CovidSafeBE: From scratch to 10+ M installs
“When we first started this project, we were excited to get started. A project with that much impact doesn't come along every day.” Hannes Van den Berghe, project manager at icapps. “The project landed with us in April 2021. We had the chance to put together a team of 3 developers and 1 designer to work on the Front end of the application, joining forces with the team of experts at Digitaal Vlaanderen.”
Through close collaboration and open- and daily- communication, we were able to create an MVP in only 3 weeks’ time. By now, we’re already working on the project for more than a year, with numerous iterations and improvements finished. The CovidSafeBE app has already been installed on more than 10 million Belgian smartphones, the CovidScanBE app has been downloaded over 1,5 million times.
Safe and secure
We not only built the projects but were also involved in the strategic part. Our CTO, Jeroen Trappers, executed a technical analysis to ensure the safety and security of the digital product. Together with some stakeholders in the Belgian and European governments, we were part of important decisions about the requirements and features of this application.
Since this app contains personal information and data, although this information is limited to the bare minimum GDPR guidelines must be respected at all times. That is why we performed regular checks and screenings to make sure no data was stored in the application. We also provided Digitaal Vlaanderen with a clear overview of what information is stored in the application and what is not. We perform daily and weekly updates to improve the security of the application. Not only do we build state-of-the-art applications, but we also ensure state-of-the-art security for all data.
When building an application with different teams, communication is crucial. We must say that it was a pleasure to work with the team from Digitaal Vlaanderen. We were both on the same level, we both wanted to make it a success, and we felt a huge commitment from both sides. We set up daily virtual meetings to discuss possible obstacles, look for solutions together, and to discuss each other's progress to make sure everything was aligned and on track.
To ensure the application was up and running at all times, we invested a lot in the quality and setup of the architecture of the app. We implemented a remote configuration and multiple implementation methods for several features. This was crucial to be prepared for - and easily solve - fallback scenarios.
Accessible for all, thanks to Flutter
Since the applications are made for a large audience and must be accessible to all Belgian citizens, it had to be of top quality at all levels. Also in terms of accessibility. We wanted to create an application that is easy to manage, even for people with disabilities. Thanks to Flutter, we were able to create several features to take the accessibility to the next level. For example; labels in the application are pronounced in everyday language instead, which makes a huge difference to the comfort of people with visual impairments. Vaccination 1/2 is not pronounced "Vaccination one slash two" but rather "Vaccination one of two". Since we built this application in Flutter, we only had to implement this once for it to work on both iOS and Android.
We had a very tight deadline to build the MVP, so we were not able to wait for certain native implementations to be made by the EU. To speed up the process, we chose to write some parts in Flutter/Dart ( for example, the Dart implementation of Cert-logic) which is now also available via the EU Github. This made it possible for us to deliver the MVP before the deadline, so we could already start implementing some nice-to-haves. Because we made these implementations ourselves, we are sure that there are no leaks in our knowledge of the application, we know every single part of the application, which is a huge bonus in terms of maintenance and further development. We can now guarantee extra security and we can fix bugs in a jiffy.
After launching the CovidSafeBE and CovidScanBE app with a tight deadline, we were sure we would also manage to build the GovApp within the anticipated time. Because we only had 3 weeks to create the MVP, we worked with a Kanban board to enter all tickets from the start. This MVP turned into the actual working app, with already over 200 000 installs. "We were lucky to use a lot of the code from the CovidSafeBE application, which made it possible to make the application go live in only 3 weeks" Koen Van Looveren, Flutter developer at icapps.
“I was, once again, stunned by the flexibility and involvement of both our teams,” Hannes says. “We could never have made this project work without the dedication of our developers and designers. Deadlines were sharp, the pressure was high and the exposure ever higher. This is a product to be proud of, a product with an impact on our daily lives, a project that is entirely in line with icapps’ vision; to enrich daily life by using technology. Maybe that is why we’re extremely proud that we can say we were part of this.”