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WMFS: Case Study

West Midlands Fire Service: A Cross-Platform Process Management Solution

cloudThing were asked to create a modern front-end User Interface (UI) for a variety of cross-platform applications to help West Midlands Fire Service manage, report on and improve their processes.

The finished front-end User Interface (UI) needed to be flexible, modular and able to be deployed in vastly different scenarios to gather, process and distribute data without compromising on efficiency whilst also be capable of working both on and off-line, seamlessly updating the server if information had been inputted offline once an internet connection was re-established.

Who Are West Midlands Fire Service?

West Midlands Fire Service are the second-largest Fire and Rescue service in the UK.

They serve a diverse population across Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton, covering an area of 902 square kilometres; a territory which includes some of the highest risk areas in England outside of London.

They maintain thirty-eight fire stations across the West Midlands whilst employing over 1,200 firefighters and a fleet of 41 PRL's (Pump rescue ladders), 19 BRV's (Brigade Response Vehicles) and 3 BSV's (Business Support Vehicles) in addition to various specialist appliances and transport vehicles.

 

A large part of their day to day activities involve engaging with the community (including offering professional and educational training), undertaking fire safety audits of homes, commercial properties but also much, much more.

They divide their main functions into three discrete areas:

  •  Response
  • Prevention
  • Protection

 

Response covers responding to emergencies, risk-based attendance standards, dynamic mobilising and Fire Control.

Prevention covers their up-stream firefighting work that includes safe and well visits, community engagement, vulnerable persons officers and other individual and home-based fire prevention work.

Protection covers their work around commercial and business fire safety, licensing and safety around buildings such as high-rise and apartment blocks.

Reasons For Change

West Midlands Fire Service (or WMFS for short) had identified a need to modernise how they recorded, shared and used data from all their fire service activities collected in the field.

With that goal in mind they wanted to build a cross-platform application that would ensure all appropriate staff members could both input and view data easily and efficiently, whether they were conducting a review of corporate premises or they were at the scene of a blaze and needed to update HQ.

Previously, different data sets were being collected and stored in a variety of different locations through various applications, only available to certain people, each with separate log in requirements but WMFS wanted it unified and accessible under one interface.

 

This included the need to build a new mobile application that would contribute to the Authority's vision of 90% of all front-line data collection input on mobile devices by May 2018.

WMFS needed an IT partner to help them build and design the frontend of this new cross-platform application to ensure it was simple to use, looked great and was adaptable enough to work across multiple scenarios and business processes. 

 

  • Health & Safety Risk Evaluation Forms: These need to be completed by firefighters when completing Health & Safety assessments, but the system used to collect them had a separate log in, UI (User Interface) and server for storing all the data on.
  • Safety Inspection Forms at Disaster Scenes: Oft times at a disaster scene (which could be anything from a kitchen fire up) a cordon will need to be set up. This needs to be risk assessed before setting up to ensure it’s at a suitable distance to keep the public safe then re-evaluated and updated, in real time, as the emergency progresses. Again, these forms were all stored on a separate server requiring a separate log in and familiarisation with a different UI (User Interface).
  • Informational Databases: The Service maintained multiple, different databases regarding Health & Safety information amongst other things that were all stored in disparate locations with different GDPR concerns.
  • Fire Engine Server Racks: Most wouldn’t realise it but fire engines, as well as emergency equipment, carry a server rack onboard. This rack holds multiple servers that can update the location of the fire engine in real time and allow for personal to be coordinated from HQ.Again, unfortunately with a different log in required, a different back end and another UI (User Interface).

The Discovery Phase

West Midlands Fire Service had a fair idea of what they needed from their project and so put the entire thing out to public tender.

cloudThing were selected as their partner of choice when WMFS decided we demonstrated a deep and expert-level knowledge of both the final technical solution but also the processes that would be involved in reaching it.

They felt we were the only ones with both the experience of projects of this scale and the ‘tech know how’ to successfully (and efficiently) deliver their goals.

Unlike the other companies that went to tender we were also able to offer them a fixed price solution so they were confident costs wouldn’t spiral mid project.

 

Early in the tender process WMFS let us know that the end solution should be capable of being an open-source platform that they could share with other public sector organisations and that the project wouldn’t involve building (or re-building) a back-end system for them.

Instead, they were looking for a single, front end User Interface (UI) solution that would offer an excellent User Experience (UX) to various end user personas whilst being able to access the different servers and back end systems that already existed whilst routing everything through a centralized log in.

 

When we started working with them WMFS already had a team of in-house developers, however their team didn’t include any front-end developers that were experienced in java script or UX design.

Given that, the decision was made that they could save money on the overall project if cloudThing didn’t implement the end solution. Instead we created a working example of the new front-end interface which the WMFS dev team could replicate themselves.

This process involved upskilling their team in various different areas, from our AGILE method of working through to specific coding skills they’d need to implement it.

We also mapped out the various user journey’s that would be required to use the app, with input from all key stakeholders at WMFS, that they could replicate going forward if changes to the application became necessary with the skills we’d imparted to their teams.

Building The Cross-Platform Front-End User Interface (UI)

West Midlands Fire service were very pleased with the end solution.

So much so in fact that the entire front-end system was launched as an open-source platform to share with other public sector organisations.

You can see the open-source platform here >> https://tymly.io/

 

When finished the application was a single app, cross-platform, able to act as a front-end UI for multiple different back-end systems at once.

Unlike normal Android or IOS apps, Tymly (as it’s called) will work on laptops, desktops, mobiles and tablets, both off and online – something that was vital for Emergency Responders working in unpredictable conditions.

The application can continue working seamlessly whether it has access to the internet or not, uploading any data that’s been added once a connection is re-established.

Using reactive native meant end users wouldn’t need to download different versions of the app depending on what device they were using at the time.

Tymly is capable of working across them all with just one user log in.

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