We hack the crisis with the EpidemicApp
At Synergy Codes, we design and implement web applications for the client’s needs on a daily basis. But it may happen we take on other challenges that can have a real impact on reality, other peoples’ lives, or even motivate and integrate ourselves as a team. The COVID-19 outbreak has not only forced the transformation of our daily work but has also become a reason to do something good for others. Therefore, when the idea of the HackTheCirsis hackathon appeared, we didn’t wait a moment. This event was a pro bono venture under the patronage of the GovTech organization and the Polish Prime Minister, addressed to IT companies whose task was to create tools to assist in functioning during the COVID-19 epidemic. With the programmers at our disposal, a design team, full substantive support from the organizers, our processing forces, and a tireless CEO on board, within 96 hours we created an advanced prototype application called the EpidemicApp. Having all that gathered resulted in distinction in the list of the top 10 best-submitted applications. How we managed it? You will read below.
Along with our CEO’s announcement of the desire to participate in the hackathon HackTheCrisis, the Synergy Codes team had to face several logistical difficulties. The project assumed the intensification of our joint activities, so for four days we took part in countless conversations, worked out the details, and each step of the project has been watched by the project leader – Łukasz Jaźwa, who usually works in the Product Design team responsible for product development and innovation implementation. When we had decided to take part in the hackathon, Łukasz became the head of the EpidemicApp project team.
We focused on an advanced prototype of the mobile and web application that we wanted it to be the answer to the need for quick diagnostics in the direction of suspected or actual coronavirus infection, as well as shortening the contact path with the relevant medical units responsible for responding in a time of crisis. Having a motivated team at our disposal, appropriate tools and free funds for the work, we decided to invest together in the hackathon. Read how the work on the application ‘behind the scenes’ looked like.
Q: The EpidemicApp has become a project that has taken our specialists’ hearts and confirmed everyone’s belief that we can create a fully valuable tool in a very short time. However, every success is based not only on multi-stage and problematic issues to be solved. Please tell us about this difficult but very satisfying path to our success.
A: The project has many mothers of success. Before I get to the praises, however, I would like to talk a little bit about how we manage our work. In my opinion, the greatest challenge associated with planning activities for HackTheCrisis project was to plan and select the functionality of the tool, so that we were able to deliver a ready and full-fledged app on time. We only had four days to do it, so it was a real challenge for both me and the people involved in the project to work with a very limited deadline. I would like to add that the whole thing also hindered our total transition to remote work. In natural conditions, during the design stage, we have the opportunity to discuss and exchange experiences in the office. Currently, we were dependent on creating a communication plan using our messengers. Also, there were people involved, who do not work with each other on a regular basis. Ultimately, however, we were able to work out a methodology and start generating ideas on the project was pure pleasure.
Q: What strategy did you take, as a team, to develop the project, from scratch to the finished app?
A: In the standard formula, we have drawn up a working methodology. For projects with clients, we begin by collecting requirements and then analyze them. The Design Team then proceeds to design work, after which the Dev Team can start development. Usually, this process takes some time. However, in the context of the hackathon, we had several hours to do it. Therefore, after discussing the ideas, we decided that the best solution to proceed to the next stages would be engaging a survey, in which everyone could vote on previously submitted concepts. Finally, we selected the EpidemicApp. Because it is an extensive application, it turned out it was necessary to divide the work into sub-projects in which three working groups had been created. They included parts such as backend, mobile, and admin versions. We assigned two persons to each of these groups to supervise the work. I can’t fail to mention the work of the design team. We decided that the developers’ work will start along with visual designers. In turn, I was supposed to put everything together and look after the whole project. I must add that we met every day at video conferences, which were aimed at discussing all the tasks performed during the day, drawing conclusions and, planning the next steps. For my part, I undertook to draw up reports describing the findings after each such meeting. It is important, however, that we developed this type of methodology solely for the needs of the hackathon.
Q: You mentioned the huge contribution of the design team. Can you tell us more about it?
A: We experimented with reconciling work and enabling simultaneous operation within all teams. It is very difficult to develop the code without any visual sketch. Therefore, people from the UX and UI teams sketched the visual idea firstly which helped us to start our work. These sketches, later on, became the basis for the mockups development. This type of strategy helped us to work simultaneously and without wasting time as well as we avoided the risk of introducing major changes at the end of the project.
Q: Can you cite the biggest challenge while working on the Epidemic App?
A: Certainly these were not technical issues since the work on EpidemicApp has been done by very competent people who brought a lot of knowledge, both back, and frontend, to the project. The whole was also supported by efficient communication. The moment when our hearts froze, was the problem of combining the functionality of both versions of the application – web, and mobile. Separate teams were working on them and we only had a few hours to integrate the functionality. While we had established communication protocols, searching for small faults took a long time. The problem was solved thanks to the short-circuiting of all forces on behalf of the developers and the joint passage through functionality.
Q: The EpidemicApp is an application created for the Polish hackathon edition. This event also took place in the Scandinavian countries. Now, when it’s over, what features of the application do you consider the most useful? Could it also be used by people in other countries?
A: Definitely, the EpidemicApp is a universal application due to the built-in medical intelligence module based on WHO-approved questions. Also, the admin version is located in the cloud, so there’s unlimited access and it works in an environment created for the needs of this application. We are talking about such universal functionalities as contact with the med unit or the possibility of calling an ambulance. The variant of medical history can be freely modified and adapted to the needs of a given country. In our native conditions, the goal was to create a tool that would support institutions such as Sanepid, to which potentially infected people report, as telephone lines are mostly busy these days. What’s more, thanks to the aforementioned module with a medical history, every potentially infected person can fully report his or her health state and accurately describe the course of the disease. The web application gathers these data, sorts it by importance, and the Sanepid employee stores all the data of such a person, including the GPS location.
Q: Definitely, being in the top 10 best entries is a great success! You can be proud of yourselves!
A: Yes! I believe that our commitment, especially of people who work in completely different projects on a daily basis, for such a noble purpose as to create a tool that can improve life in times of epidemics, is completely priceless. We worked together, day and night, often after work hours, with full support for ourselves in the name of a common goal. I am fully impressed with such a huge motivation and willingness to work on a solution, which may also prove to be a great product available for everyone.
As Synergy Codes CEO, Maciek Teska stated – for our company, participation in HackTheCrisis allowed us to believe that as a team we can develop a functional product in a very short time and base our activities on completely new working methods ever. What’s more, through experience in the hackathon, we were able to take Synergy Codes to the next level of advancement by implementing new technologies. The most ennobling seems to be the fact that our application can become a helpful tool, not only in times of epidemics.