|Building on Success: An Interview with Integra’s Louie Foster||| Print ||
Integra has built the dominant document software product over recent years, and now there's been a big advance with the company's release of DocuTrack v5. In this interview with ComputerTalk senior editor Will Lockwood, Louie Foster, director of product management, talks about the four year process of developing this newest version, which has been built from the ground up, and explains how it represents a shift in the company's approach, including a move to a new deployment platform and a new, more flexible PDF management tool.
CT: Louie, What motivated this rewrite of DocuTrack?
Foster: There were a number of different factors. Previous versions were browser-based because clients demanded thin client solutions. At that time organizations wanted to minimize IT involvement during updates. However, with Internet Explorer we saw Microsoft increasingly limiting the technologies we use to interface with pharmacy systems in an attempt to overcome many of its vulnerabilities. We took the pragmatic view that one day these security measures would render many of our interfaces unusable, which necessitated a rewrite. It was a great decision because the release of Internet Explorer 9.0 removed DocuTrack's capability to interface from the client. In addition to that we also wanted to take what we had learned over the last 10 years and use that knowledge, coupled with the latest technologies, to further improve our clients' return on investment.
CT: What's the platform now?
Foster: We are using .NET in a "smart client" platform. It is analogous to a thick client, as the client software is installed on the workstation much like many other Window's application. Moving to a smart client enabled us to automate many common tasks that were not possible within the Internet Explorer framework. It also gave us the foundation we needed to remove Adobe Acrobat requirements and provide a platform for new technologies we will soon be announcing.
CT: And what about that ease of staying up to date that the browser-based paradigm offers?
Foster: We have advanced technology in both the server and client software that solves the deployment problem. When a user starts DocuTrack after there's been a server update the client automatically downloads its updates, and within minutes the user continues running on the updated software. You get the benefits of a rollout that requires little to no IT involvement without the usability and functionality drawbacks of browser-based applications.
CT: What are some of the highlight changes an experienced user of the software will notice?
Foster: There are a lot of changes and highlights. As I mentioned, users can expect a much richer user experience. For example, they may sort and move virtually all columns in the product. The interface is now tabbed, allowing multiple concurrently opened documents and streamlining activities like stapling. There are also many features beyond a richer user interface. Some focus on specific market segments like assisted living or long-term care specific pharmacies, however there are many that have universal appeal. The application is much faster on the new platform. Import processes are much more sophisticated enabling smart inbound collation options. The move also allows for much quicker turnaround for new features. Since we've released 5, we've had a monthly update schedule with many new features. One client told me that it feels like belonging to a wine of the month club, because every month great new features are being delivered.
CT: What prevented you from moving to a smart client before?
Foster: It was really about market demands. Browser and web-based applications were seen as the way to go then. It was difficult to sell a product like DocuTrack if you weren't on a thin client platform.
CT: You mentioned that you are moving away from Adobe. Why, and what's the impact?
Foster: There are a number or reasons. It reduces the barrier to entry by lowering the acquisition cost of DocuTrack. Previously Acrobat was required on every workstation. Another reason is that Adobe has consistently removed development access to parts of Acrobat, reducing our ability to provide automation to our clients. Finally, Acrobat is a very large application with many features that are unnecessary to our clients. Our PDF viewer is fully compliant with all current PDF standards without the unnecessary features. Due to this it will load a PDF in a fraction of the time it takes Acrobat.
CT: Is this viewer something you developed in house?
Foster: No. We didn't want to waste our clients' time by reinventing the wheel. We are partnering with a company with proven expertise in PDF technologies that has millions of users worldwide using their PDF platform. It's a very stable product that doesn't limit our development capabilities like Adobe's Acrobat product. Due to that, we are now able to work on requested features that weren't even possible with Acrobat, like providing customized dynamic stamps.
CT: What are some of the features new users might be excited about?
Foster: For one thing, 5 offers very streamlined support at the enterprise level. We see the small chain market really growing with many independents growing to multiple locations. When they do this they typically want to consolidate their platforms. While DocuTrack has always worked at the enterprise level, it has traditionally required a lot of administrative work to set up and maintain. We've substantially reduced that work in 5 to the point where a client is able to bring up a new pharmacy, and have the new pharmacy running with the same workflow used across the entire organization in minutes.
CT: What's the transition to version 5 going to be like for current users?
Foster: We've had sites upgrade to 5 with very little training. They've installed and had untrained staff productive within the first half hour. That's in part because we put a lot of effort into the user experience. This effort has given us is the ability to release a huge functional upgrade with close to 300 new features and at the same time make it so that users can continue working with little to no initial impact to productivity due to retraining. They can migrate to using the new features at their own pace. Of course, we offer training, but we've also found many users are trying out the new features on their own and picking them up easily. We've also consolidated features and made application administration more streamlined. For example, using really rich control sets we took what were five different browser workspaces into one in the smart client.
CT: What do you think is going to be the motivation for people to migrate to version 5?
Foster: I think all the new features are really exciting for users, many of which were based on their direct feedback and requests. The excitement of our clients has forced us to create waiting lists which at times have had over 50 pharmacies requesting the upgrade. We are releasing new features at a very high rate, as I mentioned earlier. For example, we just released an update that improves the ability to programmatically determine how documents come in and how they are collated and split up, as well as automatically submitting refills based on date/facility, etc. to the pharmacy system when they are received. Quicker turnaround allows us to get features into the users' hands faster and determine how best to further refine them as they are adopted. The alternative is to spend a huge amount of R&D time and release something that doesn't do what our clients need requiring product rework.