Napa Valley Think Tank (NVTT) was a Saint Helena, California-based wine laboratory and resource center that served as a focal point for the regional wine community by providing analytical services, winemaking supplies, seminars, and advice. During NVTT’s first attempt to implement an internal laboratory information management system (LIMS), they had an incredibly bad experience with another vendor that left them emotionally and financially reluctant to even try again.
Meanwhile, General Things (GT) partner Albertson Design was in the midst of designing all of NVTT’s incredible branding, identity, and website design. Albertson, knowing that the GT team’s bedside manner was as good as its technology skills, thought that it would be a good idea to introduce them to NVTT to see if GT could help implement the software they needed to drive their business. It was also an opportunity to show NVTT what excellent customer service and conscientious technology consulting really look like.
The GT team kicked off the Discover portion of the project with a three-day hands-on session at NVTT’s lab with General Manager Karen Fischer and the lab technicians. NVTT used state-of-the-art laboratory equipment to gather a massive amount of information on many different samples in a short amount of time. Unfortunately, due to the lack of a LIMS system, NVTT’s information gathering process was woefully inefficient. Despite a lab full of computers and a tech-savvy team, the majority of the process was reduced to slow, manual entry of all data; the lack of a LIMS system prevented the machines from self-reporting the data they gathered. “We had to print each report individually and re-enter it into an Excel file. This was terribly time consuming and opened the door for human error,” Fischer said. After three enlightening days in the lab, the team headed back to the office, wine bottles in hand, with a single goal: automate everything.
Once back in the office, the team began the Design phase by sketching user flows and creating information architecture diagrams to ensure a proper understanding of NVTT’s business processes. The team brainstormed possible ways for automating NVTT’s business. GT was able to present a clean, intuitive, user-friendly interface that immediately resonated with everyone at NVTT and made use of Albertson Design’s brilliant design thinking. The honest, open line of communication between the two companies and GT’s Agile methodology (which encourages constant, iterative development in response to the reality of ever-changing client requirements) led Fischer to refer to the GT team as, “yes men and women, but in a good way.”
With a solid understanding of the core business issues within NVTT and a well-designed user interface, GT moved onto the Develop phase. Using Ruby On Rails, the team at GT first built Barbera (named for a delicious Italian grape varietal), a piece of custom software that combined customer relationship management (CRM) with custom LIMS in order to automate the entire lab order creation and fulfillment process. In order to preserve the integrity of a lab order as it moved through the stages of testing and approval, GT implemented a Paper Trail feature in order to track every version of the test. This feature helped NVTT maintain perspective throughout the entire testing process since they had constant access to all the tests for a particular sample. Paper Trail also played a critical part in providing NVTT with much-needed testing credentials. “We would not have been able to get
ISO 17025 certified if we didn’t have the Paper Trail feature,” said Fischer.
The Barbera software rolled out in August 2011. The new system was extraordinarily well-received by both NVTT and its clients. The lab techs loved it because it let them spend less time writing reports and more time testing while eliminating duplication of effort and transcription errors. Clients loved it because it allowed them to access data about their samples quickly and easily.
Unfortunately, NVTT closed its doors in November 2011. The lab may be gone, but Barbera is still very much open for business. General Things and NVTT believe that the software could be used to help nearly any type of laboratory optimize and are actively trying to commercialize the software. Wine is optional.