WINOOSKI, Vt.—When microplate specialist BioTek Inc. rolled out its new Gen5 software package this summer, it marked more than just another product introduction. Designed to replace the KC line of software the company offered for all of BioTek's microplate readers, Gen5 was not only a switch to a more robust, user-friendly package, but it also marked the end-point of a years-long project that saw BioTek successfully bring all software development and support in-house.
"In the mid-90s we made the decision to partner with an external software development firm in France," explains Briar Alpert, BioTek's president and CEO. "This decision was made because our internal software resources were committed to ongoing projects and we had a need to quickly develop a data-reduction software package capable of supporting our microplate detection product line."
While the relationship with the outside software vendor was successful in developing the KC line of software which Alpert says was "market-leading", by 2000, Alpert noticed that the data-reduction software used for the company's instrumentation line was often a deciding factor in whether customers would buy the instruments themselves.
"At this point, we decided that it was in BioTek's strategic best interest to own, internally understand and directly control all the intellectual property associated with the software that works with our instrumentation," he says.
With that, the company set in motion the tasks of transferring the technology from its software partner and of building a dedicated software development team to work on the launch of what became the Gen5 product.
While the company already had an active software development function within the company, the move would require creating an independent software department, the need to transition existing software engineers to the project and the hiring of a project manager and two software engineers. In all, at the height of the development of Gen5, there were 13 people working on the project, ten of whom were new hires for the company, including the chief engineer from its former software vendor, Alpert says.
As is often the case, there was more work to do than initially thought. "Our intention was to build the next generation of software using the architecture our vendor used for KC," says Lenore Beuhrer, product manager. "But when we completed the technology transfer, we saw that this would not work and we would need to build the entire package from the ground up."
But even with the extra work, the benefits for the company, and ultimately its customers, should be apparent. "Having the extra resources and developing Gen5 ourselves makes it easier to support our customers and to react quickly to what their needs are," says Beuhrer. "It also allows us to provide regular upgrades to our software, which customers expect and is something we weren't able to do easily using an outside vendor."