Asset Management for GOV.UK
The Government Digital Service publishing system stores, processes and serves millions of assets - typically PDF documents that provide information to citizens but also things like pictures of politicians. In order to reduce costs and improve reliability we helped the team migrate 6 different publishing systems to use a single asset management API and moved all of the assets from self-hosted servers to Amazon’s AWS platform.
The Government Digital Service commissioned us (through the Digital Outcomes and Specialists framework) to help them refactor and improve a rails application used to publish “manuals” - a type of document format used to publish things such as The Highway Code. We were wary, as ever, of doing a full rewrite and so incrementally refactored the application, upgraded its dependencies and made it much simpler to maintain and improve.
GDS asked if we could help with the development of Smart Answers in early 2015.
The app had been somewhat neglected and, as a result, required a lot of effort from the development and content teams to maintain it. Our brief was to reduce this maintenance cost. After initially exploring some alternative implementations we eventually decided to focus on reducing developer effort by improving the existing app.
We spent a good part of the following year refactoring and incrementally improving the code base.
We spent about 3 months between Nov 2014 and Feb 2015 embedded within the development team at FutureLearn. Our remit was to share and help develop best practices within the team. We approached this by pairing with different members of the team to deliver product features in the backlog.
We wrapped the project up by preparing and delivering a presentation about pair programming.
We learnt quite a bit while helping FutureLearn with their video player and wondered how easy it would be to glue some components together to create something similar to existing full-stack video services.
To this end we’ve created a Rails app which uses AWS Elastic Transcoder to transcode videos and AWS S3 & CloudFront to host & distribute the transcoded videos. We provide instructions on how to setup the VideoJS player on your website and we plan to provide instructions for other open-source players.
We think it’s important that the user owns their own URLs so we make it easy to host the video assets on your own domain. We’re committed to avoiding any kind of vendor lock-in. You can read more about GFR Video on its “about” page.
We were very frustrated with the quality of the online banking experience delivered by high street banks and the lamentably slow pace of change. So we decided to invest some of our own time in investigating whether we could set up some kind of very simple, online-only bank-like entity in order to demonstrate how much better things could be.
It quickly became apparent that starting a credit union was the most obvious approach, which is why the we called it Project Credit Union, but really that’s just one way of tackling the problem.
We started by working on the project full-time for a couple of weeks and started building a wiki. We wrote a manifesto which summarised what we hoped to achieve and daily notes to record our progress.
After a short break, we agreed to take on a more self-contained project for FutureLearn to improve their video solution. They were using a third-party service both to transcode, store & serve the videos, and to render a client-side video player. However, quite a lot of problems were being reported by users.
Initially we focussed on getting a better understanding of the problems. We then evaluated a number of possible solutions, before homing in on a hybrid solution where we replaced the third-party player with a better open-source alternative while retaining the server-side components of the third-party service.
FutureLearn MOOC Platform
FutureLearn, a start-up founded by the Open University, approached us in April 2013 to help build the first UK platform for massive open online courses (MOOCs). We jumped at the chance to get involved in such an exciting project!
We played an important role in the team from the beginning; promoting a strong agile development culture as we helped ensure the platform was ready for the public launch in September 2013, and then again for the uncapped courses in January 2014.
We think it’s a great project, with a great team, and we’re proud to have been involved.
Harmonia is a web-based application which captures, schedules and assigns all of the peripheral tasks and chores that a team needs to perform as part of their normal routine.
From writing weeknotes to chasing invoices to hosting social events, Harmonia will assign responsibility for completing each task randomly but fairly within the team, so everyone knows who is taking care of what.
Government Single Domain
We worked with GDS to help deliver the “Single Domain Project” for the UK government. The aim of the project is to deliver a simpler, smaller, nimbler, cheaper and better gov.uk domain for citizens and businesses to interact with the government and its services. This involves consolidating services from the multitude of existing government agency websites into a single, modern and usable system.
Our specific role was to develop a platform to allow the various government departments and agencies to communicate with the public about their policies, publications and goals in a uniform way to increase the clarify, usefulness and reusability of that information.
Voicenet VOIP API
We worked with Voicenet to explore how exposing APIs might improve services for their customers.
We used JRuby to interface with existing Java APIs, along with EventMachine and XMPP to interface with external asynchronous services.
In 2010 O2 asked us to help them explore new approaches to software development, database technologies and open collaboration with their customers. We built a working prototype / beta replicating one of O2’s existing products which let customers access text messages online. Working iteratively, we designed and built an API to securely expose this data, and #blue, a front-end application which consumed this data.
We then worked with O2 to scale and integrate the service directly into O2’s data network, allowing it to support hundreds of thousands of customers, whilst remaining responsive to the feedback and direction provided by the users of #blue. After getting their development team up to speed, we handed over development of #blue to O2.
Using a custom HTML5 application running on iPhones, vendors recorded purchases of tea and coffee, and an array of statistics were projected and displayed on screens around the conference.
Using an Oyster card users swipe in and out of tube stations, ride the overground and jump on buses, accruing points for themselves and their team. The game includes missions, collections and achievements which can be unlocked via game mechanics such as location, time and speed.
The game is open to the public now.
Check it out: http://chromaroma.com