How cutting edge web technology helped transform funeral services around the UK

What we did
UX UI Front end dev Back end dev
Electron, Javascript, NodeJS

An ambitious project, from the unlikeliest of sources.

When you think of industries that are actively innovating, the funeral business probably doesn't spring to mind. But our recent project with Wesley Media — a company that works with both bereaved families and funeral service providers to create unique multimedia ceremonies and tributes — proved different.

To give you an idea of the challenge we faced: we had to build a media player that effectively did what Spotify, YouTube, iMovie, PowerPoint, web-casting and digital signage systems do, but all in one place. On top of that, we needed to make sure that even the biggest technophobe could use it — right down to people who need training to use a mouse.

Wesley wanted the option to enter into new markets and decouple the dependency on hardware. When installing a new solution they had to install a specific PC and windows based hardware, the web-casting solution was dependent on specific graphics cards, their tributes required a "purple box" piece of hardware that would store a cache of the media files. The new program therefore has to work across operating systems Windows, Mac and Linux and take advantage of the hardware available.

A further challenge was that the end application had to be themeable - they wanted to be able to upgrade uses to the new software without any visual impact or learning overhead. Their existing system had a typical Windows 2000 theme, however they also wanted to be able to switch to a modern theme for new installations.

An application running on your computer with this much power - interacting with custom remote controls, managing feeds to large digital displays and controlling sound systems is not something you would immediately think web technology could do.

However, the abstraction that NodeJS (a local javascript environment) and Electron technology gave us means we have the full themeable power of css whilst being able to use generic API's for standard hardware control across physical operating systems like Mac OSX and Windows. Furthermore, there was also the ability to reuse 90% of the code base in an online web environment.

Our full technology choices were NodeJS, Electron, React, Typescript and Redux

Why Newicon?

The previous iteration of Wesley’s software worked well and was the market leader. However, thinking ahead, Wesley knew it needed to be rebuilt, updated and future-proofed. So they looked for a software house that could build a solution based on their specific requirements, adding value through technical expertise, forward thinking, and attention to detail.

We were the ideal fit.

Our passion for cutting edge web technologies and willingness to push the envelope won us the job — a project that would challenge the capabilities of modern web technology running in desktop environments.

The challenges: A legacy system creaking at the seams

Despite the existing product’s success, it had issues that needed addressing. It relied on programming languages, hardware and operating systems that were no longer supported and were expensive to maintain. Wesley also wanted to move into other markets, which the existing system did not allow.

To overcome these challenges, the updated software needed to be:

  • Rebuilt with modern languages and frameworks, using progressive web app technologies, which would continue to be supported.
  • Robust enough to handle all the functionality Wesley needed — video, images, music, web-casting — while remaining simple enough that even non IT professionals can use the software intuitively.
  • Able to handle future functionality.
  • Platform agnostic, so that it would work on any client computer.
  • Able to connect players via the Wesley online management system creating an IoT.
  • Able to control display screens remotely.
  • Powerful enough to take on jobs previously done by hardware.

It's quite amazing what can be accomplished with modern web technology today. The question is not should we use web technology for our project, but why are we not using it?

The added benefit is that web technology is standards based, these standards are what browsers then implement. The standard can not be radically changed without breaking most of the internet, this gives a level of future-proofing you simply do not get from native solutions, where your key libraries will be deprecated in the next OS release! Of course the Wesley player has to interact with native libraries in order to control sound, monitors and interact with the network but these are protected behind a javascript abstraction.

The Solution: New technology suitable for different people

Based on extensive research, we built the new software using React and Electron. Our investigations showed that these would give us the power, flexibility and (importantly) stability that Wesley needed. Even then, we still had to test thoroughly, making sure that everything worked faultlessly. After all, a funeral only happens once, so there was no room for error.

We offered Wesley two versions of the design — one classic and one modern. ‘Classic’ retained the look and functionality of the original. While ‘modern’ offered a more contemporary look, with extra functionality that catered for five different levels of operational complexity, depending on the user.

New technology, new possibilities & new features

We completely overhauled the architecture of the software and its relationship to hardware — simplifying the entire system.

The live webcast of the service used to require dedicated hardware. We replaced this by moving everything into the software — meaning that all venues need to webcast now, is a webcam. The previous media storage box is also no longer necessary, as the new player handles video directly.

Meanwhile the new tribute builder makes it easy for Wesley to create multimedia presentations. It uses a single timeline, onto which they can drag and drop songs, images, videos and text — which can play simultaneously.

Another facet of this new, simplified system, is that all client media players are now synced together via Wesley’s management system. This effectively creates an Internet of Things for every player at every crematorium.

Results: A future-proofed solution ready for the next generation

After a thorough testing period it’s now been rolled out to over 40 crematoria across the UK. While the roll out is still ongoing, the new and improved technology has allowed Wesley Media to remain the market leader.

As evidence of the future-proofing and flexibility we built in, we’ve already added extra features to the software. We were able to seamlessly plug these in to the existing platform, without causing any issues for people using the software.

One of Wesley’s original goals was to prepare the software for expansion into new markets and territories. While Wesley Media currently only work in the funeral sector, the new software can easily be used for other ceremonies, including weddings, christenings, bat/bar mitzvahs — opening up a variety of future opportunities for Wesley Media.

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