News from dotUK

Baby Bio Android and iPhone Mobile App Project

The Baby Biography mobile app project is a cross platform, consumer,  mobile application development tasked with creating an iPhone app, and and Android mobile app to create ‘Baby Biographies’, or a collection of ‘Baby Moments’ through pregnancy, birth, and the early years of your child’s life.  The app will allow you to collect, record, and share those moments through social media and even offer you the chance to order a personalised, professionally printed book of your child’s moments.

Baby Biography Mobile App Home

The mobile app will be developed using dotUK’s cross platform, and multi platform mobile app development skills.  This skill set is a niche, and dotUK are one of the few development companies, certainly amongst North East Mobile App Developer’s to offer true, native mobile apps that can be developed simultaneously across the core mobile application platforms, in parallel.

The Baby Biography mobile app will be offered initially as an iPhone app, and also as and Android App, in addition to creating Baby Biographies within the app, other features include;

  • Creation of Multiple Books
  • Sharing of Baby Moments and Photos ‘In App’ to Social Media
  • Free Cloud based storage of all your books and moments
  • Collaboration with other parents
  • Conception and Pregnancy calculators
  • In App Support

Cloud storage and collaboration will be offered through dotUK’s in house cloud storage framework which allows the app to seamlessly synchronise the baby biographies into the cloud in the background when connected to a suitable internet connection, but doesn’t in any way impeded or restrict any app functionality when working offline.

dotUK is a cross platform mobile app, desktop & server software, and web based or software as a service developer based in Yarm, Teesside in the North East of England, and all project requests can be made through www.dotuk.net

Christmas Cards for Schools Clustered Print Generation

Christmas Cards for Schools – Case Study

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Summary

Christmas Cards for Schools based in Middlesbrough here in the North East, part of Fundraising Creations, offer Fundraising solutions for Schools, their primary product being the production of bespoke printed and customised Christmas Card packs personalised with the pupils name, class and of course their own drawing. Having been responsible for the production of in excess of 1.1 million cards in the Christmas 2013 season efficiency and scalability are high priorities

Technical

Client Christmas Cards for Schools Ltd – Middlesbrough based School Fundraising
Platforms Linux, Web, WebServices,
Technologies PHP, Perl, CSS, Jquery, MySQL, REST, ImageMagick, Apache, Clustering
Development Web Development, Web Services Integration, Synchronisation

Case Study

To understand the scale and requirements to create, print and distribute in excess of 1million Christmas Cards in a 3 month period each year it’s probably beneficial to understand the workflow required, and the stages at which dotUK have been able to build out and scale, thus adding capacity each year.

christmascard

  • Participating Schools are sent Artwork kits
  • Kits are returned and the drawings are scanned, grouped, and filed into our Web Based storage system
  • School batches are processed within our processing cluster leading to the creation of digital print ready personalised images (1 Per child)
  • Print ready images are synchronised to the print partner who takes responsibility for print and distribution, feeding back status to the storage system dashboard.

Due to the system being highly seasonal dotUK have built a bespoke hosting infrastructure that offers a cost effective, but highly scalable hosting solution. Services that are required year around are separated from the seasonal processing cluster, thus offering a base line cost for the majority of the year. The processing cluster is build in such a manner, that additional processing nodes can be added at 15minute deployment windows, and will automatically join in the pool of processing power, but can be removed when surplus thus reducing hosting and running costs that are unwarranted.

To maintain maximum data integrity, control, and compliance in excess of UK Data Protection requirements, the hosting cluster and processing engine is a bespoke, privately hosted solution provided, hosted, and monitored by dotUK

Depending on the solution offered to the school the workflow may include digital samples that are offered initially to the school prior to order, but ultimately school co-ordinators enter their school order quantities online through their own access portal, which triggers the print cluster and sync services to push final orders to the print partner.

In addition to the core card generation workflow, we also generate supplementary personalised products, and fully automate other ancillary services such as billing, marketing / kit requests and the ability for parents to view online samples prior to order

Blog Post: You get what you pay for – Mobile App Security

Originally posted as You get what you pay for – Mobile App Security

You get what you pay for – App Security

 

Andy Flisher is a Software Developer based in the North East of England specialising in cross platform development. Mobile Development experience includes Windows Phone, Android, and iPhone Apps. Desktop Software Development includes bespoke Windows, Linux, and Mac Applications. Web Development Skills include PHP, Perl, Python, Xamarint, C#, ASP (Classic and .NET) – Andy Flisher on Google+

In the course of work this week I had a cause to audit an iOS App that a prospect had had developed by a local competitor here in the North East, the reasoning for this was that the prospective client was looking at moving the hosted back end (ASP .Net, SQL Server – standard stuff) and wanted a price.

Mobile App Security
The purpose of the audit was to check what network connections the app was making, and correlating with what I knew about the backend hosting, just to make sure there were no surprises, we didn’t have the source code for either end yet, it was just a pricing exercise at this point (As it happens the App is written using PhoneGap so we *did* have the source code, but my route was quicker).

So, I installed the app, redirected my iPhone through a proxy server, and fired up the app – and proceeded to stare in horror. The app instantly, on first run fired up an un-encrypted, un-authenticated connection to the backend host and promptly downloaded the usernames, password, emails, and more for *every* user in the system. It then keeps a copy of these locally, and uses those details to authenticate later.

Why is this bad, in laymans terms, because anyone, on the internet, who knew the url the app uses could download the same list. Would people be interested in logging in to this system? Probably not, do people use the same username and password for Amazon, Tesco, Online Banking – absolutely, and there’s the problem.

Solutions, well it’s about paranoia, but key areas;

  • Authentication – Implement simple basic authentication so that the app logs in to the webservice it pulls the data from.
  • Https – Implement and SSL connection, then at least all traffic too and fro is encrypted (important as Basic Authentication is over plain text, so without https it’s still sniffable)
  • Change the login mechanism to completely remove the need to download all user info at all.

What’s really frustrating though, and actually makes the ‘You get what you pay for’ title of this post a misnomer, is this wasn’t a cheap solution.  The client paid a very reasonable amount for this app and solution.  This is the sort of thing we see, and sadly expect, when a ‘cheap’ solution is offered as a counter to ours.  We’re not expensive, but not cheap, we do do things correctly though.  It’s a classic case of the customer not knowing what they’re not getting, they trust, and assume that a professional job is being done, without really asking too many questions about why it’s cheap.

In this case no excuses though, I’ll not name anyone, and we’ve raised the issue with the client – We certainly won’t be taking on the hosting until it’s resolved!

 

North East Mobile Developer wins ‘Baby Bio’ multi platform mobile app order

dotUK Multi Platform Mobile App DeveloperdotUK, a North East based Mobile App Developer, has this this week won the order to develop a multi platform mobile app framework for a Newton Aycliffe (County Durham) based client that produces high quality ‘Baby Moment’ books for new parents and their families.

This will involve an iPhone App, and a companion Android app that will use dotUK’s in house mobile app synchronisation engine to enable the mobile applications data to be seamlessly integrated into dotUK’s cloud hosting infrastructure, enable both a transparent backup of all the baby moment app data and to allow other family members to be invited and to share and contribute.

The differing factor in dotUK’s sync engine is it allows the dual benefits of mobile applications that can work fully offline, with no connection at all, and those that are cloud enabled to centrally store, push, and receive update.

dotUK specialise in developing multi-platform and cross platform software solutions, re-using core business logic and making the development of similar apps on multiple platforms more cost efficient then developing each app individually

In the Press: Yarm firm dotUK helps home care provider improve efficiency

From The Journal;

Web development firm dotUK has completed a major contract to help one of the leading home care providers in the North East improve efficiency

The Yarm-based digital agency, which employs 18 people, was enlisted by Heritage Healthcare, which works closely with local authorities, to improve its management system for clients and employees.

The contract was worth £8,000 and took four months to complete.

It allows Heritage Healthcare to regulate and monitor the visits that have been made to clients and to assure quality standards are achieved.

The system, which is already proving successful, uses telecommunications, supplied by dotUK’s sister company Synergy Telecoms, to accurately verify calls made by carers from clients’ homes.

An electronic system confirms the call and location and stores the information.

Heritage Healthcare is now always aware of which clients have been visited, as well as the work its employees have done.

dotUK founder, Andy Flisher, said: “As Heritage Healthcare is steadily expanding and branching out, it’s great to have been able to ensure the company’s systems are functioning well so they can solely concentrate on the important work they do.

“We are already in discussion about bettering the system even more so by advancing into digital technology and developing a mobile app that scans a barcode at clients’ premises.”

In the Press: Dot UK, in Yarm, hopes to expand after work with Heritage Healthcare

From the Northern Echo;

A DIGITAL firm says it wants to expand and take on an apprentice after completing a contract to help a leading North-East care provider.

Dot UK, based in Yarm, near Stockton, worked with Heritage Healthcare to improve management systems for customers and workers.

The company, which employs 18 people, says the system is already helping Heritage to verify calls made by carers from clients’ homes.

Andy Flisher, dot UK founder, said: “As Heritage Healthcare is steadily expanding and branching out, it’s great to have been able to ensure the company’s systems are functioning well.

“We are already in discussions to further increase the system by moving into digital technology.”

 

Stockton’s Big Challenge Active Travel Portal

Stockton’s Big Challenge Active Travel Portal – Case Study

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Summary

Stockton’s Big Challenge is a web based community competition initially funded by Stockton on Tees Borough Council, NHS Stockton on Tees, the Big Lottery and Sustrans. The aim is to build awareness of Active travel and encourage a healthier lifestyle across Stockton by encouraging people to walk or cycle to work.

Technical

Client Sustrans / Stockton Active Travel
Platforms Web, Web Services,
Technologies PHP, CSS, JQuery, Javascript, MySQL, Animation, Charting
Development Web Development, Web Reporting, Jquery Animation

Case Study

Stockton’s Big Challenge was pitched as lottery funded concept aimed at encouraging local (Stockton on Tees Borough) Employees, and Employers alike to ditch the car and cycle or walk to work, in essence embrace ‘Active Travel’ and enjoy a fitter healthier lifestyle – all through the power of competitions

Sustrans_profileThe competition premise was simple, each and every time you under took ‘Active Travel’ you logged in to the site, recorded the date, distance, time, and reason for travel. These journeys were then logged and your cumulative total displayed in terms of miles travelled, calories used, kg of fat burnt, kg of CO2 saved, and Parmo’s!

For those not local to Teesside the Parmo is a regional delicacy of note (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parmo) which through it’s ingredients of cheese, béchamel sauce, and being deep fried has a ridiculously high calorie count!

The Parmo Calculator was the welcomed challenge in the development as the concept was that we would allow site users to visualise their journey in terms of Parmo’s dropping to a plate, the shock factor being the tiny fraction of a Parmo that most journey’s equated to. We also made the calculator available as a stand alone tool that visitors could play with and drum up publicity. It worked, gaining the challenge and dotUK local coverage in local press, radio interviews, and even linked to and referenced by the Wikipedia article above.

The competition itself was broken down to allow businesses of different sizes to also compete by entering teams of employees (the cumulative score of their employees being totalled), as well as the individual completion. All user journeys, their ‘Parmo Counts’ and a dynamically generated report of miles walked / cycled over time was available in the individual users portfolios.

From an administration point of view, all aspect of the system were run form a secure web based control panel, this covers both user management, flagging ‘suspect’ journey logs, content management, and competition and winner management. The competitions were designed to be run time and time again between specific date ranges so we built tools that allow new competitions to be defined and journeys automatically entered between the relevant dates. Some winners prizes were also drawn at random so we created tools that allowed winners to be picker honestly.

When a competition is active the real-time statistics are published to both a widget on the home page and also to a dedicated live results page showing the scoreboard in terms of individuals and employers in the region. To further motivate year on year competition the historical archives of past competition results are permanently available and automatically generated.

Wrapped around the competition element of the site is the content management system. Near all content on the site it controlled through our own build web based content management system. Each page on the front end consists of one or more content blocks and the output content of those blocks is created by the administrator using the WYSIWG (What You See Is What You Get) editor.Parmo Calculator

This means that the administrator does not need to know, or have any real understanding of HTML or web scripting languages, they can simply type as if it were a regular word processor and format text style, colour, size and alignment with ease. In addition we created a web based media manager which allowed the simple upload of images to be embedded in the content thus allowing for the simple creation of visually rich, engaging content for their community.

Content wise these tools allowed them to manage 20+ pages of unique content instantly on demand, and engaging users beyond the competition. Content included local events, Bike maintenance tips, links to local resources and cycle path maps, the Sustrans Cycle network journey planner and much, much more.

Efiling – Web Based Company Formation Software

Efiling – Online Companies House Software Case Study

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Summary

Efiling is an award winning online company formations software product that was originally developed by dotUK and had undertaken a number or significant revisions and expansions in the lifetime of the product

Technical

Client Efiling Ltd – Online Company Formations Software
Platforms Web, Web Services, Kashflow, XML Gateway
Technologies PHP, CSS, JQuery, Javascript, MySQL, REST API, JSON, Kashflow, SOAP, XML, Python
Development Web Development, Web Services Integration, Kashflow Integration, Companies House Integration

Case Study

The Efiling Web Based Companies House Software product was initially conceived with the core functional requirements of offering a web based medium through which instruction to the Companies House Gateway could be sent, on receipt of which the gateway would act upon those instructions. Examples of commands which could be instructed include;

e-filing Companies house software

  • Formation of a UK Company (Eg Ltd, Plc etc)
  • Add / Modify / Resign a Director
  • Add / Modify / Resign a Company Secretary
  • Articles of Association & Memorandum
  • Change Registered Office

Version 1 of the software, developed exclusively by dotUK was utilising the Companies House Email Gateway, this protocol mean that instructions were issued by embedding commands in the email message subject and the payload (data fields, attachments etc) were embedded in properly formatted email message body. Responses from the Gateway were equally sent via email to a dedicated mailbox which was polled and monitored at the Efiling end.

Efiling is a multi tenanted system, which means the core platform is used by a near unlimited number of brand owners / companies withcompany formation needs. To function in this way data security and segregation is paramount as under no circumstances can data ‘leak’ between tenants on the system, and we built robust practices and data references into place to ensure this never happened. It also added significantly to the complexity of the system as we then had to manage website templates, company names, Companies House account details, email addresses and domains to manage, in essence near every variable in the system had to be configurable on a per tenant basis.

Billing for orders was another challenge to be managed, end user payments were taken by credit card on order, however brand owners were split between pre-pay (An account with a preloaded positive balance of funds) and credit accounts (Accounts with a preset maximum negative balance according to their credit limit), so we built a complex accounting structure that allowed for both charging models, and of course all associated reporting, statements, and invoicing required. Pricing levels (Both to Efiling, and charged by tenants to their clients) was also configurable and changeable on demand.

As the product matured additional features were added, which included expanding the standard statutory Companies House product offerings to allow tenants to offer bespoke, bundled packages, which included their own value add services (eg Company Secretarial, Mail Room services, offline products such as bound articles, hard copies of certificates etc). These were managed on a per tenant basis so significant upgrades to the tenant administration tools were made, and also to Efiling’s own system administration tools which sat above the tenants as an overview.

Soon Companies House began the process of decommissioning the email gateway service, which worked well, but was limited in terms of speed of service due to the delays faced in email delivery, and introduced a new XML based gateway. This gateway is in essence a secure web service that listens real time for commands sent direct over https (secure web traffic) and using documented (mostly!) XML documents as the payload. The benefits this service offered were that responses to instruction delivery were often available instantly, and it allowed us the option to ‘poll’ the gateway periodically for updates as opposed to wait for an email to arrive. It also increased reliability as we were communicating direct with the gateway as opposed to the round robin route email can on occasion take. dotUK were heavily involved in this transition, and the opportunity was taken to significantly improve other areas of the system such as document generation and storage.

North East based Kashflow Developers and Software IntegratorsUnfortunately it became apparent as the project progressed that some areas of the new gateway functionality were incomplete, undocumented, or not tested which meant we were frustrated in our ability to communicate progress to the client. However we took steps to optimise our time as efficiently as possible and made sure that we managed the project fully, this included taking responsibility for liaising with Companies House direct (who’s hands were tied by their own third party development team) and on occasion direct with the gateway developers themselves. Ultimately we were able to build and conclude testing of instructions in parallel with Companies House as we moved towards the deadline for switch off of the old email service. This was a regulatory deadline and was immovable.

Since then we have also been involved in other third party integrations, such as feeding bank account application into the Barclays Business accounts service (again an XML based gateway) and integration with the Kashflow web based accounts software using their SOAP based API. The advantages of using Kashflow were that it meant tenant accounting transactions were ultimately delivered direct into their accounts package, new customers automatically created, invoices and credits posted, thus automating tenant admin processes, actually reducing the amount of functionality required within the Efiling Back End, and actually adding significant value to the proposition.

For more information about Efiling, or to enquire about licensing their web based company formation software technologies please visit www.efiling.co.uk

In the Press: The initial dotUK / Dale Care call confirmation project


In the Press: The initial dotUK / Dale Care call confirmation project

via dotUK – Web, Mobile, and Desktop Software on Facebook

Jacksons Law Livetrack – Case Management System

Jacksons Law Livetrack – Case Management System

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Summary

Jacksons Law is a major North East law firm that advises both commercial and private clients and practices across all core areas of law. Their need was for a central information management portal that they could use to update and share information securely with clients with regards the progress of cases

Technical

Client Jacksons Law LLP – Major North East based Law Firm
Platforms Web
Technologies PHP, CSS, JQuery, Javascript, MySQL, Document Management
Development Web Development

Case Study

Jacksons Law Livetrack Screenshot

Jacksons Law practice law in a wide variety of practice areas and as such the individual needs, or specialisations of case management in one practice area can differ widely from those of another. In addition Jacksons have a wide variety of clients all of whom have a range of individual case and account reporting expectations, the challenge for dotUK was to present a solution that could encompass all needs, yet remain simple and manageable.

With Jacksons operating out of multiple sites, and to alleviate information security issues of allowing external users into their infrastructure it was decided that a web based system would be the most cost effective and simplistic to deploy and mange. In addition it would allow us to operate a mobile optimised interface for end client users that operate on site and on the road.

The system was built with a concept of case ‘Systems’ where a System mapped generally to a specific area of legal practise, eg Personal Injury, Conveyancing, Employment Law etc, in this way we could apply system specific modules to the cases within and

hence extend the specific functionality. This also allowed us to extend Systems for use by key clients, offering an enhanced branding experience for key client end users, enhanced and client specific reports and metrics, and internally SLA highlighting to ensure contractual targets were met.

The overall concept was however kept simple, allowing Jacksons staff to create cases within their permitted systems, allocating cases to end clients and updating cases with notes, attach documents, and report key milestones. In addition modules that allowed the client to keep track of running costs, and report on costs on a cost centre basis were created. External access is managed fully by Jacksons, with a hierarchy of client user permissions that allow data access to be restricted in a granular manner to department heads or end users as required.

The system is accessed over SSL as an industry standard, and is hosted on dotUK’s own Cloud hosting infrastructure here in the North East that allows use to offer high availability, fault tolerance, non interruptive snapshot backups and clustering options based on the clients requirements.

For more information, or to discuss case management or end user self service solutions tailored to your industry requirements please don’t hesitate to contact us for a consultation.

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