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The Inside Track

Sep 1, 2003 12:00 PM, Brent Harshbarger


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Research and development (R&D) is not only the responsibility of the manufacturer but the systems integrator, as well. It is required to increase the value of the organization. Research and development is a broad category that needs to be defined for proper context. In the case of integrators, the research aspect of R&D is more market driven than the academic variety. The development side is taking the information obtained in research and developing reusable tools or products for a given customer type or industry.

Knowing your customers and the industry they serve is vital to being a successful integrator. Research is spending time with the customers to understand their businesses, the workflow, and the tools they need to serve their customers.

The first step to gaining efficiency is to understand the workflow. Workflow determines who talks to whom in the daily life of the customer's organization, what information each person needs, and to whom they pass that information to. In many cases, there is a duplication of work by the staff or with the various systems.

Learn about the tools your customer uses. Find out what information each device provides for the customer and why. Determine whether each device can share data and what protocol it uses.

Once the initial research is completed, your design and development team can begin to examine all of the systems and workflow. The goal is to identify workflow inefficiencies or areas where duplicate information is created by another system in the facility. The next step is to identify the areas your systems can streamline, which will result in savings on operational costs for your customer.

EFFICIENCY

Hospitals are a gold mine for integrators who embrace R&D. The amount of communication and logging (the recording of events into a database or a text file) required for business efficiency and the prevention of loss of life is virtually unlimited, which makes this an excellent example.

The nursing staff is the backbone of any hospital. Therefore, if you have too many nurses on staff, costs are increased significantly. If you have too few nurses, you run an increased risk of loss owing to improper care or human error. Scheduling the right balance of nurses starts with information. A great deal of the information required to determine the proper staff resides in the communication devices used by the nursing staff.

Communication systems and features such as nurse call and nurse registry provide the foundation of the data required. This data, coupled with patient data, provides a good model to determine the time required for patient types and the efficiency of various staffing scenarios.

With most systems being built on Unix, Linux, or Windows, the ability to develop data adapters to share this information with other systems should be common practice with progressive integrators. Creating these adapters and other specialized software to support existing back-end systems allows the organization to separate itself from the competition. The integrator becomes valuable to the customer because they become partners in gaining operational efficiencies and reducing risk, which all add up to the bottom line.

GOING SOFT

Software is the heart of the development required to meet your customer's needs as described in the brief example. The development team requires software engineers who can develop a modular architecture to support all of your customer's needs. The team requires strong database types and coders with experience in C++, Java, and Web applications and services.

The developers should be equipped with the software development kits from all the manufacturers you do business with and the manufacturers you plan to integrate. In addition, you will need software development packages like Microsoft's Studio .NET and Macromedia's StudioMX. (For more about Studio .NET, see “IT Trends” in the July 2003 issue.) Therefore, the focus in this segment will be on Macromedia's StudioMX.

Macromedia's StudioMX is a suite of products for developing Web-based applications. Within the suite is the DreamweaverMX coding tool, the FreehandMX graphics package, an image/photo package called Fireworks, the FlashMX animation and Web authoring tool, and ColdFusionMX, a tool to provide data-driven applications.

DreamweaverMX provides a what-you-see-is-what-you-get environment for creating Web pages or applications that require a browser front end, which is becoming the preferred method of development in the software world. In addition, it provides an excellent HTML and other editors, which you can fine-tune at a code level. It supports and assists in JavaScript development and Web services. The MX version of Dreamweaver includes better client side interactivity tools and database development. DreamweaverMX also provides more robust XML and Web service support. The program is designed for rapid and modular development.

Fireworks offers the tools to quickly create and edit images for a richer and more intuitive user interface. It allows you to create navigational buttons and assists you in the JavaScript coding to make them interactive. The suite lets you effortlessly edit or embed your work between applications. Fireworks is also a powerful tool for creating images and graphics, even if you plan to code everything in C++.

Freehand is a vector-based 2-D graphics system. It is a powerful tool for the hardware developer and software developer alike. The hardware developer can create hardware objects like knobs and LCD screens and then save them into a library. The designer can use the inventory of parts to create a device at the customer's request and get an approval before any money is spent.

The vector-based application provides the software developer the basic graphic elements for an application that can be animated and coded in FlashMX with ActionScript respectively.

FlashMX is a program that started as an animation package and has grown to a full authoring tool for Web-based technologies. It allows the designer/developer to use media and graphics and to create animations. Its ability to code interactivity through ActionScript has made it one of the top choices for many media- and data-rich applications creation tools.

Using the four programs mentioned previously with ColdFusionMX provides a solid server back end for dynamic applications and the ability to work with a number of open systems like SQL, ASP.NET, and J2EE.

The entire suite of Macromedia StudioMX and Microsoft Studio .NET gives the integrator all the tools required to provide the customer with additional products and services that increase your value to the customer. Using the described methods and tools will decrease your development time, gaining you addition profit. It is a win for your customer, and it's a win for you. It all starts with a little R&D.


Brent Harshbarger has worked for Peavey in the development of MediaMatrix. He can be reached at behnms@aol.com.



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