Friday, July 22, 2011

Panther Applications in Croatia

Brief History
When the Prolifics application development toolset came to the Croatian market in 1990, independent software vendor company Pardus (then 4-MATE) chose it to develop a back office application for a large retailer. The character-mode JAM5 application was running on an Intel-based UNIX system, with 60+ concurrent users, the largest in the region at that time.

Based on the successful experience with the Prolifics toolset, Pardus developed another large integrated information system for retail banks. The platform was again character mode JAM5 on UNIX, with custom mechanisms for distributed database support. The system has since migrated to the recent version of Panther and is still in use today.

Pardus continued to use JAM and Panther for its own development, and started to distribute it to other Independent Software Venders (ISV) and end user organizations with their own IT staff. Programs for JAM and Panther training, consulting, project management, and end-user development team mentoring were created. This contributed to the rapid success of the tool in the Croatian market.

As a result, Panther is now used by the two largest banks in the country. One of them still uses the originally Pardus-developed software for its core data processing, supported by 70+ in-house Panther developers and a team of Pardus consultants. Other users, apart from ISV houses, include departments like the Croatian postal services, customs, health insurance, several ministries and Zagreb municipal administrations.

An Example: Forensic DNA Database
Pardus uses and encourages other fellow-developers to use Panther for a wide variety of applications. One interesting example is the Pardus-developed eQMS::DNA application, a DNA “fingerprint” database, now in use in Central Forensic Laboratories in two countries.

When the opportunity to develop such an application arrived, Pardus again chose Panther because of its excellent rapid prototyping abilities, flexibility of its scripting language and the versatility of its database transaction generator. Native XML import and export capabilities were an advantage.

The resulting eQMS::DNA application is a system primarily used for maintenance and efficient searching of database of human genotypes for forensic purposes (such as identification of biological traces like blood, hair, skin etc), but also has the capability to be used in fields such as livestock lineage tracking.

DNA fingerprinting relies on the fact that certain points in human (or other) genome (loci) change relatively quickly (display polymorphism) from generation to generation – fast enough to form a combination unique for an individual, but slowly enough to be stable within single individual's cells. The type of polymorphisms and number of loci used for constructing genotypes in eQMS::DNA is configurable, but typical installation will employ a standard set of 13 to 18 STR (short tandem repeat) loci.

The system maintains data on individual donors with optional end-user configurable personal and demographic data, multiple samples containing genetic material taken from the donor, and genotypes obtained from the samples, possibly using multiple techniques and identification kits. Both processed genotypes and optional additional data such as peak quality, confidence parameters and raw electroferograms can be kept. The system also keeps profiles of unidentified traces.

Manual entry of data to Panther screens, from plate gel electrophoresis is possible, but the typical data source results from automated capillary electrophoresis sequencers. Communication with systems such as Interpol DNA Gateway is also supported.

The searches can be performed interactively or in full automatic mode. All searches, including those using partial profiles and relaxed criteria are typically done in less than a second. The system also supports mixed-stain searches with provisions for common contaminant identification (such as genotypes of laboratory or other forensic personnel).

Interpol maintains a list of available DNA profiling systems (probably the most well known being FBI CODIS). eQMS::DNA is the only application from a commercial software developer.

Figure 1:Screen shot of eQMS::DNA profiling application

New Developments
Pardus has assisted many clients in modernizing their legacy character-mode JAM and Panther applications.

For example, a Complex Card Management application for a leading Croatian bank was recently ported from JAM5 character-mode to Panther5 GUI. Initial functionality was complete within a month, with an additional month spent adding capabilities made possible by the new version of the Panther tool.

Pardus mentored several of their customers as they transitioned from character-mode to GUI to the Web environment, and from 2-tier to multi-tier architecture. One example includes developing a Java wrapper to call mainframe-based Web services from within a 2-tier GUI and Web Panther application. Another customer, a public health institution, uses the similar Pardus-provided tool to provide their clients with controlled access to their LIMS software (also developed by Pardus) that contains data on analysis of food and water samples.

Despite the market focus shifting away from dedicated application development toolsets, Panther stays a viable product in the Croatian market, thanks to the high penetration and the level of experience and expertise available to its customers.

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Dragi Raos is a co-founder of Pardus d.o.o a software development and IT consulting company from Zagreb, Croatia. Pardus is a distributor of Panther and JAM in Croatia. Dragi has three decades of experience in technical and scientific computing, design and development of complex financial applications and training and coaching of development teams, he has served as team leader or technical consultant with clients ranging from International Atomic Energy Agency to large regional banks to public health institutions. Dragi's technical expertise includes database management systems, middleware, CASE tools and a wide range of development environments, including 20 years of experience with Panther and all versions of JAM.