A service for Health and Safety Consultants Work in progress

Photo: While thinking about my own Work In Progress,  I remembered these mill stones waiting for collection at Froggatt Edge – for two hundred years

I’ve built an online service for Health and Safety Consultants called the Business Safety Net.

This is about how the parts fit together and how the development process has gone, from gathering requirements, writing tests, the back end Rails app, front end angular code and onwards to promoting it with potential users.

Who is it for ?

The Business Safety Net is for Health and Safety Consultants who are responsible for helping a bunch of other small businesses stay compliant with rules and regulations.     A typical consultant might have dozens of clients, each having dozens of ways to stay compliant, cleaning kitchens, fridges, flues, ovens,  insuring vehicles, paying road tax,  carrying out vehicle MOTs and so on.

The service lets them send SMS and email messages to people when these checks become due and over due.   There are demonstrations of the service working at business-safety-net.co.uk.

Building the service

Ruby on Rails is great for building robust database driven back ends, but I think its days as a front end frame work are over.   Jobs like serving out assets and minimising javascript sometimes take way too long to do with Rails, not to mention the problem of needing gems that include the latest version which ever Javascript framework you use.  I prefer to use native JS tools like grunt and bower to preprocess front end assets and then to serve them up from the Rails public directory.

Database

I chose Postgres for the database instead of MySql because it offers Schemas.   Together with the excellent Apartment gem, this provides a simple way to keep data from different customers separate. Another advantage is that Postgres can search jsonb data stored in a single column.   I used this to let users configure extra attributes on their data on-the-fly.

Hosting

Heroku still provides a simple way to deploy production Rails applications.  In the past I’ve provisioned EC2 servers from scratch and found that Chef / Puppet becomes a time consuming task in itself.

Customers have their own subdomain and the Apartment gem arranges for them to be restricted to their own schema data.

Heroku provides a way to schedule cron jobs. This is handy for regularly updating the status of things in the database so that they cause events to happen as time passes and to send email and SMS messages asynchronously (because we want to batch up messages into digests, so that the user does not get too many)

The help and tutorials are on a WordPress site hosted on an Amazon EC2 server.  Cloudflare filters out nuisance requests.

User interface

The front end is written in Angular JS using Bootstrap UI and uses a very cool component called Restangular to request resources from the back end and instantiate them into Javascript objects.

Emails are sent using Send With Us and Mailgun. SMS messages go out via Essendex.

Testing

We use a suite of RSpec specs to show that the API works as expected.  Each deployment triggers a git hook that causes Codeship to run these tests, and it will not deploy the code if any fail.

Test data is generated by FactoryGirl.  (The ruby gem, not a person)

The front end a suite of end to end protractor tests.  Its good to watch these end to end tests open a browser, log in and click around doing stuff.

Authentication

For authentication I used a fork of the Devise Token Auth gem together with ng-token-auth.  I had to make a small change to this gem to add an extra check that not only is the user authenticated, but that the request came from the user’s unique subdomain.

Devise Token auth sends a different access token with each response and expects that it is used for the next request.

ng-token-auth is an Angular component that knows all about Devise token auth.

Sending email

Emails to confirm sign up and to warn about overdue checks are created by merging templates with app data.

Instead of reinventing this expensive wheel, we use the wonderful API from sendwithus.com to define the templates.  The API call uses credentials taken from environment variables (so not saved in git) together with data needed for the the message, and sendwithus takes care of merging and sending the messages using another service,  mailgun.com.

An email to warn that something needs to be done

Emails and SMS messages are queued in the database and sent using an asynchronous sidekiq worker thread. The result is also saved in the database.

Sending SMS messages

We use the esendex.com API to send text messages.  The code to call their API is contained in one small class so it will be easy to swap to another provider if necessary.

Issue Tracking

As soon as a bug is found,  an issue is raised in github and a test case is written to describe how to replicate the error.

{ Work in Progress }

Marketing

Niche applications

Schools.  Franchisors.  H&S consultants.  Gliding Clubs.

Pricing

Future features

  • A small mobile app so that users can confirm that a task is done just with a phone.
  • Using a phone to securely upload photos about an issue to Amazon S3.
  • Send events to any calendar service using cronofy.com.  They offer one API that unifies the differences between calendars from Apple, Outlook, Google etc.
  • Payment with Stripe
Guy Roberts

About Guy Roberts

A freelance developer who conjures up Software as a Service using Angular JS, SQL, Ruby on Rails and Java. Runner, dad and glider pilot.