We’re keeping an eye on the Plone content management system (CMS) as a tool for science and recently attended the 2009 Plone conference in Budapest. Here is a short report on how some companies are using Plone in support of science.
The Plone content management system is uniquely rich and robust as well as being uniquely demanding of those trying to harness its potential. Plone is not a system to be embraced lightly but, as noted in a previous post, Plone’s model for information structure, workflow and security all combine to make it very well suited for applications in scientific data management.
While the annual Plone conference is primarily a gathering of Plone/Python super-geeks, it is also a place where ‘integrators’ — those who customize Plone for a particular customer base — come to share and learn. While at the meeting we had the pleasure of meeting with people from two such companies:
ZiteLab.dk is a Danish firm we collaborate with that customizes Plone for use in medical research. Medical informatics is very demanding when it comes to security, authorization and a workflow hierarchy — all the more so in a medical research setting. ZiteLab is using these features of Plone to create data management systems that are highly tailored to the needs of specific medical research projects. Working directly with doctors to create custom patient intake forms, ZiteLab is able to build systems that organize and validate data collection at participating hospitals resulting in immediate updates to data stored in a central repository. Subsequent analysis of the data benefits tremendously from this careful data management effort applied where it should be — at the point of entry.
They currently have several systems up and running, each tailored to a specific medical research interest. In one example, they have built a web based system to track the results of standardized treatment of stroke victims. When fully implemented in 2010, this system will be used at hospitals world-wide.
BioDec.com is an Italian firm that is a spin-off from an academic research group. They provide bioinformatics software and consulting services in postgenomics and are using Plone as the core of what they call a BMS (Bioinformation Management System):
The BMS harnesses the power of the best open source CMS for the management of your lab diary, and records it in compliance with user-defined workflows. Integration with annotated publicly available or private biosequence databases may provide ground-breaking insights about significance and implications of experimental data.
The idea of systematizing lab protocols (the ‘user-defined workflows’) in an electronic lab notebook and then linking the notebook with external databases and analysis, all within a single user interface, is exactly the kind of functionality that keeps us excited about Plone as a tool for science.
Hats off to ZiteLab and BioDec for showing us how modern software can be placed in the service of science to improve procedures for data collection and the resulting analysis of those data.