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TranSMART - Spotfire hackathon in Boston, USA

April 04, 2014 | By Peter Kok

Hackathons are a good method to quickly get a lot of work done on a focussed task, involving multiple parties. This is especially true if the task focusses on the integration of different systems, which requires communication and synchronization between the parties involved.

Such was the case for the hackathon that took place at the start of april. A delegation of five Hyvers travelled to Waltham, near Boston, for three days to work with PerkinElmer and Johnson & Johnson. The goal of this hackathon was to set up a connection between Spotfire, a comprehensive visualization toolkit, and TranSMART as a back end.


The day after we arrived in a slightly cold Waltham (there was still some ice on the water) we set to work in the offices of PerkinElmer. As we had limited knowledge of each other’s systems, all parties started with an introduction of the relevant aspects of their system. The next step was to brainstorm on how the connection would be established. In the case of Spotfire, this was quite straightforward: we would implement a datasource component that works as a Spotfire add-in, through which the data would be retrieved from TranSMART. From the TranSMART point-of-view, the interface could be established at a number of abstraction levels. Eventually, using the recently developed TranSMART REST API to access the data was deemed the best approach. Using the REST API web interface has the advantage of not having to include any TranSMART libraries in the datasource module, and security is properly enforced.

The following time we spent implementing the connection module and creating a proper visualization. This included handling authentication through the user interface, retrieving and parsing the data, refining some calls in the REST API and setting up a visualization template specific for TranSMART data. We got something working relatively quickly and on the final morning we were able to present a functional prototype of a module in Spotfire that imports data from TranSMART, and were able to set up a corresponding visualization.

Even though beforehand the parties involved had limited knowledge about the other parties’ systems, we managed to quickly set up a basic interface between TranSMART and Spotfire. This work will undoubtedly be extended in the future.