Back in 2005 the College of Anaesthetists of Ireland’s business was supported by a number of different software applications; MS Word, Excel and Access, and FileMaker Pro. Data was spread across these applications relating to Membership, Examinations, Training, Events, Hospital Inspections, Financial Transactions and more. The data sets often had a lot of common elements or fields, but none of these systems talked to each other, and it was extremely difficult to keep even simple data such as address or phone number in a coherent manner – the data frequently lost consistency by being altered in one system but not another, leading to uncertainty about which set was accurate. Furthermore, many of these systems were used only in a very passive way as simple data containers and did not lend themselves to strategic management or reports and queries beyond the most basic, or to utilising such features as bulk email or text and web interactivity.
The College therefore sought an integrated software solution to remedy this situation, where all data would be held in one system thus allowing flexible management and complex searches and reports. We settled on a large software supplier which used a proprietary market leading enterprise level database as the base for its systems. This turned out to be a bad and expensive mistake. Three years later we still had not commissioned the system and our judgement was that it could never suit our needs – it was inflexible, difficult to use, difficult to develop, and we had problems due to a succession of account managers who did not seem able to translate what we were telling them into correct guidance for their software engineers. In the end we walked away poorer but wiser, and still without a solution.
We finally settled on Softouch Technologies to provide our system, now known as College Central, and this has been a revelation. For a start, their work is very good value – our new system has been delivered on schedule at a fraction of the cost of other competing software houses. Secondly, they are a small, nimble company who are very quick on the uptake in understanding requirements and translating these into software, probably because the people you talk to are the people who design the software – there are no middle managers. They are very contactable and interactive on the phone or by email – there never seems to be a time of day or night when they don’t respond almost immediately. Third – their system works, and is easy to use and quite intuitive! Fourth, their system is very flexible from a development point of view – small alterations are frequently achieved live during a phone call; larger developments within a short timescale. Even major functional modules seem to be able to be tacked on to the main system with a minimum of fuss. No doubt some of these positive attributes are down to flexible and intuitive nature of FileMaker Pro, on which the system is based, but there is no doubt that a lot of credit must go also to the individuals in the company who are so expert at translating this into customer-satisfying software.
We have had no regrets in our relationship with Softouch, and the worth of their system has not gone unnoticed – the College of Psychiatrists of Ireland has now adopted it also, to our mutual benefit.