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About Northwestern University

Founded in 1851 and based in the Chicago area, Northwestern is a comprehensive research university with an interdisciplinary approach across multiple schools and units. Northwestern is one of only four universities with 10 schools ranked in the top 20 including, Materials Management, Law, Business, Medical, Economics, and Chemistry. Northwestern is highly selective with an average student acceptance rate of 9%. Currently, it enrolls over 8,000 undergraduates and 13,000 graduate students. 

The Challenge:

With so many schools and such a diverse and rich capability to deliver research, Northwestern had no centralized common way to track core facilities as a centralized shared service. Northwestern houses well over 60 core facilities that can be engaged to provide anything from a genetically-engineered mouse, to an analysis of the chemical properties of a particular material, to the manufacture of a telescope component. These capabilities and facilities are resident in multiple schools and units, and previously there was no common way to receive requests, track status, nor receive payment or manage charge-backs at the University level.

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The Solution:

Northwestern built a centralized application called “NUcore” that reaches across the 60 plus core facilities and aggregates and centralizes all requests for bookings of specific projects, no matter what school or unit provides the service. For many service-based cores, Form.io has been seamlessly integrated into the NUcore workflow. In this way, customers can request an analysis of a tissue sample from the Medical School in the same way another customer can request the manufacture of a device from the machine shop – all through the same Form.io powered application. NUcore handles ordering, scheduling, and shared resource access, not unlike a smart retail application with a shopping cart. Form.io is deployed as the web-based data collection front-end for complex services, saving Northwestern from the expensive labor of coding rigid standardized forms that can quickly become outdated. Because Form.io is built on a foundation of modern API standards, it can quickly display a different form based on customer input so that a request from a Chemistry lab for a chemical analysis can automatically lead down a different data collection path than a request from a Medical lab for an analysis of a tissue sample. Better still, Form.io’s API integration capabilities allow NUcore to pre-populate Form.io forms with existing customer data, reducing redundant and repetitive rekeying of the same input.

Form.io is deployed as the web-based data collection front-end for complex services,
saving Northwestern from the expensive labor of coding rigid standardized forms
that can quickly become outdated.

Results and Business Benefits:

With Form.io integrated into the NUcore application, requisitions across any of NU’s 60 plus core facilities can be handled and tracked as a shared service for the entire University. Grant data required by Federal or State regulators can be uploaded easily into a repository suitable for audits. Output from requests can be pushed into a PDF and walked directly to the School or a shop floor where the work is to be completed. Rather than build their own web-based forms and data ingestion algorithms, Northwestern standardized the complex service workflows for multiple facilities on the Form.io platform for all their data collection and management needs. Changes to data elements can be dynamically made with little to no impact on NUcore development activities. In the end, Form.io and the NUcore application replaced a largely manual process, improved functionality, levels of accuracy, and reduced unnecessary email chains.

Because of their experience with Form.io and its ease of use, the Basic Science Administration group in the Medical School also developed a new web-based application for the handling of commonly requested questions linked to a catalogue of standard forms. In this way, the most common interactions with non-clinical departments in the school have been captured through an interactive FAQ, and based on input from users, the proper forms are automatically loaded and available for immediate use. Here again, Form.io supports a level of automation and costs savings that were previously unavailable.