InterSystems data platform ensures SmartWater-based forensic evidence is watertight
Will the evidence stand up in court? When SmartWater Technology Ltd wanted to introduce a new production management database for the manufacture and user registration of its DNA-style SmartWater system, the evidential trail had to remain watertight. However, thanks to InterSystems and Xebec Information Systems Ltd, SmartWater took on a new solution in 2007 that has proven reliable, fast, cost-effective and scalable ever since.
SmartWater Technology Ltd was founded in 1996. As one of the most powerful crime deterrents in the world, SmartWater is a property-marking and anti-crime spray that contains a unique chemical marker. With a billion possible forensic combinations and detectors on file at police stations across the UK, SmartWater has a 100 percent conviction rate when presented as evidence in court. When SmartWater is deployed, criminals are physically and undeniably linked to the scene of a crime.
Together with the Metropolitan Police, SmartWater created the MetTrace program, which provided one in seven homes across London with up-to-the-minute crime prevention advice and free SmartWater property-marking kits.
Before turning to InterSystems for a new computing solution using its database technology, SmartWater relied on paperwork, a database, spreadsheets, and filing cabinets. Continuity of evidence was of critical importance; production steps had to be logged, control samples retained, and end-user registrations recorded. By 2007, SmartWater felt the pressure and could no longer rely on a semi-manual system.
A replacement production management system was needed to provide security, robustness, and scalability, yet remain flexible for future innovations. The technical requirements seemed impossibly high due to the need for traceability.
“We wanted a database capable of storing all the SmartWater combinations that we could possibly make – that’s a billion,” said Rich Harris, Director of Technical Services for SmartWater. “It needed to take a large amount of data in and deal with the many steps throughout the process,”
What’s more, SmartWater also required an “incredibly user-friendly” and fast graphical front end to make it easy for production staff to record data consistently, sign off on key production steps, and track each batch in detail.
SmartWater contacted Xebec Information Systems Ltd., which proposed a solution using an InterSystems data platform to develop new production systems.
“What made this proposal suitable was the way that Xebec Information Systems was going to design the database using InterSystems technology to deal with the large number of individual SmartWater combinations and track them through all their processes in a secure fashion,” said Harris.
Xebec Information Systems then undertook bespoke consultancy services, including project management, business analysis, software and architecture design through to implementation and ongoing technical knowledge transfer.
Powerful database technology
The new system made use of InterSystems’ advanced security features within the database to provide a fully customisable and comprehensively secure environment with a tamper-resistant audit trail. This is necessary for evidence to stand up in court when called upon by the police or the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
Thanks to the platform’s object storage capabilities, SmartWater could create a customised data structure to meet its complex requirements yet use a standard SQL reporting. A key component of the data platform, InterSystems Zen -an AJAX framework that automatically joins the user interface to the database -enabled the rapid development of application screens rich in functionality within an easy-to-deploy web browser environment.
In November 2007 the implementation process began; a series of modules were rolled-out and delivered in multiple phases and by March 2009, less than 18-months later, the entire solution had been installed. Due to the fact that the InterSystems database platform was hosted on a shared server, production staff no longer needed to complete physical paperwork. Instead, they were able to use the new solution’s intuitive screens with barcode readers for the whole production process. Furthermore, a number of other new possibilities were quickly realised. As well as implementing new systems for CRM, fulfilment, stock and quality control, the company was also able to manage its overseas operations and align it with local data management requirements.
The database provided a speedy, efficient, secure and auditable platform with which to handle more than 440,000 MetTrace kits between 2015 and 2018. The highly reliable InterSystems database maintains the integrity of the evidential trail, records all activities, and continues to prove itself to be a robust database with no system failures in the 12 years since its deployment.
An evolving solution
As the number of SmartWater projects has grown and the company has evolved to place a greater focus on business needs driving IT, so too has the need for updated solutions. Rather than requiring new solutions as its projects continue, the company has constantly reinvested in the durable InterSystems database platform to simplify production and drive out costs.
InterSystems technology has allowed SmartWater to build its own systems within the database. In addition to handling stock, it is also used for customer relationship management (CRM), accounts and sales processing, and renewal license processing. It has also enabled these processes to be carried out far quicker than it had been with previous legacy systems. Whereas renewal processing once took several weeks, the InterSystems platform enables it to now be done in one week – giving the accounts team time to focus more on tasks that move the business forward.
The growth in demand for SmartWater – driven by its adoption by the insurance industry to protect premises and property – has been significant, which meant that the database also needed to be scalable. As the solution has grown, data tables now reach 12,000,000 rows and 2,700 classes including 250 web application pages.
The system shines when SmartWater receives samples for analysis. Minute SmartWater traces can irrefutably link property to its rightful owner or tie criminals to a crime scene. The process of sample analysis was previously time-consuming; calibrating the system with the first sample took an hour, and all subsequent samples took up to fifteen minutes. Now, thanks to an InterSystems data platform-based solution, the first sample takes between 10-15 minutes with all subsequent samples taking only six. The faster solution saves both time and money.
“As soon as we have analysed the sample, we come up with its unique reference number. The system turns out a hardcopy report,” said Harris. InterSystems data platform solutions have evolved over the time period, and SmartWater has taken advantage of this new functionality. For example, the company utilises JSON, which provides the database with web interoperability.
SmartWater, has further taken advantage of interoperability enhancements. This includes two-way ODBC connectivity, which allows other programs, such as Excel, to retrieve data from the database and the database to retrieve data from external sources, such as Sage. Further developments include SOAP web services, PDF creation and automatic emails.
“Thanks to the speed of development and deployment, coupled with the ease of use of InterSystems software, the applications have proved very cost-effective,” added Harris. “Using InterSystems products gave us a solution to work in a smarter way. What we’ve been able to achieve since its deployment, going from production through to processes such as fulfilment and accounts, is to make it an end-to-end solution across the business. The solution has constantly evolved to meet our changing requirements and to keep up with developments in the industry.”
“We are delighted that InterSystems plays an important role in SmartWater’s manufacturing and distribution process,” said Jon Payne, Manager of Sales Engineering and Education, InterSystems UK. “Ensuring the solution was built and delivered rapidly, but also continues to develop in line with SmartWater’s business needs and growth, while remaining secure, reliable, and scalable was crucial. SmartWater is a game-changing initiative for the security of assets and court evidence as criminals continue to discover the effectiveness of the technology.”
The use of the database for analytical processes has allowed SmartWater to become accredited by the national accrediting body UKAS for being compliant with the requirements of the Forensic Science Regulator (FSR) Codes of Practice.
“We are a complex business, as every product that goes out of the door is unique and needs to be traced,” said Harris. “We have a large post dispatch process that we go through to make sure we have registrations, statistics, management information and everything else needed to go to court and ensure that the evidence stands up. We have to attest that the evidence was made correctly, analysed correctly and the data held in the database is valid – there can’t be any room to question the data’s integrity. InterSystems has enabled us to prove all of these points.”
Moving forward, SmartWater plans to build more systems with the InterSystems platform, which it will make available to trading partners around the world. The partners will then be able to upload their analytical raw data, making the solution scalable and giving the organisation control over what other people are doing with the data globally.