Sept 15, 2005 | Providing researchers with fast, secure access to test results is a common problem for laboratories. The University of Calgary (UC) Faculty of Medicine’s Core DNA and Protein Services lab, which handles about 200 samples a day in support of roughly 600 university and commercial customers, recently adopted a Web-portal solution to solve its data delivery logjam.
Users of UC’s DNA sequencing and DNA/RNA synthesis services previously relied on numerous ways to get test data back. Results for students and university researchers were posted to an FTP server (maintained by the lab) where the researchers could simply download the files associated with an analysis job. If a researcher had trouble FTP-ing files, a UC staffer would help the person perform the FTP or simply e-mail the results directly to the researcher. This contrasted with practices required by some commercial customers who were concerned about data security, and wanted their results burned to a CD and couriered to them.
Supporting these varied methods of distributing results chewed up valuable time and resources. So did the need to administer the FTP servers and provide help desk support to those having trouble accessing or downloading results.
“The lab was spending [the] bulk of its time managing the [distribution of] results,” says Tom Durnin, client services manager in the university’s MedIT group.
A search for a better solution was undertaken with system interoperability as a key consideration. “We have 600 or so users with a variety of systems,” says Durnin. “Our concern was that if we didn’t have something that would work on different systems and wasn’t easy to use, we would be inundated with help [desk] calls.”
Not surprisingly, the ability to provide secure access and secure transfer of the files associated with each submitted job was a critical requirement. Lastly, because of the large number of files (reports, synthesis, graphs, etc.) generated in the process, there needed to be some form of file management and version control.
“Based on our criteria, we looked at Web file-sharing products,” says Durnin. Another group at the university was coincidently looking at a Web-based content management system from Xythos Software, and Durnin checked it out.
“Out of the box, the functions met our requirements,” says Durnin. He notes that they just needed to set access rights and adjust a few other administrative items.
Using Xythos’ Web-based software called the Xythos Enterprise Document Manager, the MedIT group set up a file sharing and transfer service called the Secure WebFile that combines access control, file version control and management, and browser-based SSL (secure sockets layer) encryption.
“We now have one process for distributing results,” says Durnin. So there is no need to FTP, burn CDs, or e-mail the results. Instead, results are posted and a notification is sent to the user.
“This frees up the time that was [dedicated] to these tasks,” says Durnin. There have been other benefits in moving to the Web-based system, he says. Training users is easier — typically done with a single e-mail containing instructions on how to use the system. Also, test results are now routinely available within 24 hours of a submission, and researchers can more easily share the results with their colleagues.