be rolled out globally to customers in the near future. Redburn have additionally commissioned Softwire to carry out further phases of work on this project after having received very positive feedback from its internal users since release.

Yudu Media - Digital Publishing Platform

More

Softwire designed and developed YUDU Media’s next-generation digital publishing platform, on which they base their business.

Our Agile project management processes and broad range of technical knowhow drove the success of this cutting-edge project, cementing YUDU’s position as a market leader and innovator in the digital publishing industry, enabling them to expand into new markets, and vastly increasing their user base.

The digital publishing platform is designed to allow users to self-publish feature-rich digital publications accessed via a standard web browser using a page-turning interface. Softwire worked closely with YUDU during an initial consultancy phase to refine the feature set and produce a detailed functional specification, before developing, testing and deploying the new software. We worked as an autonomous development team and communicated regularly with YUDU’s own project manager to ensure the project schedule stayed on track.

The software comprises a number of distinct interacting components, as follows.

  • A Flash-based page-turning reader application that is downloaded and executed within the user’s browser.
  • A sophisticated web-based publishing interface, through which publishers can upload raw PDF, Word, Excel or PowerPoint files and configure how the publication should appear to users, e.g. by adding rich media, hyperlinks, table of contents and order forms, etc.
  • A statistics server to record detailed statistics on how users read the publications, e.g. which pages they look at, and a reporting web interface to allow advertisers to view these aggregated figures.
  • Dedicated PDF processing servers to do the heavy-lifting of converting raw PDF files to a Flash-compatible format, to provide a high level of scalability.
  • Public ePublishing marketplace allowing users to organise, promote and sell their publications.

The implementation is mostly based around Java Enterprise technologies including JBoss application server, Spring MVC and Java EE (including EJB3 and Java Persistence), and uses Oracle databases.

The implementation of the ePublishing marketplace constituted a major new phase of work which was implemented using Ruby technologies, integrating with the Java portions of the system via web services. This phase of work employed an Agile development process in order to allow rapid evolution of the system based on feedback from YUDU and their customers. This approach allows Softwire to deliver great results quickly and with much flexibility.

Given the scope and attention to detail of YUDU’s requirements, this project was a significant and complex undertaking and required a relatively large team. Nonetheless, Softwire delivered the initial release and the subsequent phased feature releases on schedule whilst maintaining a high level of quality throughout.

The system has been a great success with YUDU’s existing customer base and provides them with a leading edge technology platform with which to expand their business into new markets.

BBC - Timeliner News Archive

More

Timeliner was commissioned as part of the BBC’s online innovation programme, “Connected Studio”, as a joint venture between Softwire and the production company Loftus Media.

The brief was to develop an exciting and engaging way for online audiences to discover and enjoy the BBC’s extensive news archive. The key challenge was to design and build a simple and accessible platform that the BBC could use to present its comprehensive archive footage chronologically. The pilot needed to be built quickly (to launch before the build-up to the 2015 General Election) and on a budget.

The development of Timeliner was fuelled by two important BBC audience needs. Firstly, the significant audience appetite to understand the news more fully, and to be able to put current events into context within a bigger historical picture. Secondly, that audiences want to feel in control of the journeys they take and to discover content for themselves which matches their interests, rather than be told what is important. It was also essential for an intuitive user experience that Timeliner visually fit in well with the BBC family of online News products.

Having presented our own original concept, we were successful in two rounds of competitive pitching, which included building a winning prototype within a few days at the BBC’s Build Studio event. The BBC were excited by our concept and prototype, and commissioned a pilot of BBC Timeliner.

During the pilot build, our effective integration of existing  BBC  web  services for video streaming and image rendering allowed time (and therefore budget) to be focused where it mattered most; on creating a compelling user experience. Softwire’s designers ensured the product fit in well with the BBC’s current family of online products through good use of the BBC’s style and branding guidelines (“Global Experience Language”). This gave the BBC the confidence to link directly to Timeliner from the main BBC News website, as visitors could instinctively understand how to use Timeliner.

The intuitive user interface was kept simple, to make the large volume of archive footage easily accessible to all who visited it. The site was designed to keep users interested and encourage them to continue browsing through related timelines. For example, video titles and descriptions gave just enough background information to make sense of the video (name-checking people who weren’t introduced within the archive, for example) while keeping the sense of intrigue and excitement which would encourage the user to click “play” as well as allowing them to feel in control.

During the build process, we worked with the BBC to seek and incorporate user feedback on a regular basis. It became apparent the website would need to be responsive so that it was fully accessible when viewed on smartphones, as this was how most visitors were viewing the site. Our flexible Agile process and appropriate, modern technology choices (Node.js and AngularJS for the front-end) allowed Softwire’s developers to reprioritise and adapt to this additional requirement quickly, keeping the project on time and within the original budget.

Scalability was also a key requirement since the expected demand for Timeliner was somewhat unpredictable; to meet this need cost-effectively we implemented a “publishing” model, based on a cloud infrastructure, where pages are generated once, then served statically through Amazon’s content distribution network. During the lifetime of the pilot (25th March – 5th June 2015) Timeliner received 118,000 visits and 688,000 page views, with Timeliner handling all spikes in user demand.

The product was particularly successful during the 2015 General Election Campaign; a London Evening Standard review described Timeliner as “a treasure trove of political footage” and the average engagement rate (number of pages viewed per visit) was triple that of the main BBC News site. Timeliner also received positive comments on social media sites, especially Twitter where many users commented on Timeliner’s “absolutely brilliant” and “exciting” use of the BBC’s news archive. The BBC were very satisfied with the level of user engagement achieved during the Timeliner pilot and it has since been shortlisted for an Association for International Broadcasting award.

Cambridge University Press - English Grammar in Use Online

More

Cambridge University Press (CUP) commissioned Softwire to produce an online, cloud-based version of their best-selling English grammar title, English Grammar in Use. We produced a flexible Content Management System (CMS) which not only produced the rich web-based user interface that CUP required, but also significantly reduced the cost of producing similar websites in future. This provided CUP with a new revenue stream and an increased interest in their educational titles.

There were a number of challenges to this project. CUP had some specific technology requirements, and a very tight deadline. Our technical flexibility, speed at picking up new languages, and vast experience of challenging projects left them free to make the correct business decisions without compromising on timescales or quality.

The application was built in .NET, using the MVC Framework. CUP required the site to be hosted using Amazon Web Services (AWS) in order to reduce the hosting burden, and to increase scalability to allow for unpredictable growth. This, together with the nature of the content, meant that a standard CMS package wouldn’t be appropriate, so Softwire built a bespoke CMS framework that allowed additional features to be added rapidly.

The application contains an embedded third-party SCORM (Sharable Content Object Reference Model) player, which is used to display interactive exercises. SCORM is a standard used in a number of educational packages, and allowed CUP to leverage their existing experience in SCORM for this project. Softwire worked closely with the makers of the SCORM engine to ensure that the integration of the player into a cloud-based environment was a success.

The challenging timescales, and the wide variety of content that needed to be present in the site, meant that CUP required a functioning CMS early on in the project in order to have sufficient time to enter and review the required content.

Softwire ran the project using an agile methodology, and scheduled early releases for the required user stories. This enabled CUP to begin entering parts of the content within weeks of the project starting, and thereby hit their deadlines. Originally the main content of the website was to be provided using SWF objects. However, early in the project, it became apparent that the third-party supplier that CUP had chosen to create these would not be able to provide them in time.

Softwire overcame this by proposing to replace this with a custom HTML editor to the CMS, including audio uploads. Again, the agile methodology employed enabled Softwire to accommodate the changes to the scope of the project without jeopardising the timescales. The content had various different rules regarding spacing and layout. Softwire added custom buttons to the HTML editor to mark content as having specific CSS classes, which maintained the required level of simplicity whilst allowing for much more flexibility than the original SWFs would have done. This set-up allowed CUP to enter the entire content of the book via the CMS, and significantly reduced the cost of creating subsequent websites. The project was delivered on time, and to a high level of quality, with no significant issues raised during the warranty period.

Angel Trains - Asset Management System

More

Softwire were contacted by Angel Trains, one of the UK’s leading train leasing companies, and asked to deliver a series of web-based modules to replace their existing asset management system. Modules included a Safety Issue Management System, for recording and tracking of rail safety incidents through to closure, and a Fleet Management System which helps engineers to manage maintenance schedules across the whole Angel Trains fleet.

The key to the project was to create a web-based user experience that would satisfy engineers and other users used to working with desktop applications such as Microsoft Project and Excel, as well as existing custom applications. The Softwire team made excellent use of a third party control library to quickly complete the most challenging part of the UI, thereby getting vital early feedback for the remaining pages.

Softwire worked closely with Angel Trains at the beginning of the project in order to fully understand the requirements outlined in the provided specification document. The resulting increase in our understanding of the domain-specific concepts involved was to prove useful throughout the project.

Although the project was based on an up-front specification we used several Agile management techniques including running fixed length development sprints and estimating story complexity in abstract points. As well as enabling accurate reporting on project status we used sprint retrospective meetings to clear up some early risks and suggest several enhancements to the site. This helped make the end user experience more consistent and we were also able to save development effort and costs during the project.

The solution is built using ASP.NET Web Forms connecting to a SQL Server 2012 database using Microsoft’s Entity Framework. It also integrates with Microsoft SharePoint 2010 using the SharePoint client object model to store and display a variety of reports and documents. In order to achieve the required UI look and feel we made extensive use of a third party control library from Telerik, customising several of their controls when the functionality we needed was not available out of the box.

We delivered the first module on time and the framework we put in place allowed us to complete the rest of the required functionality on schedule and under budget. The new website brings together the functionality of several separate desktop applications providing a central portal into the complete Fleet Management System. Engineers are able to use the application off-site and data is now stored centrally allowing more powerful and simpler reporting functionality. There is a consistent look and feel throughout the application which simplifies training of users and also provides a framework on which to build the UI for future modules.

Applegate - E-Procurement Suite

More

Applegate commissioned Softwire to add a new dimension to its B2B marketplace site, creating a suite of e-procurement tools. This ambitious project revolutionised the business, significantly improving the measurable value Applegate offers its customers, and carrying it several steps ahead of its closest competition. This suite of tools enabled Applegate to launch a new service offering, by which buyers can make targeted requests for quotations (RFQs) for products and services, and suppliers can give targeted responses.

This project had several technical challenges, the biggest of which was integrating with Applegate’s existing systems. The current site spans many apps making use of a range of technologies, written over many years. Seamlessly integrating these existing components while still taking advantage of the newest technologies presented some interesting technical and design challenges.

Ensuring that Applegate’s site could stand up to the increased load expected upon release of the new tools, without any degradation of performance, added further complexity. Applegate anticipates that over the next few years its site will grow by an order of magnitude; we needed to ensure that the site could handle growth to over 100m products.

In order to tackle the technical challenges, Softwire began with a review of Applegate’s existing software estate. The output of that review was a detailed set of recommendations for changes to its existing technology stack. Concurrently with the technical review, we worked with Applegate to refine and prioritise the specification for its e-procurement suite, building up a project plan that maximised value for money and minimised risk.

The development then started in earnest, and was a shining example of Agile done well. We worked in a mixed development team alongside Applegate’s in-house staff to develop the new functionality in an iterative, flexible manner. We provided project management and development capabilities, with Applegate providing a dedicated Product Owner and some developers. This mixed profile maximised the team velocity, leveraged existing system knowledge, and ensured that Applegate’s internal team was in the perfect position to take on maintenance of the system after delivery. Applegate’s Product Owner was very closely involved throughout the development process, spending significant time on site with Softwire’s team. His close involvement led to rapid feedback loops, and he acted as a conduit to the rest of the business.

Softwire delivered the project to a fixed cost and timescale, but with a variable scope. This meant that the project team could respond to new ideas and changing demands, and most importantly, it meant that the team could adapt and flex to ensure that it was always delivering the functionality that resulted in the best business value.

The project launched with huge success. Applegate made a ‘soft launch’ with minimal publicity, and within a month it was already getting over double its first year target number of RFQs per week! Not only that, it had also attracted usage from major institutions around the world, including SpaceEx, Airbus and even the National University of Mongolia, and had handled RFQs for a range of goods and services from flight simulators to power supplies.

The success of the e-procurement suite hinged upon a very strong user experience. It needed to be simple and usable on mobile, tablet, and desktop, with no training necessary. By making use of modern front end technologies (TypeScript and Knockout.js) and responsive design techniques, we were able to deliver a slick and clean client side user interface for workflows such as generating RFQs or creating quotations. Additionally, through the use of LESS combined with responsive CSS, we were able to make the app fully functional and attractive across all screen sizes.

The project was a resounding success for both companies, thanks to the close ongoing communication between Applegate and Softwire. Applegate now has a solid e-procurement platform upon which it can continue to build and attract new businesses. Softwire’s transparent approach meant that Applegate was always aware of the risks and issues on the project, and always worked to resolve and mitigate them. This project was a true collaboration between the organisations, working in harmony to deliver real business value efficiently and quickly.

“Softwire is set apart from other companies by its truly collaborative approach, transparent communication and above all by the quality of its staff. These values mean we view Softwire as a trusted partner rather than as a supplier. Our first project delivered on time and on budget and exceeded the business goals. We are now working on our second project with Softwire and expect more will follow. Softwire has become an extension of our own organisation.”

 -Stuart Brocklehurst, CEO

Softwire was proud to be selected as a finalist in the Bristol Post’s 2016 ‘Best Creative or Technological Business Award’ for our work with Applegate.

Bristol Post Business finalist

BBC - The Listening Project

More

Softwire worked with the BBC to deliver an audio recording archive in support of The Listening Project, a major BBC initiative to record and preserve the experiences of UK citizens. We used our technical versatility and excellent project management to successfully deliver this project despite some big technical challenges and very hard deadlines. As part of this project we developed a generic audio upload solution in order to make similar projects easier in future, thus saving the BBC money and helping them to obtain more user-generated content.

The Listening Project is an ambitious, large-scale BBC initiative, in partnership with the British Library. The mission is to preserve, in an audio format, the stories and experiences of as many UK citizens as possible, to make these stories easily available online and broadcast a selection on Radio 4 and a number of regional radio stations. The BBC commissioned Softwire to produce an easy-to-use site which would enable listeners to access the full archive of recordings, and to upload their own.

In terms of its collection and presentation of audio files, this project had few precedents on the BBC site, and presented a number of interesting new technical challenges. Softwire worked closely with the BBC to ensure that not only did we meet these challenges for this particular project, but we also provided re-usable solutions for any similar projects in the future.

Large file uploads presented a particular issue given that the BBC platform is optimised for content delivery. Accepting large amounts of incoming data required careful architecting to ensure that the upload requests were not routed through presentation layer servers ill-suited to handle them. The BBC required listeners to enter some details along with their recordings. In order to give the site administrators a large degree of control, and to make the solution as re-usable as possible, Softwire created a generic audio upload platform,  which allows simple configuration of new upload forms through a combination of simple database changes and administration user interface.

The launch date for the project was set before Softwire had been engaged, and the heavy advertising of the site and accompanying radio show, via TV and radio trailers and a prominent place on the Radio 4 website, made that launch date an immovable hard deadline. Softwire assisted the BBC with some consultancy during the planning stage to weigh up alternative implementation options and help define a project which would reconcile the needs of a future-proof platform and a speedy delivery. In addition there were a number of stakeholders, including not only the BBC website owners, programme editors and publicists, but also the British Library archivists. However, our dedication, flexible resourcing and pro-active project management ensured that we were able to successfully deliver this project.

Scottish and Southern Energy

More

Scottish and Southern Energy commissioned Softwire to develop the Meter Communications Website (MCW). This is an internal website used to allow Customer Service Representatives to manage customers’ requests regarding their meters. The site allows the user to search for meters, pass on the customer’s request to the Itron Managed Service (IMS) for processing and to view reports on system usage.

The system is built using Microsoft’s ASP.NET MVC framework together with a Microsoft SQL Server database. It integrates with the existing Customer Services system and uses Active Directory to control user permissions. Communication with IMS is performed via a web service, using Windows Communication Foundation (WCF), combined with the generation and processing of files meeting a particular format.

It became apparent early in the project that it would not be possible to get access to a test version of the IMS system within the required timescales. Softwire met this challenge in the following ways:

  • We created a mock version of the IMS web service to develop against. This was based on the published interface, which meant that when the test service was available, it was straightforward to switch between the two.
  • We worked closely with SSE staff to simulate IMS file processing. We achieved this simulation by regularly sending the files generated by the system to SSE staff, who then ran them through the IMS system on our behalf.

Softwire recommended developing the MCW system using an Agile development methodology. The main development phase was broken up into a set of two week sprints. At the end of each sprint, Softwire loaded the system onto a test site, and performed a demo of the site to the end users at SSE.

This sprint process ensured that the users were able to view each area of functionality at an early stage, and could provide feedback to ensure that it met their usability needs. Additionally each release was fully tested, and the source code was available to SSE for code review. These combined to ensure that there was a high degree of confidence in the system when the final version was delivered.

The final release was delivered within the required timescales, and to a high level of quality. No significant issues were raised during the warranty period, and the project was handed over to the production support team.

BBC - Introducing rebuild

More

The BBC commissioned Softwire to perform major enhancements to their music-sharing application, BBC Introducing. Softwire’s understanding and management of the risks involved enabled them to deliver a robust, reliable application, reducing the BBC’s support burden tenfold.

The breadth and depth of Softwire’s technical knowledge made us the perfect partner for this challenging project. For example, this was the first JRuby application to be put on the BBC’s public platform, making it easier for the public to upload music to the application and thereby greatly increasing participation.

BBC Introducing is a pan-BBC initiative to discover Britain’s best unsigned musical talent and give it the break it deserves.  Upcoming artists can upload their music to the BBC via www.bbc.co.uk/music/introducing/uploader and it will be listened to by radio producers and dedicated listening panel members.  If they like what they hear, the music could be played on local and national radio (e.g. BBC 6 Music) and result in session time in a studio or an invitation to play on the BBC Introducing stage at a major festival.

Softwire were selected from a highly competitive tendering process to implement an improved Introducing application for the BBC, due in large part to our expertise with the wide variety of platforms and technologies required. The project involved moving the internal application used to track and listen to uploaded music from one platform (Ruby on Rails, hosted on the BBC’s internal network) to a new one (JRuby, hosted on their publicly-available network).

In addition we re-architected and re-implemented the upload process, applied a redesign to both the public-facing and internal applications, and most importantly developed a large number of enhancements to all areas of the application. The technologies involved in the project included JRuby, Ruby on Rails, Java, Apache Tomcat, MySQL, PHP and Zend.  The application integrated with a number of pre-existing BBC services, and adherence closely to the BBC’s demanding standards and guidelines.

The project broke a significant amount of new ground for the BBC, putting the first JRuby application on their public platform and taking advantage of new gateways and file stores. Softwire provided initial scoping and requirements consultancy to ensure that the project was well-defined and took account of the needs of all business stakeholders.

Softwire subsequently delivered the project in an Agile manner, with regular deliveries to the BBC’s servers to maintain a constant rate of visible progress. The BBC maintained a large degree of flexibility and control throughout the project, staying in close contact with the project team. This methodology gave the BBC clear guarantees on how much functionality they would receive for the budget available. The application is now live and serving the public, and was met with immediate praise from users.  As a result of the reliable implementation by Softwire, the support burden for the BBC has been reduced tenfold.

Newton Europe

More

“Softwire’s use of rapid prototyping gave us a working version of the software that delivered value from day one.”

Newton Europe is a consultancy of over 200 scientists and engineers, that specialises in delivering measurable, sustainable, operational and financial improvements to organisations from various sectors. Most recently it has been working with one of the UK’s leading defence companies to improve the way that work is planned, managed and executed across a major maritime construction project.

Softwire worked closely with Newton to create a planning product that allows the workforce to manage delivery of the plan on the vessel, leading to quicker, better decision making across the dockyard.

The project is one of the largest engineering projects ever undertaken in the UK and, like many large projects, there is opportunity to reduce the risk of overspends and overruns. Previously, a paper-based process was used to monitor build progress and days could pass before an issue was discussed or a resolution found. As a result, Newton was looking for a product that would more visibly track progress. Due to uncertainty around the finer specification details we decided to use rapid prototyping, whereby a scale model of a final product is created quickly and iteratively, allowing end-users to provide feedback frequently throughout the development process.

Our use of rapid prototyping had several benefits: the defence company saw value in the project very early in the process as its employees had access to the product from the first iteration, and so recognised its benefit to the build process. Using such a collaborative development method enabled end-users to provide feedback at numerous stages, and requests for additional functionalities were welcomed and fed into the various iterations of the product. Finally, the product’s importance was quickly recognised by individuals across other departments across the business, who then sought also to be involved with the trial to understand how it could benefit their area of the business.

The product permits the status of tasks to be updated daily, which can now be done online in real time. It has successfully streamlined the tracking of progress, prioritising the most critical issues, and will ultimately help to ensure the ship is delivered to plan. It is currently in the process of being piloted, and will be used widely by the business from white-collar to delivery lead. 

“The team at Softwire were fantastic. They quickly embedded themselves as part of the wider project team and offered valuable contribution and challenge. Their knowledge, attention to detail and willingness to go above and beyond is a big part of the reason we were able to sell a wider project to the client. Finally, the quality of what was produced was outstanding, especially given the tight timescales and changing requirements.” – Justin Geldof, Head of Digital Solutions at Newton

Allianz Global Assistance

More

Allianz Global Assistance is an insurance and roadside assistance provider and part of the larger Allianz Group.  Allianz Global have outsourced a number of their software development projects to Softwire since 2006.

Softwire’s first engagement with Allianz Global was to conduct an audit of their Warranty Extranet system and make recommendations for changes. Softwire conducted an audit of the complete system, from the code to the hosting environment, and made a series of recommendations for how to resolve the existing issues and mitigate against the risk of recurrence.

Our first development for Allianz Global was to develop the Online Renewals Website for motor warranty renewals. This was the start of a series of highly successful B2C motor warranty offerings provided by Allianz Global UK, and was developed and project managed by Softwire on a fixed price basis.

We have completed many development projects for Allianz Global since, including a B2C travel insurance website, and a hire-car claims website for dealerships, which integrates with the IAA system.

One of the largest projects undertaken by Softwire for Allianz Global Assistance was to develop a system to sell various insurance products for a major motor manufacturer.  The system consisted of a sales portal used by both end customers and the manufacturer’s dealer network to purchase policies; a claims and policy administration system used by the operations team; as well as various back office systems and reports for the underwriters and other parties.

The system was based on the ASP.NET’s MVC framework, C# and Microsoft SQL Server, using NHibernate.  One of the main technical challenges was integrating the system into the existing back-end systems such as reporting, financial reconciliation, payment, letter sending and the pricing engine.  We were able to overcome these by working closely with the internal teams responsible for these systems to ensure that everything met in the middle and that the system as a whole was effectively integration tested prior to go-live.

The other major challenge we faced was that the delivery date was, for various business reasons, firmly fixed and a significant amount was riding on it being successfully met.  Our strong lines of communication helped us to meet these challenges. We provided a weekly status email, including detailed risk and issue logs, as well as providing more frequent progress updates via email and telephone. We held regular sprint review and planning sessions to help Allianz Global to prioritise features and carefully manage dependencies. In this way we were able to deliver the completed system in time for a successful launch.

BBC - Newsbeat Mobile Application

More

The BBC commissioned Softwire to write native mobile applications showcasing their Newsbeat news content, as well as a fully responsive website.

Newsbeat is a public-facing brand targeting young people, who are dependent on mobile devices to access their content. In order to engage this demographic and enable Newsbeat to compete with other mobile news apps, it was important that the products we developed sent a clear message to their users that Newsbeat is a bespoke destination and not a copy of other BBC templates.

This meant building on Newsbeat’s existing brand while making the new user experience dynamic, for example through custom UI animations. The most significant challenge was building applications that were able to handle a high level of load. The apps were aimed at a large audience of young people, who have very high expectations of the software they use.

Prior research revealed that more than half of 16 to 24 year-olds prefer a smartphone to look at news websites or apps, highlighting the importance of the quality of our solution. Softwire were required to simultaneously deliver the responsive website, Android and iOS applications whilst keeping the user experience consistent across all platforms, to a tight deadline. Moreover, it was also important that the app worked effectively when offline or in flight mode.

Softwire worked closely with the BBC to incorporate innovative design and user feedback into the Newsbeat applications, focusing on creating a user experience which would delight the teen audience. Our team adapted flexibly to the evolving vision of the BBC designers, to ensure our apps met the BBC’s UI and functional requirements to a high standard.

Softwire used an Agile approach and worked collaboratively with the BBC’s in-house designers to prioritise their most important requirements, while retaining the flexibility to incorporate user feedback. This was integral to ensuring the applications met the BBC’s strict standards and the users’ needs effectively, and to keeping to the tight launch deadline.

In order to meet the predicted high level of load and the offline usage requirements, we architected the applications to make effective use of the BBC’s scalable AWS platform. This allowed the system to flexibly and quickly handle load spikes in a cost-effective manner, via a back-end architecture which was designed specifically for deployment to a scalable cloud platform. This involved pre-rendering much of the content and making appropriate use of caching to reduce server load and enable offline usage, while balancing this with the need for users to view up-to-date content.

The use of the AWS platform was relatively new within the BBC, so to ensure that the Newsbeat live launch would be successful, we set up and made regular releases to an internal AWS deployment, giving us a realistic staging environment for testing and customer feedback. We ran load tests to ensure that the system was able to scale efficiently to high levels of load. We also provided support for the BBC’s operations team during the release phase, working closely with them to provide clear instructions for deployment and being available to answer any questions.

By providing this dedicated support, the live launch was achieved successfully despite the challenge of Softwire having no access to the BBC’s cloud platform infrastructure. The modern new suite of Newsbeat web and mobile applications showcase the BBC’s Newsbeat brand in a way that engages young people. They deliver an excellent user experience across a wide range of devices,  as well as successfully scaling to a high level of load and remaining highly accessible.

The BBC are very happy with the result, specifically commenting on the quality of the user experience. The system is now live and in use on all three platforms, attracting 2 million visitors per week shortly after launch with no subsequent issues. On release, Newsbeat Editor Louisa Compton said, “Newsbeat is the best place for young adults to get their news. The new app will make it even easier for our audience to get the news that’s important and relevant to them at the touch of a button.” The vast majority of users have rated the applications as 4* or 5* on the Google Play Store and Apple App Store, with a host of positive reviews.

Angel Trains - Mobile Defect Reporting Application

More

Softwire were commissioned by Angel Trains (one of the UK’s leading train leasing companies) to rewrite an application used by their engineers to record the results of inspections, and to generate reports containing descriptions and photos of defects. The application runs on a Windows 8 touchscreen tablet which the engineers take with them to train depots to carry out their inspections.

One of the challenges of working with trains is that they are often in locations underground or not in range of mobile networks. Since the app has to be fully functional when offline, each tablet would need its own local database. The data must then be synchronised to a central database once the engineers were able to connect to the network.

A key challenge of the project was ensuring that the user interface of the application was intuitive and easy to use, as the app would be typically used whilst outdoors in the dark and cold. Softwire worked closely with Angel Trains using an Agile approach to obtain regular feedback from a number of stakeholders, including engineers using the app in the field.

We were subsequently able to refine the specifications to include some enhancements and exclude any functionality that wasn’t useful in the original application. The Softwire team were originally provided with the specification document for the app they were replacing which was several years old.

During the project it became apparent that the old application was unfit for use and it and would need to be replaced before a major upcoming inspection. This meant that the agreed delivery date would have to be brought forward to avoid any disruption to engineers carrying out inspections on trains. The team quickly reprioritised their tasks such that they had a fully functional app ready by the inspection date, enabling the business to function smoothly and without any disruption.

Once the initial release was complete the Softwire moved on to other necessary but less time-critical features such as report generation and data synchronisation. We delivered an app which allowed the engineers to easily and efficiently record their inspection details, thus benefiting the business through time saved. As the engineers had been regularly trialing our interim releases and giving feedback on our progress, no significant changes were required to the initial release of the app despite the challenging timescales.

The new application is not only more robust, reliable and easy to maintain, it is also much more suited to its purpose, due to our close collaboration with the end users throughout the development process.

Airwave - Asset Manager Enterprise

More

Softwire provided Airwave with a seamless transition from their outdated and unwieldy web application based on an Access DB, to a modern, scalable SQL-based solution, enabling them to increase the number and size of the organisations they could support and thereby significantly grow their business.

Airwave delivers critical communications solutions to organisations involved in providing vital services to the public. Their customers include the police, fire and ambulance services as well as more than 150 other organisations with a public services role.

Converting from MS Access to SQL Server and improving scalability

Airwave commissioned Softwire to develop an asset management system targeted at UK Emergency Services.  Their existing system, written in ASP and VB on top of an MS Access DB, had reached the end of its lifecycle and was proving hard to scale or modify in order to accommodate their customers’ needs. Softwire invited stakeholders from Airwave and a number of their customers to provide input and feedback into the new user interface, to ensure that the modernisation process retained the familiarity and usability of the old interface.

The new system is based on Microsoft’s ASP.NET MVC platform and targets both Oracle and Microsoft SQL Server as a database backend. Softwire architected the database in such a way as to make the conversion from the Access Database as smooth as possible The system was designed in a modular, extensible manner. This enabled Airwave to increase the marketability of the product, by offering licenses for individual modules or the entire product suite, and enhancing the system to meet their customers’ needs.

Sensitive data and complex workflow

A custom workflow management system handles the movement of assets through statuses and between locations. In addition to normal asset tracking and management functions, the system also interfaces with TETRA radios and networks to provide seamless management and commissioning of TETRA radio assets.  It is a large and complex system, representing several man years of effort.

Owing to the sensitive nature of the assets which are tracked in the system, data security is a primary concern and the application has a sophisticated access control and auditing system. Softwire used their expertise in web security and thorough testing procedures to architect a robust system with a sophisticated access control and auditing component, thereby providing customers with confidence in the security of the sensitive data involved.

Agile development and reliable delivery

Softwire used an Agile development methodology (Scrum) with a cross-functional team of developers, testers and analysts.  The development phase consisted of a series of cycles (“sprints”), each three weeks long. At the end of each sprint Softwire made a fully tested release to Airwave, which was reviewed and used to determine the development priorities for the next sprint. This process brought a number of significant benefits:

  • Regular reviews ensured that Airwave could react to changing customer priorities and emergent requirements, ensuring that the final system met all their business needs.
  • Softwire’s use of a cross-functional team of developers, testers and analysts meant that each release was fully planned and tested, ensuring that quality was baked into the system from the start, minimising the number of issues found post-launch.
  • Regular releases and a commitment to ensuring that functionality in each release was in a fully complete and shippable condition allowed Airwave to test the system throughout the project, and to have a good overview of the project progress. This provided them with peace of mind and confidence in the project outcome.
  • All stakeholders were involved throughout the development process and could contribute to functionality decisions whilst minimising scope and schedule creep, enabling Softwire to deliver the system on time and to budget without compromising on functionality.
  • The commitment of Airwave and customer stakeholders to the Agile process meant that Softwire were able to offer a fixed price yet still cope with emerging requirements without a heavy change management overhead – truly the best of both worlds for the customer!

The end result was a robust, scalable system which met the needs of its users.  Despite its size and complexity, it was delivered on time, on budget and to a very high level of quality.

Yudu Media - iPad Reader Application

More

Softwire met extremely challenging deadlines and enabled YUDU media to release one of the first apps on the iPad platform. By doing so without compromising on quality, we delivered one of the most robust, usable iPad reader solutions on the market, helping YUDU to maintain their reputation for innovation and creativity.

Softwire have worked with YUDU for many years; architecting, implementing and enhancing YUDU’s successful online digital publishing platform.  This platform translates traditional documents such as PDFs into rich, interactive, Flash-based in-browser experiences.

Softwire were therefore a natural choice for YUDU when it came to extending their platform to the mobile consumer.  YUDU commissioned Softwire to design and develop a rebrandable content reader application targeting the Apple iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch families.

Softwire provided a full service throughout the entire product lifecycle: working with YUDU to discuss and refine specifications, designing, developing and testing the software, deploying to the Apple App Store, and providing on-going support and enhancements.

Softwire worked in close communication with technical and sales staff from YUDU to produce a solution that was closely aligned with the changing priorities of YUDU’s customers, whilst working to an aggressive deadline. Softwire met this deadline and enabled YUDU to be amongst the first to market on the iPad platform.

Softwire delivered:

  • An application able to read and display PDF content, targeting the iPad and also the iPhone and iPod Touch families. A smooth and slick user experience was paramount in order to fully take advantage of the tactile and responsive iPad platform.
  • Seamless integration with (and extension of) the YUDU Pro publishing platform. The app not only displays PDFs published on the core system, but adds interactive functionality such as inline video display, web, email and phone links, page navigation and textual search, amongst others.
  • Quick and simple rebranding functionality, allowing YUDU’s clients to easily customise the look and feel of the application displaying their publications.
  • A clean architecture allowing future extensibility, as well as full forwards- and backwards-compatibility.  This will ensure that content can always be read, regardless of the version of the app or age of the published content.

The iPad app was written in Objective C using the Cocoa API and the iPhone SDK. The Yudu Pro extensions were written in Java, using various Java Enterprise technologies, such as JBoss, Spring MVC and Java Persistence backed by Oracle databases.

Softwire delivered to both the agreed schedule and planned budget. The finished product is impressive, slick and intuitive, a strong player in the digital publishing space on Apple devices, and an important part of YUDU Media’s successful catalogue of publishing solutions.

Cambridge University Press - Educational Software Platform

More

When Softwire was asked by Cambridge University Press to deliver four educational software products our consultants quickly spotted an opportunity to add extra value. We designed and subsequently built a generic, extensible delivery platform, letting CUP rapidly produce new products at a fraction of the previous cost. The successful delivery of this platform, and Softwire’s on-going responsive and reliable service, has generated a lucrative extra revenue stream for CUP, not to mention helping them to win a prestigious award.

The original requirement was for a series of four interactive CD-ROMs to accompany the face2face series of books for students learning English. As part of the initial consultancy phase, Softwire identified that it would be more cost effective to create a generic Flash-based CD-ROM delivery platform based around a single data-driven application plus a Content Management System to administer and publish the CD-ROM contents, instead of developing each interactive CD-ROM as a separate, standalone project.

This indeed proved to be the case, and the resulting time saving allowed the development of additional features within the project budget which helped the face2face Elementary CD-ROM win a prestigious award for CUP. Subsequently, the original face2face platform has been extended and enhanced for other CUP publications including Objective IELTS, English in Mind and Essential Grammar in Use.

All of these projects have benefited from the fact that the original feature-set supported by face2face comes essentially ‘for free’ as it can be re-used with the new content without requiring any additional software development effort, thereby providing extremely good value for money for CUP.

On a technical level the interactive CD-ROM application is built using Flash and exposes a clear and intuitive user interface – this being a key requirement as the intended user base, by definition, speak only basic English. The Content Management System is web-based and built using ASP.NET with a backend SQL Server database. This is hosted directly by CUP and supported by Softwire on an ongoing basis.

Thales

More

Thales Information Systems Security (ISS) is a world leading provider of information and communications security solutions.

Thales engaged Softwire to deliver a powerful single sign-on solution (SSO) for their existing SafeSign product suite and the UK local government market, to a tight deadline.

Softwire provided a range of services covering the full project lifecycle:

  • Initial specification refinement consultancy to formalise Thales’ vision for the product, and incorporate the specific needs of potential clients.
  • Development, conducted in an Agile manner. Softwire made regular releases which were reviewed by Thales, and used to guide development priorities and adapt to emerging requirements.
  • Comprehensive documentation; for users, integrators and developers.
  • Code handover, including a full codebase walkthrough.
  • Provision of interactive training workshops for the ISS professional services team.

The SSO gateway was architected as: a central login gateway and administrator interface, supported by desktop, web and VPN clients to handle login integration with existing systems. Technologies and standards used included Java, Struts2, Hibernate, Tomcat, InstallAnywhere (targeting Windows and Linux) and SAML2 (security communications protocol).

The range of cryptographic functions required (e.g. one-time-password verifications, challenge-response verification, XML signing) was provided by integrating with SafeSign Authentication Server via a bespoke API.

The system was tested exhaustively, via continuous unit testing (via FitNesse, JUnit and EasyB), end of sprint system testing, a thorough UAT period conducted by Thales, and penetration testing carried out externally.

The end result was a well-featured, robust, flexible, extensible and well documented product, produced on time and within budget, ready to be packaged and sold as part of the SafeSign product suite.

Lighter Life

More

LighterLife asked Softwire to help complete a suite of client management software for weight loss counsellors. Initially Softwire were working only on the server code, with existing contractors working on the desktop client. However LighterLife rapidly made the decision to use Softwire to replace the contractors, as the Softwire team were delivering much better value.

On taking over the client application development it became apparent that there was much more work remaining than LighterLife anticipated. In addition the low quality of the existing code and lack of documentation also had the potential to hamper development of the remaining features. The challenge of rescuing the project was made even greater by a hard deadline for a beta release of the application for a demonstration.

An in-depth project review and gap analysis phase fully defined the scope of the project. Agile techniques allowed a clear focus on critical functionality for the initial release. On taking over the project we made a full scope review our top priority to get an idea of the work remaining.

We ran several scoping workshops at LighterLife’s office in order to specify all of the required functionality in terms of user stories. These stories were then assigned points values based on their estimated size. We also carried out a review of the existing code, highlighting key areas of the codebase where complexity could be reduced without sacrificing critical functionality. This significantly increased the speed at which we could develop new features.

To ensure that we were developing exactly what LighterLife needed there was a daily dialog between the Softwire project manager and the LighterLife team. The project manager spent one day per week at the LighterLife office allowing in-depth refinement of the scope. We ran Agile development sprints and demonstrated completed work to LighterLife fortnightly. Our backlog of user stories allowed us to report accurately on project progress, and was instrumental in deciding what stories to include for each release.

Through a combination of rapid development work and prioritisation of business-critical functionality Softwire turned the failing project around, delivering a working product in time for LighterLife’s counsellor conference. The new suite of applications is at the core of LighterLife’s business and is used daily by all of their weight loss counsellors, as well as central office administration staff. The new desktop client speeds up data entry for counsellors allowing them to dramatically reduce the time they spend doing administrative work.

Softwire’s focus on writing highly maintainable code has made it easy to make changes to the application as LighterLife’s business model evolves, ensuring that we have continued to deliver value for money for the whole lifetime of the product.

RSA Security

More

Softwire provide consulting and development services to build bespoke integrated solutions for RSA’s customers. Our professionalism and technical versatility provide RSA and their customers with confidence in the outcome of business critical projects, and thereby help RSA to obtain more business.

RSA, The Security Division of EMC is one of the largest providers of secure cryptographic systems in the world. On one project for a major financial institution, Softwire implemented a remote registration authority to manage the issuing of smart cards and their associated certificates to system users. Softwire initially provided consultancy services to work with the end customer to understand their integration requirements in depth. This was followed by a detailed design phase during which we provided a comprehensive design document for signoff by all interested parties.

Softwire then integrated RSA’s products with the customer’s existing solution. This involved development of a registration website and an associated Windows service plus interfaces to a number of external systems.

In order to succeed at delivering this project Softwire had to communicate clearly and accurately with a number of different organisations including RSA, their customer, the smart card provider and another cryptographic service provider. We did so by maintaining open communication channels throughout the project and working very closely with RSA’s own project manager to ensure that any technical issues were identified and resolved quickly. Our professionalism and deep understanding of the technology involved maintained RSA’s good relationship with this important customer.

Overall this was a challenging project on both a technical and management level, but one that Softwire helped to ensure was delivered successfully.

Torridon Solutions

More

Torridon Solutions are project management software specialists who approached Softwire to develop their flagship software product – Swiftlight™ – having undertaken an extensive review of the market for both onshore and offshore software development partners.

At the start of the project Torridon had a very clear vision of the product and customer experience they wanted to create. Softwire’s job was therefore to help to make that vision a reality. The product itself is a desktop application which is targeted at smaller scale projects and a general management audience in organizations of all sizes. With an intuitive and powerful graphical user interface, Swiftlight™ combines outstanding ease of use, clear visuals and a smart structure in a way that encourages best practice, makes it fast and easy to create and modify project plans, and makes it easier to communicate those plans around an organization.

Softwire began by prototyping and subsequently fleshing out some of the more complex application views, both as a proof-of-concept and to reduce the technical risk in later phases. Having successfully completed this task we continued to develop further application views and features under Torridon’s direction, all the time maintaining clear and open communication channels with Torridon’s management team.

The product is implemented using C#.NET and incorporates a number of third party technologies to provide advanced capabilities where required, notably for custom application views, licensing and activation, and Microsoft Office integration. Softwire managed all technical interaction with these third party vendors.

At the time of writing the product is going into launch following an extensive system testing phase. The indications from beta testing and early customers are strongly encouraging. Softwire expect to continue working with Torridon for the foreseeable future to provide ongoing technical support and further development of new features as the market demands.

ABI – Association of British Insurers – Softwire

More

We were tasked with replacing the ABI’s existing legacy system used for data gathering and reporting (ABICAS). This legacy system had a number of issues; among the worst were its severe performance problems, which made it frustrating for ABI member companies to upload their data.
Its dated interface was confusing for end users outside of the ABI to use, and made setting up of new data-collection templates by ABI staff difficult and time-consuming.

The importance of staying on budget was paramount. On-time delivery was also critical as deployment of the new system had to fit in with the customer’s annual reporting cycle.
The Softwire team began with an initial scoping phase to confirm the project scope. Leaning on our extensive experience in building financial systems, we then created prototypes of a number of key features of the system to ensure they were technically feasible, and to make development estimates more accurate.
The Softwire team performed a complex data migration involving:
● A large amount of historical data
● Variable data quality
● A move to a very different schema to improve performance
● Integration with and enhancements to Dynamics CRM.

We used a cloud-based solution – Microsoft Azure – for scaling and reliability when coping with high levels of load and data input.

Softwire ensured that the transition to the new system was smooth running by fortnightly collaborative sessions with end users. At each of these, we would get the whole team involved to keep feedback cycles short and align as accurately as possible with the ABI’s needs. We also used these opportunities to demo our progress and help users start ramping up on the new system. This approach helped us meet the tight deadline that would to provide the most value to the ABI.

Softwire successfully replaced the ABI’s existing suite of statistics collection applications with a more responsive, easier to use web application, and did so on time and on budget. Integration with the ABI’s existing Dynamics CRM platform now makes editing of user roles simple and intuitive, and provides a single repository of company data.

Drag and drop Excel uploads coupled with live-updating online editing makes submitting and correcting data quick and simple – exceeding the client’s expectations.

When it was barely out the door, the new system was already receiving positive feedback from its users. It has also helped ABI reap other business benefits by saving time, driving up response rates and improving data quality.

The National Theatre

More

The National Theatre in London stages up to thirty productions every year.  Softwire was commissioned through a competitive tender process to replace their existing Rep Chart – a complex manual spreadsheet used for planning, scheduling and making cost estimations, which is central to the process of planning the programme of productions in their three theatres. Softwire developed a responsive web application to replace the existing spreadsheet.

The NT typically juggles 2 or 3 shows “in rep” at a time, so the new Rep Chart had to capture the complexity of the workflow clearly, while incorporating actors’ availability, working hours, and logistics for stage crews. Typically, the repertoire is planned up to 24 months ahead, often with several ‘versions’ of the chart necessary to capture several scenarios, such as potential availability of a particular actor or director, or the estimated completion of a particular piece of writing.

Furthermore, the new Rep Chart had to be printable, and at least as clearly presented in printed form as the previous offline version had been. Real-time updates any time users made changes to the Rep Chart were also essential adding to the technical challenge.

In order to realise the best value for the NT, Softwire collaborated with them to re-prioritise and determine which of the requirements were most vital to a fully functioning system.

We began with the design phase. Several workshops were held with a multi-disciplinary National Theatre team. This process helped us understand the systems and business requirements. Through this collaborative approach we created flow diagrams and domain model diagrams representing the life-cycle of a show run, making sure that our solution provided enough control and flexibility for the National Theatre to update their production data as required.

This project was co-sourced with the NT development team. The Softwire team managed their developers as part of the delivery team ensuring that there was sufficient knowledge transfer enabling them to take over development and support once the project was complete.

Design and development worked concurrently within an iterative process. Once the basic features were in place and key requirements captured, Softwire worked in weekly sprints, wherein each sprint had a specific focus. At the end of each sprint, we presented an updated demo to the National Theatre to demonstrate progress and rectify any issues within a short feedback loop.

Our new User Interface (UI) design maintained the NT’s existing visual notation – line weights, dots, words in certain positions are all meaningful to the user and should be kept consistent. Our mock-ups of the site, built with Photoshop, illustrated this design and ensured that it was in line with the NT’s requirements. We used the Twitter Bootstrap framework to translate this into a web-based format saving time and money in comparison to a bespoke UI built from scratch. Softwire’s approach contributed to the successful completion of the project to time and budget.

Real-time updating in the UI was resolved by using Knockout JavaScript framework specifically designed for this scenario. Our team applied their Knockout expertise to optimise its use for excellent performance.

Most importantly, we solved UI problems through collaboration. We held onsite workshops, pairing sessions, and performed early user testing to get quick feedback from the NT. This way, any issues that arose were fixed quickly and cheaply, resulting in a slick and intuitive interface.

Our highly productive team delivered the agreed scope so quickly that we were able to squeeze in additional functionality, ultimately over-delivering while remaining within budget. One of the value-added features includes a cost estimation tool that makes intelligent assumptions on costs based on actors and technicians booked at any given time, allowing the NT to choose the most cost effective scenarios.

To ensure a smooth transition from the old spreadsheet to the new bespoke Rep Chart web application, Softwire provided hands-on training to the National Theatre staff onsite. The National Theatre were extremely happy with the finished web tool, especially its ease of use and responsiveness

David Lloyd Leisure - Mobile booking app

More

Softwire were commissioned by David Lloyd to create a bespoke mobile app to allow their members to book exercise classes and tennis courts. The app had to be compatible with both Android and iOS platforms and David Lloyd wanted to be able to roll out other platforms in the future without incurring any great additional cost. David Lloyd wanted to launch the app before their busy September season to attract new customers, but they also understood that their specification was too fully-featured to be delivered by this deadline. A crucial challenge for Softwire was to develop a minimum viable product that we were sure we could complete in time, whilst also creating an app that David Lloyd could be proud of.

Quality was crucial for this app. Research from current members at the clubs captured a desire that it “felt like an app” rather than just a mobile web experience. So the team at Softwire also needed to deliver a product that was fun to use, had smooth transitions, and capable of supporting a high level of load. Softwire adapted quickly to the client’s business requirements through using PhoneGap, which allows mobile apps to be built cost effectively across platforms, and breaking the project down allowing a phased approach. Softwire suggested PhoneGap as a platform that could enable a visually impressive app and cut out the time consuming demand of writing separate native applications for Android and iOS phones. PhoneGap combines familiar responsive web technologies with access to native phone features, so that a single application can rapidly be built once to run on multiple platforms. It does this by building an app which is a web-view onto a website hosted within the app.  Although the use of PhoneGap was effective in the rapid development of the application, the iOS app still had to meet specific requirements in order to be listed on Apple’s App Store. One of the requirements was that the product “felt like an app, not like a website.” We addressed these concerns by using a single-page architecture, which meant that all the code is bundled into the initial download – that way, all our pages load instantly, without having to wait for any code to be downloaded once in use and also provides a good user experience even when offline. It was imperative our team delivered an MVP to the client on time. In order to achieve this Softwire split the requirements into many small components in order to make the work as parallelisable as possible for the larger team. It was important to David Lloyd that extending the MVP with additional features would be easy to do in the future, Softwire ensured this would be possible through architecting the product in a flexible, modular way and including a comprehensive regression test suite. Softwire delivered the new mobile app on time and on budget demonstrating our ability to fully understand the technical requirements and how to deliver them. The team at David Lloyd are universally happy with the quality of theapp we delivered and the app has received positive reviews on Google Play and the App Store.  Since the launch of the mobile app David Lloyd has seen the desired shift in their business that they wanted to achieve. The workload of reception staff has decreased due to class bookings being made through the app meaning staff are free to spend more time providing excellent customer service.

Stats:

  • 140,000 downloads on iTunes / 33,000 downloads on Google Play
  • 24,000 class bookings per day / 70% of all bookings made through app
  • Gold Winner at the “UK [app] design awards” in the Leisure category