Commercial vs. freeware for biobank data management

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

“It’s free” – sounds great doesn’t it? When the funds are limited, the idea of using freeware or open source solution for biobank data management, instead of commercial software, is a very appealing direction to go to. But before jumping into any decisions, it’s good to think about the pros and cons of both options.  

First, how can there be free software? When it comes to long-term future of freeware/open source software, you could perhaps say that the parties offering free solutions are around only as long as:

  1. they have another way of generating income (like charging for consultation, training or support) or
  2. there is public or other way of funding the development and support (which often is project-based funding) or
  3. as long as the code-makers keep up their genuine interest and dedication to develop and support the free software (and not get occupied with other projects). 

Self-developing of an open source solution is also an option. However, it should be considered carefully that software development of a very specialized solution is never a “bulk job” for anyone to do, but requires expertise that might be hard to hang on to, or outsource.  So while on the other hand, there is naturally freedom of not being tied to a certain vendor when self-developing, but the freedom might bring responsibilities (and costs) that might be hard to estimate on a long-term basis.

How to then evaluate how much to spend on data management?  If you have samples stored in the most modern freezers, you must be hundred percent confident that all data associated with the samples is stored also in the most reliable, stable and supported IT-solution. Considering the amount of funding that is required for top-of-the-line freezers, sample processing, storage facilities etc - data management perhaps shouldn’t be the piece of the puzzle with zero budget?

If you’re thinking of biobank data management, it’s always good to consider all aspects (near future and long-term) before making the best decision for your data management. Like most successful operations, biobanking is also about finding the right partnerships with sample donors/patients, doctors, researchers, commercial pharma companies and other supportive functions like hardware and software suppliers.   


Liisa Koivukoski, Sales manager

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