Part of the Team
Meet Gertrude. Gertrude is the hardest worker at our client Drug Free Business. Day and night, Gertrude reads, understands, distributes, correlates, and communicates drug test information for hundreds of different organizations and partners. She works in every department, communicates promptly with every client, and understands the dozens of unique codes and measurements peculiar to each laboratory and regulatory body. In fact, Gertrude’s boss says she does the work of a dozen other employees!
You've guessed by now that Gertrude is a software application. At Gertrude’s core is a complex back-end SQL Server database, and its suite of automatic procedures and functions. A family of Access and .NET applications give her human assistants insight into the inner workings of her mind, and emailed notifications keep them up-to-date on what she's thinking. Occasionally Gertrude will want her work checked—or she’ll run across a lab result she doesn't yet understand—but typically she's content to work away, making sure data gets where it needs to go.
We like to think of Gertrude as a nurse with an attitude.
Drug Free Business (DFB) is a Bothell, WA-based non-profit dedicated to helping employers maintain a safe, drug-free environment. Their tag line is “safety, savings and professional guidance”. DFB offers an ambitious service to their clients: everything they need for a comprehensive drug-free workplace program. It’s a complex challenge. DFB handles everything from randomly selecting employees for drug testing, to providing pre-employment and post-accident screening. They need to know the rules for dozens of different regulatory agencies, and provide best practices for all of their clients.
As DFB grew since their founding in 1988, so too did the burden of managing all this information. Their network of collection facilities and laboratories expanded into the thousands, and their list of clients into the hundreds. Their homebuilt databases and spreadsheets weren’t keeping up with all this data, and they knew they couldn’t grow with what they had. They needed a new system that could take on the current workload, then scale up with the business.
Growing with the Business
Our team at J Street worked with the DFB’s leadership to design and develop the first phase of Gertrude in 2007. DFB was already familiar with Access, and its lower development cost was compelling, so using Access for the front-end desktop applications was a natural choice. Well over ten years later, DFB (led by Executive Director Venus Mills, C-SAPA) and my team at J Street are still working together to support and enhance Gertrude. The system provides 24/7 client services via an ASP.NET web portal where DFB’s clients can log in and view test results and important documents directly. Last year we improved how Gertrude generates invoices, taking a ton of workload off her human coworkers and dramatically reducing paper and postage.
DFB continues to grow, and Gertrude continues to support that growth, creating a positive feedback loop where DFB can directly see the benefits of investing in their system. Choosing a custom application gave them the flexibility to adapt to shifts in the industry, regulatory changes, and growing demand – while retaining industry leadership and a competitive advantage. If, in 1988, you told the original DFB team where the business would be today, and the role played by a custom application named Gertrude, I’m not sure they’d have believed you.
About the Author
Armen Stein leads a team of highly-experienced database and web application developers. His company, J Street Technology, builds custom database applications using Microsoft Access, SQL Server, ASP.net MVC and SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS). They are also a Microsoft Partner, and offer Office 365 configuration, migration and consulting services. Armen has been a Microsoft Access MVP since 2006.