November 28, 2016 by Rhianna
The SIIA is delighted to introduce one of the newest members to join SIIA’s Software & Services Division, Quicksilver software. I had a chance to sit down with President of Quicksilver software, William Fisher, to learn a little more about gaming, educational and military training systems. Please find my interview below.
Rhianna: Tell us about Quicksilver software and what makes you unique.
William: We have been an independent developer for over 30 years. We like to tackle hard problems. We’ve done everything from games to a live poker game show to military trainers to medical ID cards.
What ties all of these together is our ability to select and make the most of specific technologies to accomplish a goal, and our ability to make any system engaging and easy to use. We apply game design principles in virtually everything we do. Even our business apps are influenced by our constant attention on usability and clear visual presentation of information. Finally, we have a very solid reputation for delivering on our promises.
Rhianna: How does an independent software developer like Quicksilver software, specializing in gaming, educational and military training software come to have an impact on the medical community?
William: Two different ways:
I met someone at the Games for Health Conference a while ago. We decided to make products to help kids on the autism spectrum. That led us to create a new company, SymPlay, specializing in autism-related products. We have released one game and are currently working on two more non-game projects.
One of those apps is a medical office product. We discovered that regulations for posting of documents were very burdensome for medical facilities, so we came up with an app to display them and allow the office to ensure easy access to notices in many different languages. As usual, this required several techniques from our game design background. We had to find ways of making it very easy to use, and ways of implementing the “fill in the blanks” functionality in languages for which we had no way of displaying them other than image files (for some of the required languages, standard fonts do not exist). Our “ACA-1557 Notices” app is now in the Apple App Store and will soon be available for Android as well.
Separately, a couple of years ago I met someone who wanted to build an app to print custom ID cards for medical emergency responders. The idea was to save lives by providing rapid access to critical medical data including allergies, medication lists and known illnesses. Our game background served us well in this project, because we had to make a very complex data entry system extremely easy to use and then to make it attractive. Secondarily, it turns out that printing a PVC card with a readable barcode is extremely difficult. Our previous work with ID card printing software allowed us to solve this problem. Now, our ability to print high-quality digital data is a key feature of the app and the resulting printed card. We also created a new standard for the compact encoding of critical medical data in a barcode; now we are working with software vendors to enable them to read our format and use it to auto-populate their electronic forms, saving time in an emergency.
As you can see, in both of these cases we faced a number of complicated design and technology challenges. In each case, we came up with solid solutions and implemented them in released products.
Rhianna: Can you tell us about your methodology for design and implementation of your software products?
William: Our methodology is probably best summarized as “tackle the hard problems first, then build the best tools to solve them.”
When you’ve done dozens of products in so many different fields, you develop a certain sense for where the greatest dangers will be found. For example, when developing a client-server product, we always look at how the product will behave if the network connection becomes unreliable or disappears entirely. If creating a product that might be processing sensitive personal information such as medical prescriptions, we design a robust encryption system with multiple layers of protection against loss of data. We know that even the best of ideas can fail if there are fundamental oversights in their design. So we start by looking for every possible weakness, then make sure we have our bases covered.
We also cultivate a culture of questioning decisions in a rational and businesslike manner. It’s hard, in any organization, to tell the team to challenge what their leaders are telling them to do. But we’ve seen again and again that sometimes the team has a better idea than the boss. And they gain tremendous respect for a boss who is willing to say “your idea is better than mine.” At some point, the buck has to stop, of course. But knowing that creative thinking is welcomed has in many cases opened us up to innovative, unusual and very effective solutions to tough problems.
Finally, in many of our projects we don’t just build a one-off system. We build tools that make our jobs easier. For example, for a complex client-server digital comic book system we created, we also built a sophisticated server deployment management system customized for the way we like to work. The result was a tool that we have used in every project since. This tool allows us to quickly and reliably update code on multiple servers in a complex deployment, with high confidence that the updates will be deployed and will function correctly in the live environment. This applies even to the simplest of projects, too. When helping a client with a Web site recently, we needed to process a large number of images, so we wrote a tool to quickly crop, resize and rename all of the files. When the process needed to be repeated several times due to data changes, the tool saved many hours of tedious work.
Rhianna: What are some of Quicksilver software’s newest projects and which are you most excited about?
William: We’re most excited about a product-in-the-making that’s based on the encryption and watermarking technology that we designed and patented a few years ago. This is being expanded into a full-fledged, end-to-end document security and automated contract management system. We already have many of the core technologies in place, and have recently completed R&D on the next phase of the project, paving the way for us to extend our patents and begin development. We’re looking for partners who are interested in extremely sophisticated document control and tracking so we can prove the technology in pilot installations in the next six to twelve months.
We’re also excited about two startups we helped found and bring to market. MEIDC is the “Modern Emergency ID Card”. It’s a compact card the size of a credit card that fits in a wallet and provides instant access to key medical information. It’s now in the Apple App Store and will shortly be joined by an Android release. We’re looking for partners who might want to white-label the ID card, such as large health-care or insurance providers who want to offer a valuable service for their customers at low cost to them.
Our Klipics product creates “digital memories” of life events such as weddings, birthdays, bar mitzvahs and more. It’s a kiosk plus an iOS/Android app. The kiosk lets party-goers take pictures and then write a special message on the screen. Everything is saved on our server and displayed on the kiosk when it’s not otherwise in use. Then, digital invitations can be sent to other people via their mobile devices so they can see the pictures and even add their own if they’re not able to attend in person. We’re actively marketing the system now and looking for ways to expand our presence nationwide.
Finally, of course, there’s a game. Hunt: The Unknown Quarry is based on a board game created by one of our programmers. It’s a multiplayer app that will be available via Steam in early 2017. We used a Kickstarter to obtain seed funding for the game and are now in the final process of testing and refining the user interface. Think of the game as being like Clue but with one of the players being a monster who’s trying to eliminate the others. We’re publishing this under our own name, which is exciting for a company that’s usually been known for marketing through others.
Rhianna Collier is VP for the Software Division at SIIA. Follow the Software team on Twitter at @SIIASoftware.