When people think of cheminformatics, one of the first things that comes to mind is the pharmaceutical industry. While pharma may represent a large share of the cheminformatics pie today, it's but one segment. There are many groups of potential users of cheminformatics systems who make do with trying to fit square pegs into round holes - or forgo the attempt altogether - because few in the industry have paid attention to them. This article describes one such group, a solution, and a model for serving similar groups.
Chemical Suppliers and Cheminformatics
Outsourcing plays an increasingly important role in the way chemical research gets done, and there's every reason to expect this trend to continue over the next five years. Chemical suppliers occupy a critical position in this evolving, decentralized model of chemical research.
Chemical structures link buyers and sellers in the chemical supply ecosystem. Structures may not be the only link, but they are one of the most important because of their universality.
Given the importance of chemical structures to the business of chemistry, you might expect that a great deal of effort has been made to strengthen this link and make it work as well as it possibly can for buyers and sellers.
You might also expect chemical suppliers, like sellers in virtually every other industry, to have embraced the Web as their primary marketplace. You might further expect the same for chemical buyers.
However, there has until recently been very little activity on any of these fronts. In many respects, we're still stuck in the '90s.
The chemical structure may be a key link between buyers and sellers, but it also turns out to be an extraordinarily difficult thing for computers deal with. And nowhere is this more true than on the Web.
Given the difficulty of dealing with chemical structures on the Web, and the urgency for doing so in a competitive global marketplace, the frustration and general lack of progress in this area should come as little surprise.
ChemVendor is a solution to the difficult problem chemical suppliers face as they try to leverage the potential of the Web to better serve their customers.
Unlike generic product management systems, ChemVendor can deal with chemical structures as first class entities. This means, among other things: no manual structure image generation and uploading; no manual calculation of molecular properties followed by manual import; an individual, search-engine-friendly page complete with structure and properties for every product sold; and instant exact- and substructure searchability.
ChemVendor was designed around two concepts: a Web-based customer interface; and a Web-based administrative interface. The changes you make through the administrative interface (adding/removing products, updating prices, changing structures) are immediately reflected in the view your customers see.
ChemVendor can work by either replacing your company's existing Website, or by serving your product listing under your current domain alongside your current site.
Focused Web Applications for Chemistry
ChemVendor was designed to do chemical product management very well, but the full package won't be of much use to anyone other than chemical suppliers.
The magic that makes it possible to focus in this way is the Web application framework Ruby on Rails, on which ChemVendor was built. Rails streamlines the process of building Web applications, creating opportunities to fill needs that might otherwise go unmet. When Web applications are simpler to create, they can become better tuned to a specific problem - a hallmark of usability.
Creating ChemVendor required a number of not-so-specific technical problems to be addressed as well - and this collection of solutions (really a framework) will enable the creation of a variety of new focused Web applications.
If you're dealing with an information management problem that could be solved by a custom-built, chemically-enabled Web application, please feel free to get in touch.