Issue No. 4
Portal and Product Convergence
Senior Director of eClinical Product Strategy
Perceptive Informatics, Nottingham, UK
Ask your colleagues what they mean by a portal and you’ll receive a variety of opinions and suggestions, and maybe the occasional head scratching. In its broadest definition, the Oxford English Dictionary defines a portal to be “a doorway, gate, or other entrance...”
Portal software is an essential component of the eClinical-enabling platform as it provides a framework to provide web-based access to a broad range of data and applications, consolidated through a single entry point.
Thinking back to the principles of product convergence we discussed in the first edition of the Perceptive eClinical Xpert (Issue 1, Winter 2010), consider the example of the Apple iPhone. The utility and popularity of the iPhone are a result of three things: (1) Value – the convenience and usability that is achieved by the presentation of multiple applications through a single unit; (2) Design – great look and feel, intuitive navigation and (some would say) coolness; and (3) Quality – functionality underpinned by robust and reliable performance. Let’s briefly examine these three critical attributes in the context of portal software and how we can produce a framework to access data and applications that adds value, makes life simpler for our users, is well designed, easy to use, robust and reliable.
We’ve stopped expecting to carry multiple devices to perform the things we like to do – phone, music player, camera, GPS – yet we have this precise expectation of our study sites and study teams whom we require to utilize more and more independent technology applications to perform their clinical trial activities. Portal software provides an opportunity to develop a framework within which all trial applications and data can be accessed with the appropriate rights and security. The portal, however, is only of value if it does not add to the burden of specific users but helps them to work efficiently. Site-sponsor collaboration portals, for example, can only be effective if they help sites to complete their work and activities and don’t simply create additional tasks to perform for the benefit of the sponsor or CRO. Bringing applications together within a single framework provides value greater than the sum of individual components when:
(a) Users have a single point of authentication providing access to all their applications without multiple logons
(b) Data and metrics are consolidated from multiple databases such as CTMS, EDC and RTSM, and displayed in a user-role-specific manner that helps the specific user type understand their progress and manage their work (see the article, in the third edition of the eClinical Xpert)
(c) Functionality that lives in specific applications can be exposed in a way that guides the workflow of the user. For example, the portal might bring together all queries from EDC, ePRO, Imaging and Safety systems and present them together as outstanding tasks to the site user.
(d) Additional application portlets can be included that broaden the activities and information users can access, such as collaboration, news and discussion areas.
(e) The framework permits access to multiple studies, programmes and portfolios through a single entry point dependent upon the access rights of the user.
In creating iPhone, Apple have also created a framework standard enabling others to design and publish “Apps”. This is a value add for iPhone and the same holds true for portal, where additional value comes from a standard framework that makes it easy to construct new compatible portlets that can be applied in combination with others to comprise a specific portal application.
Usability is a key requirement for any trial technology. Intuitive to use, simple navigation should enable the user to rapidly access the data, information or functionality they require to perform their activities. Combined with an understanding of user-specific workflow, portal applications can present activities and data in a way that is able to guide the user to their most critical tasks and help them complete their work efficiently. The applications and data presented with most prominence may change depending on the stage of the study, making it easy for users to get to where they need to rapidly. Application of design principles and user interface (UI) standards will ensure that users do not have steep learning curves when utilising new functionality exposed through the portal.
As a key component of the eClinical enabling platform, it’s important to Perceptive to ensure that the portal solution and associated infrastructure we use has the industrial strength to provide rich functionality with robust and reliable performance. For this reason, Perceptive has chosen the IBM WebSphere product to power our portal applications and portal framework.
Like the iPhone unit, the portal is however only a framework through which functionality can be exposed. To achieve a single trial environment requires the incorporation of other clinical trial technologies such as EDC, RTSM and CTMS, and the other vital enabling components of the eClinical platform including integration middleware, enterprise reporting solution and identity management software.