AutoMate6 software has enabled users at Pacific Toxicology Laboratories to automate a variety of time-consuming tasks.

Many California laboratories are investing in enhanced automation software to slash costs, streamline information flow, and provide better testing and faster results for their patients.

Pacific Toxicology Laboratories (Pac Tox), a Chatsworth, Calif-based clinical services company, decided a year ago to acquire and install a new software program called AutoMate6. PacTox is a privately owned company that performs five distinct lab functions under one roof. Its services include drug testing, biological monitoring, medical surveillance, therapeutic drug monitoring, and forensic toxicology.

AutoMate6 is the latest automation software developed and marketed by Network Automation, a company headquartered in Los Angeles. Formerly known as Unisyn Software, Network Automation was founded in 1995. The company’s software is aimed at enabling users to free themselves from time-wasting repetition by automating a variety of tasks, from small jobs on workstations to network-wide intelligent automation routines.

Network Automation’s flagship AutoMate product is now being used at more than 13,000 customer sites, from small businesses to enterprise-wide installations.

Complex Tasks Simplified
Dustin Snell, Network Automation CEO, says the major benefit of AutoMate6 software is its simplicity for automating traditionally complex information technology (IT) tasks for clients. Snell says that with AutoMate6, IT professionals have the ability to automate their tasks without needing to write even a single line of code. “AutoMate6 has improved the security, manageability, and functionality of previous versions, allowing users to securely automate and maintain tasks more affordably than ever before,” Snell says.

In today’s heavily regulated health care environment, many organizations are required to satisfy the security mandates outlined in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. To that end, AutoMate6 features security improvements that advance such compliance by supporting native secure file-transfer programs (SFTP) and HTTPS. As a result, IT professionals are able to move data without compromising content.

AutoMate6 offers additional features that expand the software’s manageability and functionality. For example, the software’s innovative event database enables users to more quickly locate, sort, and filter task success and fail information. AutoMate6 also provides for easier automation of more applications—without requiring the use of additional third-party software.

Microsoft Excel integration and remote task execution are two other innovations designed into the AutoMate6 software. Because Microsoft Excel is the most commonly automated application by users, Network Automation officials felt it was essential to develop software that enables easier automation and retrieval of data from Excel.

In addition, remote task execution allows users to execute a task on a remote computer by simply specifying the host name or the computer’s Internet protocol (IP) and the password. AutoMate6 includes more than 160 available actions and triggers that can be rapidly assembled into an automated solution. Available actions include launching and closing of applications, sending keystrokes to multiple windows interactively, reading and writing to files, or sending emails.

Two Versions
Network Automation offers both professional and enterprise versions of its AutoMate software. The AutoMate6 Enterprise version includes the additional functionality of simple network-management protocol (SNMP) and native terminal emulation support. It also offers more flexible deployment options.

With SNMP support, an organization or laboratory is able to completely automate its network infrastructure. By supporting SNMP Get, SNMP Set, SNMP Walk, and SNMP Traps, AutoMate6 enables users to automate functions related to their servers, workstations, routers, switches, and hubs. The SNMP support also enables the integration of AutoMate with such products as Microsoft MOM.

With its native terminal emulation support feature, AutoMate6 helps clients automate tasks to existing legacy systems. This eliminates the need to bring in third-party terminal-emulation software and spend time on “screen-scraping”operations. Snell says this feature is required because many organizations continue to have legacy systems in place, and often these legacy systems are prime targets that need the most automation.

AutoMate6’s benefits are rooted in its design, according to Snell. To create tasks, AutoMate breaks common IT actions into “visual” steps. These steps emulate an actual user performing a sequence of steps manually. AutoMate employs wizards to guide users through the process of building a task by breaking it down into various actions and triggers.

The AutoMate approach encompasses three primary components. Its task administrator customizes and directs the software. A task builder visually sequences the task’s required steps. The task service component runs as a system service and is responsible for launching triggered tasks. Network Automation has been offering downloads of a fully functional trial version of AutoMate6 on its Web site.

The PacTox Experience
AutoMate6 software has generated positive feedback among staff at PacTox, according to IT Administrator Bernadette Apostol-Rebite. Network Automation installed the software at PacTox in January 2005.

The lab uses the software to generate daily reports that must be processed and distributed by email to a diverse base of clients each day. The batch file reports are created by the lab’s system every hour and are sent to clients via email.

“We have 11 tasks running in the background,” Apostol-Rebite says. “Each day it could handle as many as 12 batch files or more. These files range from 1 kb [kilobase] to 1,900 kb every hour of the day, or as soon as our lab information system [LIS] spurts out a batch file.”

Several new features made the software especially attractive and applicable to the PacTox operation. “One example is that AutoMate is able to send my reports even when I’m not in the office or out on vacation,” Apostol-Rebite says. “My daily repetitive tasks were already done for me. Also, using AutoMate has improved our turnaround time when it comes to reporting time-sensitive results.”

She says there are also reports that would take her half an hour to create. “With AutoMate, I was able to focus on my other projects. It’s like having an assistant who saves me 1 to 2 hours of work in my daily routine,” Apostol-Rebite says.

“AutoMate6 is easy to use if you are computer literate or have some kind of programming knowledge,” she says. “You do need some kind of understanding of the logical process to customize a task. However, there are custom functions that do not require programming, such as starting your computer before you arrive instead of going to the BIOS setup on your computer.”

Staff Training
PacTox’s AutoMate6 Professional version installation was complemented by the friendly and competent staff training and support from Network Automation, according to Apostol-Rebite. “We started with AutoMate5 and then upgraded it to AutoMate6. Training was easy and provided at no cost.”

Apostol-Rebite says she considered a number of software programs that would help her automate routine lab tasks. She came close to using one software brand, but it required a substantial amount of time to create the needed programs. Then, she heard about AutoMate software from her CEO and checked it out.

“I was excited to try it and was very happy with the results,” she says. “I never looked at any other software, because AutoMate was able to do half of my daily repetitive tasks without any hassle or problems as soon as I launched the program.”

Nicholas Borgert is a contributing writer for Clinical Lab Products.