Built in Alpha Five v11, OERCA sets the standard in marine mammal care

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Built in Alpha Five v11, OERCA sets the standard in marine mammal care


We were recently introduced to an impressive new software application that was developed using Alpha Five v11 by Steve Workings.  We asked Steve to give us some insight into the story behind this mobile application's development and how Alpha Five v11 made it all possible:

A year ago I was invited to meet with the staff at Ocean Embassy in Orlando, Florida. They are experts in marine mammal care and facility management, with a lot of plans and dreams. They had been using a Microsoft Access program for the last three years at a dolphin research facility but it was clearly not up to the task. They had been dreaming about what the next incarnation of this software might look like, so we discussed whether Alpha Five v11 could be used to develop the right solution, and if I was the right person to do that work.It turns out that the answer, in a big, big way, was "Yes!" We got started on the project in earnest in April of this year and already have the software operating in a research and rescue operation and a small zoological facility. This week we head off to Asia for our first major implementation in a large theme park there.

OERCA - or Ocean Embassy Research and Conservation Application - is software designed for Marine Mammal Care.  It turns out that there is no software out there for this purpose -- dolphins, sea lions, killer whales and the like.  A few efforts have been made by others in the past, but nothing has really done the job.

But with Alpha Five v11, my experience in IT, and the expertise and guidance of Ocean Embassy, we have now created what is on its way to becoming the standard software application for the marine mammal care industry.

Think about all the data you need to effectively manage a marine-mammal facility. Everything from staff schedules, food stocks, animal nutrition plans,  along with actual feeding records, training and behavioral information, a complex health-care management system, water quality records and so much more. Below is a summary description of OERCA from one of our brochures:





"[OERCA is] a comprehensive, but straightforward facility management system that truly impacts the way organizations make informed decisions. With vital real‐time metrics at your fingertips, OERCA changes the way organizations and individuals think about holistic animal management; improving the lives of animals and simplifying the duties of team members.

"What's more, OERCA does not rely on expensive and hard to learn software. OERCA is an intuitive, user‐friendly web based application that that is tailored to fit each institution, as well as each user. OERCA’s design offers a tremendous amount of versatility allowing the system to manage everything from food inventories, veterinary records, federal facility requirements and daily animal management needs with immediate access across large or small organizations. In addition, OERCA can be used on a wide variety of devices with no special programming; including desktop computers, iPads, and even your smart phone. OERCA was built to go wherever you go."





Let me emphasize the "mobile" aspect of the project. We used Alpha Five v11 to build OERCA with the iPad as the primary device; and, it looks and performs beautifully! Alpha Five v11 was the perfect development platform for this project. In one of our beta/demonstration runs, we supported a research effort in Florida's Indian River Lagoon last June. A lot of people were there using the "old" method, which means a pencil, paper, clipboard and stopwatch, all in chest-deep water with waves, with the hope of getting that data into spreadsheets at the end of the day. Well, we stood right beside them with our waterproof iPad collecting all the same information and more. Further, we had the ability to present summary charts and graphs right on the spot.  Everyone knew they were looking at the future of marine mammal care and conservation as they observed what we were doing.



While  there is much more to the OERCA application that we have developed, this video will serve as a useful introduction. This particular recording is aimed primarily at one group of users and one portion of OERCA -- it's audience were the attendees at this year's annual meeting of the International Marine Animal Trainers' Association where we are exhibiting. Quite frankly, we didn't need an exhibit space because we were able to walk around with our iPad and draw plenty of attention.

One of these days I'll show you the medical/health management side of the application. It is an amazing, comprehensive and interrelated set of capabilities that has the attention of veterinarians around the world.

But OERCA is going to give us an incredible opportunity to go beyond local facility and animal management. Because this is web-based, we will soon have a broad, world-wide and long-term data collection platform that will have very important scientific and research implications.  This aggregation of data is certain to make a significant difference in the grand scheme of wildlife preservation and so many other areas.

OERCA is also remarkable for how rapidly it was built and how comprehensive it has gotten so quickly.  The demand for this application, and its remarkable feature set, is growing fast, so I'm pleased we were able to bring Alpha Five developer Andy Meer on to help with the development effort on an ongoing basis -- there's so much to be done!



Alpha Five has enabled us to get this far, this fast, and to have such a huge impact. There are so many remarkable aspects of Alpha Five v11 that it's hard to pick out just one or two, but the overall, and most important, point I want to make is how quickly you can go from a set of specifications to "in production."  It's not unusual for Andy and me to get a new specification for a report or some feature and then have it available to users within 24 hours. Hundreds of smaller requests, enhancements, and other improvements are often completed in minutes.

Let me try to make a very short list of some aspects of Alpha Five v11 that were key in developing the OERCA application so quickly:

    • Stability and consistent performance on the web server
    • Terrific compatibility with MS SQL
    • A bulletproof and flexible security framework
    • Rapid application development capabilities, especially with the grid and dialog components
    • Tons of built-in AJAX and Javascript
    • Opportunities everywhere for our own custom Javascript, Xbasic and CSS
    • Easy integration with other software like Jim Coltz's calendar and extensive use of FusionCharts
    • The supportive community of users on the Alpha message board
Once again, I want to mention the mobile device capabilities here. We had one user who decided to show off his use of OERCA. So he pulled out his iPhone and demonstrated the information he had at his fingertips. While he was transporting a dolphin, driving along a highway, in the back of a Ryder rental truck.

OERCA won't be stopping at marine mammals either. It turns out that aquariums, aviaries, turtle care facilities and even most terrestrial zoos really don't have a comprehensive, all-in-one, easy-to-use, satisfactory software solution either. And mobility? There's only one place to get that! We already have a contract to build an aquarium module (in fact, we're going to be able to do it in about 5 weeks from specs to full implementation).  A lot of people are currently making plans to start using OERCA. In coming years, when you visit an animal care faciity, you may well see OERCA on an iPad, next to a dolphin pool, or in so many other places.  It may even have a cameo on a well-known television show soon -- I'll let you know as soon as that's confirmed.

My thanks, once again, to the entire Alpha Software team for the years of effort that have produced Alpha Five v11. We're especially looking forward to more integration with mobile devices and the ability to operate on IIS in the future.

[Visit the OERCA website. Download Alpha Five v11.]
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About Author

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Chris Conroy

Chris Conroy runs digital programs for Alpha Software.

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