Waterways Ireland, headquartered in Enniskillen, is responsible for the management, maintenance, development and restoration of inland navigable waterways principally for recreational purposes. The waterways, under the remit of the body are the Barrow Navigation, the Erne System, the Grand Canal, the Lower Bann, the Royal, the Shannon-Erne Waterway and the Shannon Navigation.  In 2017 Waterways Ireland approached Etain with the requirement for a new asset management system to replace their existing bridge management system that primarily looked after their road transport assets.
Etain Ltd - Waterways AIMS
In addition to managing road assets, the system needed to be an expansion on their legacy implementation, allowing them to track all assets such as waterway bridges, weirs, locks, tow paths and culverts. Waterways Ireland required that their solution accurately track asset status, inspection schedules and repairs in line with their own reporting framework, Work Priority Index and Consequence of Failure policies.
The Waterways Ireland DevOps project required a complex systems integration encompassing three external Apps historically used by them; Collector, Workforce and Survey 123, and the secure migration of all existing data.

We commenced the requirements gathering by understanding how Waterways Ireland currently managed their assets via their legacy system. There were several analysis meetings with different users of the proposed system identifying their needs. Each stakeholder took responsibility for their area of the application with the project owner making the final decisions. The workshops resulted in functional and technical documentation being created, dividing the project into 3 main phases; Asset collection, Inspections and Reporting. These documents provided a high-level view of the how the application would work and interact within each department.

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Etain Ltd - Waterways AIMS


A data model was also created at this stage ensuring that every item was covered. The technical document took each function from the functional specification and broke it down into detail allowing the developers to build the application in bursts.

Following the requirements gathering we implemented an Agile methodology, with each phase divided into short sprints of no more than 10 hours.  This sprint limitation was implemented as it facilitated a natural divide of time resource between the developers and Technical Architects, as well as identify potential issues and additional functional requirements more accurately. To complement and optimise the sprints we implemented daily scrums and a continuous integration plan was followed.

Throughout the build Waterways Ireland was allowed access to view the progress and to action their own user testing to ensure each area met expectations. 
  • Agile software development method
  • MVC (Model View Controller) architecture pattern used throughout to isolate user interface from underlying data model and functional units
  • Entity Framework Code First
  • Short sprints of 10 hour or less
  • Daily scrums
  • Continuous integration with peer review
  • Rapid build and deployment from each sprint allowing build -> test -> release on a regular basis to identify any issues early
  • Lightweight environment design – XCOPY deployable, KISS principles
  • Automated build, push out to unit testing for quick turnaround / regular testing as changes made
  • Easy to publish environments ( [Dev<->Testing] -> Staging -> Production)

The Transformation

The AIMS system was developed using Module View Controller (MVC) and Entity Framework Code First (EFCF).  To allow reusability of the system, dependencies were minimised to only accommodate IIS + SQL. 

We also took advantage of internally developed frameworks to safeguard user-access controls and data security.  To integrate with the third party Apps we were using available APIs to make service calls, to leverage the information as required and ‘push’ out data updates.
  • Microsoft Visual Studio - IDE with ASP.NET / C# based solution
  • Microsoft SQL-Server – back end DB, all data persisted to SQLS, never to file system
  • Microsoft Cloud VSTS – source code repository to allow team collaboration
  • BugTracker – for collection, collation and processing of change requests and issues highlighted both by developers and test team
  • Entity Framework – data oriented design with abstracted entity, relationships and logic
  • Microsoft PowerShell – used extensively for automating database builds, creation of scheduled task jobs and automated unit testing
  • NUnit – linked to above, unit testing framework
  • Reusable Etain Software Frameworks – a collection of pre-built, reusable software libraries designed to standardise look, feel and functionality of all Etain software solutions, specifically:
  • Etain Logging Framework
  • Etain User Access Control Framework
  • Etain Form Rendering and Capture Framework
  • Scripting & Automation – scripting used extensively to allow repeatable, consistent creation of objects such as: 
  • Database Objects – tables, indexes, ERI constraints etc
  • Scheduled Jobs
  • Unit Tests
Once each sprint was completed it was tested through unit testing then deployed to our secure staging environment, allowing the Test Team to preform factory acceptance testing (FAT).  As the environments were lightweight it was easy to clone the development environment and migrate to staging for testing. Once environments were deployed, publishing of further changes was automated through Web Publishing jobs.

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Reporting leveraged the available SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS). Using SSRS, an known and trusted Microsoft reporting application, removed the complexity of developing our own reporting engine, allowing the users to build their own one-off reports if required and the development team to dedicate more time and focus on the application development.

In addition to the development and deployment-to-staging, Etain are also hosting the production environment on-premise at our HQ, ensuring optimal security and, status notifications and 24-7 Health monitoring. This implementation facilitates ease of creation, testing and deployment to production environment. This replication environment also enables us to securely fix bugs and test change controls, safeguarding the system against defects and optimising future enhancements.

Etain strongly recommends our software solutions are hosted, managed and maintained by our own DevOps team. To achieve this, we offer customers a variety of hosting options ranging from shared / multi-tenant private cloud in Belfast through to 24/7 Rackspace managed Private cloud / Azure Public Cloud platforms.
Hosting benefits are tangible for both Etain and customer – the Waterways Ireland AIMS system is a good example of this:
  • Single “Throat to Choke” – the entire solution is designed, built, deployed, monitored, managed, backed up and updated as part of a single subscription / “Opex” based managed service
  • Guaranteed SLA’s & performance levels
  • Easier support for everyone – no “finger pointing”
  • Strictly controlled access to production environments
    • Developers write the code and deliver packaged components
    • Infrastructure deploy these to UAT and subsequently Live environments under strict well documented change control
  • Fully Managed - Managed monitoring, backups, DR
  • Highly Available – clustering, always on mirroring, resilient hosts, SAN, SAN controllers – no single points of failure.
  • Scalable – per request load balancing, “scale out” design to allow solution to grow organically as customer requirements make additional load demands on platform
  • Secure – regular in-house penetration testing before deployment to production (using variety of tools), annual perimeter pen testing by 3rd party (IT-guarded), award winning firewall technology and threat detection, software / config hardening of server builds 

The Benefits 

The Waterways Ireland AIMS system now provides the organisation with a robust, integrated facility where all physical assets of the canal network are accurately managed and reported on, enabling them to maintain the waterways to a standard suitable for recurring public access. In turn this enables Waterways Ireland to better promote the network as a suitable tourism attraction for both local and inbound visitation.

Talking on the DevOps Excellence Awards shortlisting of the AIMS project for 'Project of the Year', Uel Horner from Waterways Ireland says:

“We’re delighted to hear that the Waterways Ireland’s AIMS project has been shortlisted for the Computing Award for DevOps Project of the Year; it’s a great acknowledgement of how a close working relationship can reap dividends for both customer and supplier. Waterways Ireland has a long standing relationship with Etain as a software supplier; we have worked together since 2006 to develop a number of different solutions and then more recently Waterways Ireland has entrusted Etain to host these solutions. It has been a pleasure to work with Etain, the partnership works extremely well and as a result we have a considerable understanding of each other’s business. This understanding results in fast turnaround times from requirement through specification to product delivery – certainly the “agile” nature of Etain’s operations contributes to this. Whilst we may not necessarily have a deep understanding of the development tools used by Etain, it’s reassuring to know that they keep ahead of the curve in terms of adopting practical technology. Hopefully we both win from this nomination” Uel Horner, Systems Analyst, Waterways Ireland


Asset Management a growing concern? If you’d like to discuss a custom project or simply want to know more feel free to call us on 028 90 87 2222 or drop us an email below.

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