New Ethics system coming soon

After almost a year since starting development, the new Ethics replacement system is just about ready for launch – replacing the nearly 10 year old current system that has been used within the School.

When you log in, you should be able to see a panel page like this

The final phase of user testing is currently underway, and if all is completed without any major issues – then we will be looking to fully launch within the next month or so, and before the new 2015/16 academic year begins.  This will include all of the pre-existing applications from the old system as well, so nothing will be left behind on the old system.

Key improvements include:

  • Clear and easy to use interface
    • Progress bar as you work on your application
    • Helper areas on parts of the form
    • Auto complete areas for adding supervisors and collaborators
  • Improved file/link attachment manager for applications
    • Files up to 5mb in size are now supported
  • Improved email notifications for each step of the application process
    • With direct links included for any actions required
  • Kent based login and authentication (Single Sign On)
  • Improved statistical data for the Ethics team
  • Collaborators can now see applications where they are set as collaborator
  • Applications based on previous applications are now clearly labelled
    • Creating a new application based on an old application gives the option of starting with a copy of the old application.
  • Improved user administration features
  • Declare applications which were created outside of the University
  • Various security issues and vulnerabilities removed

Once launched, development will not stop at that point – and there will be ongoing improvements and features added to the system as time goes on.  Features such as the potential for a mobile-device friendly theme (depending on results of monitored usage of the system).  There is also potential to explore possibilities of developing into a system which could be used by other Schools or institutions.

Part of the editing interface you will encounter when creating your application

Solid as a rock?

No matter how much testing you do, issues will always occur when a system is used in anger – and that will be the case too with the new Ethics system.  However, the entire project has been developed via a Test Driven Development process and has been undergoing user testing throughout.

As a precautionary measure – for a few months there will be a notification on the home page that the system is in Beta, with a link to contact the technical team if any problems do occur.   Fixes are generally deploy-able within a matter of minutes of being available and should not disrupt the service.

Technical details

Generally we shouldn’t give out too much information about our systems, but we can mention some of the technologies that have been used.

The system itself has been built using the Laravel PHP framework (with a MySQL database behind it), which was also used to construct the Kent Child Development Unit (KCDU) database replacement launched last year.  Both the KCDU and Ethics systems share the same low level code base as a result,  and re-use many of the functions that we have built ourselves.  Updates and deployments are managed using Capistrano, which helps to reduce on any potential errors when pushing out updates and with minimal disruptions to service.

We have managed to save costs for the School, by ensuring that the system runs on the Web farm infrastructure at the University, which includes regular backups and updates.

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