18. March 2021

Innovation from the ti&m garage: the Hydrant Finder App


Innovation // Where is innovation in its element? At ti&m, that would be in the ti&m garage. Developing the firefighting app in partnership with GVZ, a building insurance firm in the canton of Zurich, was an exciting experience for both parties.

You can’t plan innovations; sometimes they come about by chance. But you still need guts to identify and seize opportunities, and to turn them into workable prod­ucts. The Hydrant Finder App, developed by GVZ Gebäudeversicherung Kanton Zürich and ti&m, is a perfect example of this. 
The original idea sprang from an advanced training course for firefighter chiefs, where Marius Matter, head of agile projects in Zurich and member of the management team at ti&m, was giving a talk. In addition to his work at ti&m, he is also an active member of what is known as a Militia Fire Brigade in Switzerland. Marius was speaking about new technology that can support the work of the fire services. One example was the use of augmented real­ity (AR) to locate hydrants more quickly. Follow­ing the talk there was a lively dis­cussion of the potential of technology.

First prototype developed in two weeks
For GVZ Gebäudeversicherung Kanton Zürich, this talk marked the start of a two-week workshop at ti&m to explore options. And where better than the ti&m garage, ti&m’s innovation center? Developers, designers and UX experts from ti&m joined forces with GVZ employees and a number of firefighters. Our first order of business was to determine the needs of the target group, and then work out the technical challenges.
Discussion began with a design thinking workshop, in which all participants shared their expectations, goals and aspirations. We then categorized these so as to provide the basis for the development of a preliminary clickable prototype. The result was so convincing that we knew we definitely wanted to push ahead with the app. The added value for users in this case firefighters at work is a given. Particularly with regard to hydrants, which are often hard to spot due to obstacles.

Every sprint gets us closer to our goal
So we worked with the experts at ti&m, steadily over several sprints, to develop the app and in less than a year, we were ready for the official launch. Now, over 60,000 hydrants have been digitally
logged in the app, covering virtually the entire canton.
The feedback from firefighters has so far been excellent. They see the app as a valuable addition to their work: it gives them a rapid overview, provides support during incidents, and enables them to identify hydrants that are either hidden or overgrown. This makes the app a vital tool for saving valuable time and thereby minimizing damage to people, buildings and objects. Firefighters closely involved The key to the success of the app was the close involvement of firefighters them­selves in the development process. The target groups provided critical feedback at every stage, from the kick‑off meeting to every individual sprint.
Crucially, this was not limited to theoretical work under lab conditions in the ti&m garage. Before work began on development, a team of UX experts, who co-­developed the app for a research project at the University of Applied Sciences in Rapperswil, went to find out exactly what happens on a fire service call. They closely observed and documented the first five minutes of firefighting operations, visit­ing various fire service organizations in the canton of Zurich. The prototype had to hold its own in the field, too. So the firefighters trialled the app without being given any particular instructions, in order to test its usability and intuitive handling. The app ultimately became the subject of a master’s thesis looking at the UX process (see QR code).
Thanks to these research visits and field trials, we were able to build the firefighters’ all-important feedback into the next stages of development. This not only sped up the development process, by allowing us to rapidly weed out any errors, but also provided suggestions for new features that would make the app even more useful. For example, the app was optimized for one-handed operation extremely help­ful when you’re on a call‑out. And the calculation of hose lengths required to reach from fire engine to hydrants means firefighters will be able to work much faster as they put out blazes and save victims.

Lessons learned
Every iteration closes with a lessons learned meeting. This gives all participants the chance to air their views, whether they are positive or negative. The ultimate goal here is to move the project forward. For GVZ, this was a positive experience, and we learned a great deal especially with regard to future projects. 
We have also recognized that we need to have an even more agile approach to
projects in the future. Agile working with short sprints is an efficient way of driving innovation and testing it out and the Hydrant Finder App project was a clear example of this.

Download master’s thesis here

Vasco Avanzini
Vasco Avanzini

For three years, Vasco Avanzini has been head of Foundations and Development Fire Services at GVZ. He is also a member of the Regensdorf Fire Brigade.

Andreas Abgottspon
Andreas Abgottspon

Andreas Abgottspon has worked at ti&m for nearly six years and is currently Head of Mobile & IoT. He previously worked at UBS for 15 years in a number of different software development roles.