Ruby on Rails steamrolls into Medical Council

Agile development framework less complex than coding from scratch

The not-for-profit Australian Medical Council (AMC) will migrate most of its internal VB-based systems to the Web with the aid of the open source Ruby on Rails Web application framework, according to developers working on the project.

An independent national standards body for medical education and training, the AMC accredits Australian and New Zealand medical schools, courses and specialist training, and advises state and territory medical boards on registration of medical practitioners.

The AMC joins the small club of local enterprises using Ruby for software development, which combined with the Rails framework is renowned for its ability to deliver software projects rapidly.

AMC IT manager Sean O'Dowd told Computerworld the in-house Windows client/server legacy applications have been around for at least 10 years and have had one to three developers working on them during that time for "quite a lot of person years".

"When I first saw Rails I was impressed at how it tied together the MVC and unit testing and is a best practice framework," O'Dowd said. "I've worked in teams using ColdFusion and, like PHP, there was nothing encouraging programmers towards best practices in the development. With Rails we are encouraged to better manage the quality of our software."

AMC's first Rails application is already online and aims to cut down manual paper work for one process by 80 percent whilst improving the timeliness of our service to customers.

The application is for international medical graduates seeking registration to practise medicine in Australia.

"We have a two-year program where we want to replace in-house legacy systems as they are costing too much to maintain and can't change as fast as the business does," O'Dowd said. "We chose Rails as the technology to replace VB because it was an integrated best practice framework and there was enthusiasm within the team for this change. Rails is a very productive technology for developers with excellent coverage for our business requirements. Rails will do what the AMC requires very well; of course it is not for everyone."

O'Dowd believes Ruby on Rails tends to "do the whole package", whereas with Java and similar languages developers are "bolting on" a lot of different packages.

"Java is a very sophisticated and complex base product to which additional complexity is added to cover MVC, testing, continuous integration, and so on; this complexity is a concern to me," he said.

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