The Bit-Wizards solution delivery team assessed South Walton Fire District’s (SWFD) legacy backend portal written in PHP which is used to manage their day-to-day internal operations. Bit-Wizards redeveloped the portal in the latest version of ASP.NET Core.
SWFD’s daily operations management tool, Digital Emergency Services (DES), needed a redesign and code rewrite. Over time, this tool required maintenance that was difficult to perform due to its age. SWFD also faced challenges around efficiency, flexibility, and security for DES. They continued to incur technical debt because they lacked a vendor that could maintain the tool adequately. Thus they also continued to experience bugs, and a lack of needed new features that were vital to improving their productivity. Advancements in technology offered SWFD a new option for a change to DES. The Bit-Wizards team employs experts across technology platforms and were able to steer SWFD in the right direction for this vital project.
The Bit-Wizards team worked closely with SWFD to choose the right platform for the new solution. Because the DES application is an entirely custom-built PHP portal and most of the application is data-driven, there was little need for user interface modification or content personalization other than when new modules would require development. Thus, there was also not a need for the overhead of a Content Management System (CMS). Bit-Wizards chose the ASP.NET Core platform which provides an up-to-date, extensible, and secure platform to manage users, authentication, and data. Entity Framework Core allowed them to quickly create database structure and import legacy data efficiently and reliably. Using a model-first approach Bit-Wizards was able to focus more on the feature and application development rather than focus on database design which saves time and thus development cost.
This project was a complete rewrite of the existing DES portal with a design and functionality update.
Along with the development of the new DES Portal, Bit-Wizards built an integration to the newly launched SWFD Public Website. This integration allows users to enter beach flag warning data into DES while the system automatically pushes that information to both the website and their social channels on Facebook and Twitter. The other integration comes into play with SWFD’s CAD system which manages their incident logs. Bit-Wizards’ integration pulls the CAD data from emergency incidents accurately into DES for both master log storage and viewing and sorting for various operations and management purposes.
The entire new DES tool is built in a “stateless” manner. To begin, and in contrast to, a stateful application which saves data about each client session and uses that data the next time the client makes a request when an application is stateless, the server does not store any data about the client session. Instead, the session data is stored on the client and passed to the server as needed.
This stateless build also allows for ease of scaling the in Microsoft Azure; which offers a two-fold benefit: One is the ability to scale the site up due to site load increases. Two: the continuous support provided without interruption of service for users during that scaling process. This functionality using the Microsoft Azure and the ASP.NET Core platform is vital to the success of the daily operations for emergency services like SWFD.
Starting with ASP.NET Core on the ASP.NET Zero platform, the Bit-Wizards team took little time starting the project. They chose the Meteronic admin portal theme which is meant to be used as an admin portal for employee login and managing a variety of different backend/internal operations. This choice of portal theme saved time on design and development and provided a familiar user interface for the SWFD employees which also helped to minimize change management for the project launch. The Meteronic theme also enabled the use of responsive development which allows for user access on all types of devices both mobile and desktop.
Using Entity Framework Core, Bit-Wizards built migrations for legacy data from MySQL to SQL Server. Once the data was in place, they then began to rebuild the application module-by-module using an agile development method, while working closely with SWFD to gather feedback and user data to improve both the module development and the customer’s process while using the application.
For the integration with the new SWFD public website, the Bit-Wizards team created a library that taps into Kentico’s Integration Bus and pushes information to the website via an external application. After DES pulls in the current flag condition information from the website; the user can then modify and save it. This user action creates a task in Kentico, via the integration bus. Kentico then processes and updates the website. After acquiring developer access to both Twitter and Facebook APIs, Bit-Wizards built code that simultaneously uploads the flag condition text, along with a picture of the beach (if chosen by the user) to both feeds.
The DES/CAD software integrates the new DES tool with Southern Software CAD. For the integration, the CAD system generates a log file on the CAD server's file system periodically with all the incidents entered through dispatch up to that point. Then using a PowerShell script created by Bit-Wizards, the log files upload from the local server to Azure where the DES application parses them and saves them in the master logs database table.
During development, both the Bit-Wizards team and SWFD worked closely to build-out and user-test all the portal modules needed for daily operations. Below is a detailed list of those modules and their functionality.
All of the site’s functionality is exposed via APIs for future development purposes including mobile apps that SWFD may want to build and integrate later. The security for user authentication and login for the new portal uses the built-in functionality of the Microsoft ASP.NET Core Identity membership system.
SWFD's Administration process is now decentralized due to the implementation of the new DES tool; it allows the entire staff to be more efficient. By sharing tasks across the team, they no longer have to rely on a single person to own various administrative functions, which causes bottlenecks and slows the entire team's productivity. Since the launch of the DES project, SWFD has seen an increase in both productivity and efficiency across their administrative department. The old manual process of entering emergency log incidents was fully automated with the new CAD integration and has increased productivity by 100% as well as decreased data entry errors. Another impact to productivity comes with the paystub formatting process which is now using the new paystub module and the work that used to take two people, now only requires one. The fully paper-reliant tuition request process has been removed and replaced by a fully automated process using DES. Lastly, the beach flag integration with the public facing website allows a single user to enter beach flag data into DES and simultaneously push the updates to all social platforms with one action.
Lead Software Engineer
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