CoreLab Partners is a multinational company providing science-driven services and cutting-edge technology to support clinical trials for drug development using image-based analysis and tools.
As a pioneer in this niche market, CoreLab found that no real “off-the-shelf” solutions met their needs. CoreLab’s IT team, therefore, is responsible for creating entirely new applications via custom coding and the integration of other systems. As a result, they have a large stable of custom applications and a comprehensive set of development, validation, and staging environments. The team is continuously innovating to stay on the forefront of the industry.
After an unsuccessful attempt to develop a mission-critical imaging application (including an interface to a system provided by Siemens Corporate Research) in Java, CoreLab decided to move the development of this application to the Microsoft .NET Framework, using the Visual Studio IDE and Visual Studio Team Foundation Server. These tools have since become integral to CoreLab’s IT strategy, and CoreLab is currently evaluating expanding the platform to include Microsoft SharePoint to build upon the innovation capabilities offered by Visual Studio and .NET.
CoreLab Partners, Inc., was branded in February 2010 when RadPharm, Inc., merged with Medifacts International. The combined company provides comprehensive medical image assessment and cardiac safety services to the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and medical device industries.
||After seeing the initial lack of progress on Java, we started to develop the application in parallel on .NET. In this head-to-head race, the .NET platform beat Java hands down.
Chief Information Officer
Specifically, CoreLab Partners provides services for clinical trials in the oncology space, where medical imaging is used as an endpoint for disease progression and EKG-ambulatory blood-pressure monitoring on the cardiac safety side.
The combined company now has six sites around the world, including two in Germany, one in China, and three in the United States and employs roughly 350 full-time employees.
Harvey Guindi, the Chief Information Officer who oversees the technology group for CoreLab Partners, has a team of 40 development resources who carry out the CoreLab Partners IT strategy.
According to Mr. Guindi, “We’re in a unique space that does not have a lot of direct competitors with the same portfolio of services. The downside is we don’t have a lot of competitors, which means that the tools and technologies that we use are not currently standard. We find ourselves needing to either customize or configure off-the-shelf tools or build systems from the ground up. That’s why we invested fairly heavily in the technology side and do quite a bit of application development internally to support the business on both the cardiac as well as the imaging side.”
As such, CoreLab Partners’ IT team drives a large portfolio of custom development projects for their core imaging and clinical trial systems, other line of business applications for finance, and even marketing.
One of the most critical recent custom development projects was the development of an application that would enable integration of CoreLab’s image repository and Clinical Trial Management Systems (CTMS) with the platform of one of CoreLab’s key partners—Siemens Corporate Research. CoreLab initially decided to develop the interface (called WorkList Server) on Apache Axis2 and Java as most of their internal development skills were on the Java platform.
The development started in March 2009 and the intention was to finish the interface within six months. With each iteration and review meeting, CoreLab found itself facing new obstacles and missing deadlines. Three months into the project, it became apparent that the Java development environment was not providing the functionalities and the support needed to build this interface. As Mr. Guindi explained, “We discovered that with Java it was quite challenging to find the right documentation and support in order to successfully develop this application.”Solution
In June 2009, CoreLab decided to initiate a new project and run the development for WorkList Server in parallel on the Microsoft .NET platform using the Microsoft Visual Studio development system and Visual Studio Team Foundation Server. Within two months, the team using .NET had achieved 70% of the required functionality, as compared with 20% functionality achieved in five months by the Java team.
At that point, CoreLab realized that the .NET platform was far superior to Java given the complex requirements of this project and decided to move 100% of the resources exclusively to .NET, abandoning the Java project as a sunk cost. “After seeing the initial lack of progress on Java, we started to develop the application in parallel on .NET. In this head-to-head race, the .NET platform beat Java hands down,” Mr. Guindi shared. He went on to say, “Once I started to look at the architecture, it was far more elegant, far simpler, and it seems like it was made to provide the required functionality and integration capability among these disparate systems, whereas Java had some very serious integration limitations.” Without the limitation of the Java client interface, CoreLab was able to develop the interface as a web application which added additional flexibility. “The success we found [with .NET] was not just in the delivery but in the overall performance and portability. It went from a Java-based thick client to being a very robust web application. This made the deployment and the management much easier. The applications performed extremely well compared to Java,” shared Mr. Guindi.
Part of the shortening of the development cycle enabled by moving to .NET was due to CoreLab’s ability to quickly access a vast amount of relevant documentation provided by Microsoft that could be leveraged for this project. Much of this reference information was accessed via the MSDN Library available to the CoreLab team. “While there is a lot of documentation available on Java, finding relevant information felt like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack,” said Mr. Guindi.Additionally, Mr. Guindi felt that the availability of the right skills both internally and externally was greater for the .NET platform vis-à-vis Java. “I felt that the .NET developers were much more comfortable from the start with the ability of .NET to deliver on the requirements of this project,” he added.With all new development now on the .NET Framework, CoreLab is currently working on a major update to this application that will further enhance the integration capabilities with Siemens’ systems. On a companywide basis, development on Java overall has shrunk from 40% to 20% in the past two years, and CoreLab is expecting to continually reduce this percentage by moving all new developments exclusively to .NET.As a result of the success with .NET, CoreLab is looking into deploying Microsoft SharePoint technology to further expand on the innovation potential of the Microsoft platform. Mr. Guindi explained, “It’s a great platform with easy-to-use functionality that seamlessly enables collaboration and workflow management. We are also looking at potentially replacing some of our finance workflows via SharePoint implementation.”
The key benefit of switching from Java to .NET, according to Mr. Guindi, was the time-to-market. The project had an aggressive timeline of six months that had become even more daunting as three months went by with unsuccessful efforts to develop the application on Java. “With Java, we would probably have never finished the project,” shared Mr. Guindi. This project was critical for CoreLab as it drove the company’s ability to secure a multimillion-dollar business with one of their largest partners—Siemens. In the end, Siemens was thrilled with the result. “They were very impressed and in the rapid .NET development cycle we were even able to add value to the Siemens integration interface,” says Mr. Guindi. “There was a component DLL developed on Apache Axis2 and Java that exposed some of their web services. We actually took that and rewrote that in .NET. It turned out to be a lot faster and more reliable,” he added.
Performance and User Experience
Another key benefit of the .NET platform was the ability to develop a user-friendly and robust interface that allowed CoreLab to better monitor, centrally manage, and control the system, as opposed to having stand-alone applications. “It took away all the dependency on the client we would have with the Java solution. The interface built on Java looked terrible. Every time you looked at a drop-down list and picked something it would take a while; it was very kludgy to navigate and use. Once we built it in .NET, it was much faster. We didn’t expect to see such a dramatic improvement in performance, as the interface was still communicating with the same systems,” explained Mr. Guindi.
Developer Skills and Productivity
As mentioned previously, the .NET developers were completely confident in the ability of .NET to support the requirements of this mission-critical development. According to Mr. Guindi, this “level of comfort and enthusiasm for .NET” was one of the key differentiators between the Java team and the .NET team. The CIO felt that this was largely due to the capabilities of Visual Studio and, specifically, Visual Studio Team Foundation Server, especially with respect to code review and overall integration.
“The .NET Framework is among the most important, innovative, and … transcending things that Microsoft is currently doing. The technology and tools they have given to the development community are as powerful, reliable, well-supported, and flexible as anybody could ask for. I see that growing and I see more and more companies moving to the Microsoft development platform,” Mr. Guindi predicts.
Visual Studio and .NET
Microsoft Visual Studio is a powerful IDE for developing .NET Framework applications that ensures quality code throughout the entire application lifecycle, from design to deployment.
The Microsoft .NET Framework enables developers to use the same set of skills to rapidly build quality applications for Windows, SharePoint, Windows Phone, Windows Azure, and beyond.
For more information about Microsoft Visual Studio and the .NET Framework, go to: For More Information
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