What was the scope of their involvement?
Table XI was flown out in order for their team to visit all our shared-resource facilities at Dartmouth, and find out what the needs and wants were for each one, and how those may or may not have fit into our system. Table XI put a proposal together for us, and we went forward with it.
They took the bones of the system they had developed at Northwestern University, and started slowly adapting it to what we wanted. We rebranded it to RaDar (Resources at Dartmouth), and built the system up to the point of being launched.
I’ve launched many databases, and it’s always a scary proposition. There are always things which we hadn’t considered, or which can go wrong. I can say without a doubt that this was the easiest launch I’ve ever undertaken. The system worked as advertised, people adapted to it quickly, it was user-friendly and straightforward, and most of the glitches we encountered were on the financial end. This was mainly because tracking financials is different in every institution, so fitting the software into the Dartmouth system took a little effort, not to mention that, as soon as we launched it, the school decided to change the system we’d be using. We had to go back and retool that a bit, but it was certainly not because of anything Table XI did.
We had a good launch, and it was clear that the system was working well. We were then able to acquire some grants to improve the system. We were able to refine it even further, working with Table XI to add enhancements and fit the system with our financial and scientific needs.
We’ve wanted to refine some of the reservation-type modules for reserving instruments and selecting services which fit our cores a bit better than the original system did, like a Sanger sequencing ordering and tracking module. This has been going very well for us, and we continue down this path today.
There are two ends to the software: the user end and a management one. A user will click on our RaDar site and select the core or shared resource which they want to order from. It can be either a service, reserved time on an instrument which the researcher wants to use, or an item which they want to obtain. Users then choose the billing code they want to use, and the system tracks where the service will take place, or they may view what the state of their order is in. After completion, the system will automatically invoice the bill and show billing from a user standpoint.
From a shared resource standpoint, we have a management side of things, where we can see the orders coming in, the bills being processed, what instruments have reserved time, and so on. We can manage items, block items, choose whether they need notifications, etc.
We go through billing at the end of the month, collecting and journaling all invoiced orders through the system, using our administrative staff. The transactions are completed at that point, and we can track any trends with services and instrument use, as well as the types samples going through.
We want to stay up with technologies, and, even though everyone will have a computer typically, students will tend to be on the move a lot, bouncing between classes and other things. Having the ability to access the system using a smartphone made perfect sense. This is something which we’ve just launched, and are still touting to people, but users have been very excited about finding out that they can simply pull their phone out, reserve an instrument, check the status of their data or the instrument schedules, and so on. It makes it that much more user-friendly to use the mobile side of our system.
How did you come to work with Table XI?
There were companies which provided software for our purpose, and we looked at them very closely. There were also groups which could be hired and brought in to set things up on our behalf. I was at a meeting, and had heard representatives of Northwestern University talk about their experiences of bringing up a similar system to the one we were looking for, and working with Table XI for the task. It was also an open source system which made it attractice. Having heard their presentation, and it sounded like it would be right up our alley. We talked to the people at Northwestern, who got us in contact with Table XI. We sat down, told their team what we were looking for, and tried to work some preliminaries out. It looked like the collaboration would work, so we decided to go with Table XI.
A part of the billing structure for the other software solutions of this type was to charge based on the amount of work done through the system. The provider would take a percentage of what we were charging. This was certainly reasonable, but our concern was more with finding a nice company which wouldn’t be bought out after a while. This did indeed happen with at least one of the companies we were looking at, although I can’t say how it has affected them.
We were also looking to bring in some of our own programmers in order to manage the system. After we’d finished the system (not that we really can finish a system like this one), and it became more of a maintenance one, we’d use on-site programmers who had knowledge of the software and could perform basic maintenance. We could go to Table XI when we needed bigger changes. We appreciated the flexibility of working with them, and being able to take the system over more ourselves, as it was brought to a satisfactory position.
How much have you invested with Table XI?
The initial cost of launching the system was around $70,000. That system could’ve worked perfectly fine for us, but, since then, we’ve gotten $80,000 in grants for additional items. We’re working on spending additional money for further refinements. I should point out that many of these refinements were not needed for us to be able to use the system. They are mainly to have RaDar fit more precisely to how we do things here at Dartmouth.
What is the status of this engagement?
We started working with Table XI in July 2015. The initial process took a little more than one year. It should’ve gone faster, but it took us a while to make some decisions. Once we went forward with the development, there was a four-to-five-month period, again with some hold ups on our part, before we launched the system and introduced it to Dartmouth. The collaboration is ongoing.