February 3rd, 2016
First, we would like to thank everyone who submitted a question to our new Applied Answers series. Every day, we help people understand their web problems and walk them through possible solutions. It’s one of the things that we’re most proud of and clients appreciate. We hope Applied Answers will be a resourceful and dependable source of information for you about the web. Keep these questions coming!
So, let’s dive in.
“How difficult and how long would it take to build an app that research laboratories can use to inventory reagents so that all the researchers in the particular laboratory can keep track of the quantity and availability of each item along with the shipment and delivery status? An essential feature would be that such an app can sync real-time to update the inventory in all devices that utilizes this app as well as provide a search function.”
“How difficult would it be to…” is a common question that we hear. There’s no straight answer for this because difficulty depends on the developer’s skill and knowledge of the subject. The better question asked is “How long will it take” since that is what every project comes down to, a timeline (and a budget).
Whenever we receive a question like this, we first break it down into its parts:
What is it (big picture): An app for research lab staff to track reagents use and stock.
- Must be able to track inventory for reagents: keep track of quantity and availability of each item
- Must track order, shipment, and delivery status
- Must update in real time so anyone with the app can see what’s available, including a general database setup with dynamic data
- Must include a search function so researchers can search for a reagent.
So, let’s address these goals in order.
An app like this sounds simple until you realize that dealing with chemicals means you must do the following:
- Create a log to track who is using what items and in what quantities.
- Decide if there are different permission levels or if anyone can request and check out any item.
- Assign responsibility to an individual or individuals for tracking updates to the inventory and reviewing the logs, a type of administrator.
This app depends on staff participation so the process and interface design needs to be simple and accessible. To do this, it’s important to understand how the staff currently checks reagents in and out. Note that these things were not part of the original question, but in order to plan out a system properly, a web consultant must ask bigger picture questions, which in turn will reveal the details the client has not yet mentioned.
Tracking Orders & Shipments
The administrative side would require the ability to update the items and track incoming shipments. To build the system, we need to understand the process of ordering and receiving new reagents to determine what shipping information to store and display. Part of this is knowing and understanding what services are being used to process shipments. We have to determine who places new orders and whether that process is done through the system, over the phone or elsewhere online and how the order data gets added to this new system.
We would also need to consider opportunities for reporting and automation (ex. auto-updating inventory when shipment is received, notifications when inventory is low, monthly/yearly reports on inventory changes, etc.).
Real Time Updates & Search
Updating information in real-time across devices and search is straightforward, though how it works and what sorts of interactions are available should be detailed before anything is built. The client should be aware of and give feedback on what their researchers will be able to do and see. This is also part of the user-experience design process. Searching will be based on the details available for the reagents and again whether a user has permission to access certain chemicals.
A Plan & Timeline Summary:
This is a general approach to a project like this. We would typically work with the client to determine all the functionality and flesh out all of the sections (public side, researcher accounts, and administrative accounts) before proceeding. Once the plan is defined, we would then design the interfaces and lastly, build and test it before launching.
In short, an experienced developer should have no difficulty building such a system. Based on just the needs mentioned above, it would probably take 3-6 weeks to design, build, and launch this app. Keep in mind that the timeline is affected by feedback and content from the client.
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