Confessions of a Geek – Part 1

When I joined NFS nearly two years ago, one of the things that struck me was how progressive and forward thinking the business was. Internet was the standard marketing channel, each staff member had a hearty range of desktop technology and we offered products that no-one else in the world offered.

Enter A-TACS. In essence it is a unit that allows us to remotely monitor and self test the fire sprinkler system. Yes, there is far more to it than that, there are a number of patents on the unit and months of blood, sweat and R&D have gone into making it a 100% FIRAS endorsed product. Praise indeed!

Back then, we had got the hardware perfected. The units responded to signals, performed the tasks they were sent and gave us regular updates as to their status’. We had half of what we needed. In order to offer A-TACS as not only a product but a service, we needed to develop the software back end to provide us with a “command and control” interface. So with help from a company called TBAT we began by mapping out exactly what the system needed to do, how it should “talk” to the A-TACS units and how the interface should look for the user. And to a geek like me, that was part of the fun! Sad but true.

Based on some early designs and version 1 of the software, I even built a concept demonstrator using various web technologies, to prove the message flow, and gain an idea of how the interface should sort of hang together. We decided early on that the front end should be map driven and used various mapping APIs to show where units were located. Why didn’t we do it in-house, I hear you cry? Simple, getting the units to talk to us and vice versa and then to auto-populate a map was the easy part. Simply put, it was not worth the investment of my time trying to develop the skills we needed for the most complex part.  I did however use my knowledge gained in this process to fully get to grips with what we actually needed from the proposed solution – so it proved to be a vital exercise in understanding.

The ITT was finalised and sent out to a variety of different suppliers – then we played the waiting game…

Part 2 to follow… 🙂