This week I had the privilege to sit down with our head of Global R&D, David Ciabattoni. It’s been a few weeks since the LABVANTAGE Customer Training and Education Conference (CTEC) ended and there’s a lot to talk about. Now that the craziness has winded down and Dave is more relaxed, we got together to discuss the CTEC LABVANTAGE 6 presentations’ success, his input on the new features his team is currently working on, and his personal goals with LABVANTAGE.
MS: Hi, Dave! Congratulations on the LABVANTAGE 6 presentations, they’ve had a remarkable response from our customers and were voted #1 on the surveys! Why do you think your presentations were so popular?
DC: I think the presentations were a hit for a couple of reasons. First, Mark (Mark Hill, Sr. Architect) and Ralph (Ralph Goldberg, Product Manager) are very technical while entertaining when they share technical details. They are down-to-earth with an engineering type of spin. They’re good at communicating what the intended feature improvements are designed to do and why. Second, a lot of the customers understand LABVANTAGE, the product, and when they come to these conferences, they look forward to hearing what’s new. In the last three years, there have been a lot of features targeted to a specific community from a SQL*LIMS customer base and I know they were happy to hear that their more popular capabilities that weren’t in LABVANTAGE before are now in LABVANTAGE 6.
MS: Can you explain to me the process used to merge unique features of SQL*LIMS into the new LABVANTAGE 6?
DC: Sure. Three years ago, the product development team sat down and did a comprehensive gap analysis between the two product lines (SQL*LIMS and LABVANTAGE). The goal was to provide the SQL*LIMS user base functional equivalency in the LABVANTAGE product. A year and half later, we completed LABVANTAGE 6 which is approximately 2/3 SQL*LIMS gap features and 1/3 new, additional capabilities. Today, when customers upgrade to LABVANTAGE 6, they get all the LABVANTAGE capabilities – old and new – plus features they were used to having in SQL*LIMS.
MS: That sounds like a lot of work! On top of merging LABVANTAGE with SQL*LIMS, you guys were able to create and develop new features for LABVANTAGE 6. I heard many CTEC customers were interested in learning about mobile device options. Can you elaborate on that?
DC: Mark Hill and I wanted to add a spin towards providing more interaction with the application to the end-user, to make it easier for the user. One of those options was to make a small interface that works on both iPhone and Android devices. We wanted to start building a framework of capabilities that are native to the phone and presented this new technology to the LABVANTAGE user base at CTEC. This led to further discussions about using a phone to read barcodes, for example. As of today, we concluded that the phone is better suited for looking up information based on the product and not necessarily to provide direct input into entering results or values. Most customers felt we should continue to build this with that direction in mind.
MS: Is that what the CTEC theme “LABVANTAGE: The Move towards Mobility” meant? Moving data to your phone?
DC: No, “the move towards mobility” was more than just a phone theme. It was moving the data to the end users in a way that’s easy to access. My analogy is Twitter. When you follow different people, you get sent their posts; you don’t have to go look for them.
MS: So how do you plan to make this move towards mobility?
DC: At CTEC, I kept telling customers it’s important for us to validate that we’re building the right capabilities, that we’re doing the right thing. We often ask users, “Are we going in the right direction? Do you like this? Will you use this?” Instead of going off and building something and hoping it works for their needs, and wasting a lot of time and energy getting there, we ask these questions early on in our development cycles and we ask it often. Getting constant feedback helps us ensure we’re building the right features. If they don’t like it, we stop it and scrap it and go the other way. For example, Mark presented the idea of an integration to OneNote and nobody raised their hands. We didn’t scratch that idea off, but we stopped working on it for the time being; we won’t pursue it yet.
You see, there are several different methodologies for building software. The traditional way of building software uses the Waterfall methodology: you build the product, throw it over the wall when you’re finished, and sit back and hope it fits the customer’s needs. The Agile methodology, which is what we use here at LABVANTAGE, means we build and present several iterations to make sure we are moving in the right direction. We build one piece of capability and first validate it solves the problem at hand. We then confirm it works, and if possible get into the customers hands before we release. If customers don’t like it, then we just change it. Every time we build, we present, we tweak it and repeat; it’s an evolution.
MS: Do you have any other goals you’d like to share with our customers?
DC: Now that LABVANTAGE 6 is done, my next focus is to make the product even more intuitive for the end user especially as the world moves towards tablets and more specialized input devices. Like I mentioned before, when talking about “the move towards mobility”, I like the social media vibe that information is presented to you instead of you having to go find it. As an example, normally when you log in to the LABVANTAGE system there is a tramline (similar to a menu system) and I proposed at CTEC 2012 we make a special page that end users can tailor to present them with their own defined start page. This initial screen will automatically present to them what they’re looking for. So, if the system knows you have to fill in a timesheet, the timesheet will be the first thing you see. The system will continue to update end users on what they need to do. Our eminent workflow engine improvements will do just that…it will be a push technology rather than a pull. This is our product focus for the next version of LABVANTAGE. It fits within the whole mobility theme, making data more mobile, interfacing to other systems, presenting to users easier and bringing it to your phone.