Case study Energy,Misc. services

Mobile Protection from Bears

Mobile flexibility improves efficiency and safety for remote workers

Being attacked by a bear is just one of the many perils contractors working in the oil and gas industry in remote parts of Canada face. Due to these very real dangers of the job, measures have to be in place to ensure anyone working in these regions is correctly qualified and certified. Additionally, it is important to know exactly who has started a shift and who has come back from their shift.

The Challenge

Each contractor working on a job has to carry with them an ID badge with a printed QR code storing vital information about them. This information includes who they are, whether they have current and valid qualifications to work, who their next of kin is, and medical information such as what allergies they have in case of a medical emergency. The QR code can be scanned and the information retrieved and stored.

Although TIROne’s existing “Easy ID” system was an excellent tool for tracking staff working on site, its implementation relied upon bulky, single purpose, hardware in fixed locations. This meant it was highly restricted in its use and was not fully meeting the needs of the businesses operating in remote locations and fast moving environments.

TIROne wanted to develop the product further in order to enable its use on smartphones, taking advantage of the ubiquity of these devices (almost everyone has one), along with the powerful capabilities and sensors available from these devices now. This would enable remote operators to validate an employee had the correct certificates for work and complete a check-in process at required times; helping ensure all staff were safe and accounted for.

TIROne engaged with us to help them realise this vision. One of the key challenges we had to overcome when creating the mobile “Easy ID” solution was to support the multitude of devices an operator might use. Each smartphone’s operating system (whether it be Android, iOS, Windows Phone, or Blackberry) looks and behaves differently. The various operating systems also have very different approaches to developing applications, with different programming languages and frameworks being used on each platform. Other challenges revolved around the remote locations and their unreliable internet connections, meaning the application had to work in situations where little to no internet connectivity could be gained.

The Solution

It was decided that, due to the volume of market share held by each platform, the solution developed should work across Android, iOS, and Windows Phone handsets. Utilising the Xamarin tool kit, we were able to write a single code base in C# that could be shared across all three platforms whilst taking advantage of native features on each operating system. This meant we could develop applications with the benefits of a native application but dramatically shorten the development time required to produce these applications. Only the user interface for each platform required individual development for each platform to ensure the applications looked like they belonged on that platform.

The application we developed allows the shift leader, or supervisor, to log into the “Easy ID” system and download a list of employees, including details such as the name and any certificates they hold. ID tags can then be scanned using the smartphone camera to read the QR code, allowing for a contractor’s certificates to be checked and for the contractor to be checked in all from the operator’s mobile phone. Additionally, the mobile applications added an extra capability to the “Easy ID” system, allowing an NFC tag embedded in the ID card to be scanned by capable handsets. NFC (near field communication) is a wireless technology, similar to that within contactless payment cards, which allows for the transfer of data between compatible devices. The inclusion of NFC functionality enabled a quicker and more efficient method for checking contractors through a simple “tap to scan” ability.

When a contractor’s ID is scanned by the “Easy ID” application; the date and time, ID and location of the check-in are all stored along with the type of check-in (e.g. breakfast). The application also displays warnings if the contractor has a certificate that is close to expiry, or an urgent alert if a certificate has expired. This ensures the location of contractors is known, and no uncertified members of staff are sent out to work in areas that they should not be working in.

All of the information collected through the “Easy ID” application is stored on the device until the user has a steady and reliable internet connection, a situation that can be infrequent in some of the remote regions where the application is used. Once a reliable connection is established, the operator can perform a synchronisation from the application in order to upload the data collected to the central server, and download any new employee information. As the application must be easily and readily available anytime and anywhere, we chose to have the data and synchronisation services stored in the cloud using Microsoft’s SQL Azure service.

In order to allow the system to be as easy to work with as possible, a federated authentication system was put in place. This allows for the operators to login to the system via Microsoft or Google accounts, alongside the more traditional AD account. This means the authentication of users could be handled by existing systems whether the businesses using the system had their own corporate accounts available or not. Additionally, the overhead for management of operator accounts is reduced through the use of the federated authentication, allowing a new user to be added by simply approving an external account and minimising administrator overhead from “forgotten password” style support.

The Easy ID mobile app has greatly reduced the time spent checking people in and out each day and ensuring that everyone in the field is certified to be performing their duties that day. The information collected gives managers, both in the field and back at company headquarters, assurance that all their employees are meeting regulatory requirements and that they are home safely at the end of each day.
Aidan Garnish Chief Technology Officer