Horses for courses with development platforms

Auckland company Clineanswers, which provides clinical information systems to US hospitals, has relaunched its flagship product Clineguide using Eclipse, IBM's open source development environment, for its web applications and Microsoft's .Net for PC clients.

Auckland company Clineanswers, which provides clinical information systems to US hospitals, has relaunched its flagship product Clineguide using Eclipse, IBM’s open source development environment, for its web applications and Microsoft’s .Net for PC clients.

The company, which is a spin-off from medical publishers Adis International, employs 50 editorial staff to research and update clinical information databases using its own Ethos content management system, which provides information to Clineguide.

Clineanswers, which is headquartered in New Zealand but whose sales and support staff are based in the US, wanted to web-enable Clineguide and commissioned Datacom to create the new version. Datacom did so using Eclipse.

Eclipse, a competitor to Borland’s JBuilder, shuns Java’s standard AWT (abstract window toolkit) and Swing libraries, and replaces them with SWT (standard widget toolkit) for basic effects and JFace for advanced.

Datacom developer Aisha Fenton says although doing away with Swing could be seen as “political”, SWT feels more native to use and melds more easily with operating systems. He says Datacom used Eclipse for the project because it is open source and easily extendable. The new application uses WebLogic from BEA as the J2EE application server.

Meanwhile, Ethos was rewritten using a competing platform, Microsoft .Net.

Ethos needed a rich user interface, says Clineanswers IT manager Cyril Snow.

“We considered Java but it didn’t fit in with what we were trying to do, which was build a fat client application. A web application was never going to deliver what we wanted in terms of user interface.”

Snow says the company had outgrown the old system, which had been built internally using Microsoft Access 97 and SQL Server 6.5, and had been modified several times.

Clineanswers settled on Microsoft .Net for the rebuild and worked with consultants from The Simpl Group and Microsoft on a new version of Ethos to support the relaunch of Clineguide in July. The aim is to have Clineanswers’ editorial staff using the new system by the end of the year.

Snow says the old system was inflexible and the company’s editorial processes had largely been dictated by IT requirements.

“For example, the old system didn’t allow for real-time validation or rendering of content. A third party had to deliver the content, a process that required a large amount of manual intervention. It could take anywhere from three days to one week before we could view new content.”

Clineanswers also wanted a reliable system that would handle increasing volumes of content as the organisation grew, says Snow.

“The new system had to provide the foundation for our entire organisation, since 90% of our staff would use the system for at least 80% of their working day.”

Snow says the new functionality, which included the development of an ASP.Net application and corresponding .Net business objects hosted in Internet Information Server, meant the existing content had to undergo a substantial transformation to be migrated to the new content management system. Clineanswers used Microsoft’s Data Transformation Services for this process and developed a new delivery system to extract content from Ethos knowledge base and change it into the form required by Clineguide 2.0.

Snow says the new systems have attracted considerable interest in other parts of the Wolters Kluwer group, of which Clineanswers is a member and which includes Adis International.

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