What Is The Real Price Of “Free” EDC Software?

There are two broad categories of “free” EDC software.   The first variety is of the “no license cost” type.  The second variety is of the “I already own the base platform” type.  Before we analyze each of these offerings, let us first consider what the term “free” does to our decision making.

The word “free” excites the irrational consumer in us.  It tends to overpower any rational sense of judgment we may otherwise apply to a situation.  Somehow our internal mechanism prevents us from “walking away” from something if it is “free”.  Have you lined up for “free ice cream” at a prominent retail chain on that special summer night?   If you have, I’m sure you were in good company, alongside hundreds of other people.  You may have spent an hour and a half in line for something that any other night may have cost you a few dollars and a few minutes of your time.  If you’re a student on summer vacation, it is a great excuse to spend some time chatting it up with friends while you stand in line.  However, if you are a working professional and/or a busy parent, is it really worth your while?  “But it’s free!”  When measured in terms of a monetary exchange needed to obtain the product, this is true.  However, when measured in opportunity cost, the hour and a half of a beautiful summer evening spent waiting in line, it is another matter entirely.

Getting back to the two categories of “free” software described above, let’ explore the first variety.  A software may have no license cost, but it still has a cost associated with installing, configuring, and maintaining it.  This can be explained using an analogy.  Imagine you walk into a restaurant and are informed that the food in the restaurant is free.  However, in order to consume this free food, you are required to provide bowls, plates, glasses, and utensils.  You will also need to wash these dishes before you leave the restaurant.  So while the food may technically be free, there is a direct (obtaining dishes) and indirect (time spent cleaning) cost to consume it.  While the prospect of “free” is appealing in this context, one has to consider the true cost of utilizing the software to come up with true cost.

This analogy holds true for a number of “free” software solutions, which are in the “no license cost” category. While there is no cost to obtain the license, the software has to be installed on servers (which need to be purchased) by someone who is knowledgeable enough to perform the installation and configuration.  The servers then have to be maintained, backed up, monitored for viruses and malware, etc.

The second variety of “free” is the “I already have access to it”.  Let’s utilize another analogy to explore this variety.  If you have a garden, then, using this logic, you should be eating free vegetables.  It’s only “natural”, because you already have access to your garden, vegetables grow in soil, and so you should be able to grow your own vegetables and thus they should be free.  Looking at this particular analogy, it is rather easy to see that there are several flaws in this logic.  First and foremost, there will be a cost associated with tending your garden and getting vegetables to grow.  Second, you may not be able to grow all the varieties of vegetables you need because it is not efficient to grow 10 carrots and 2 potatoes.  You get the point.

So, just because you “already have access to” Microsoft Excel, Access, SAS, Matlab, etc, it does not mean that you can adequately create your own EDC with all the features and functionality of a robust, enterprise system like Clinical Studio.

For a fixed cost, which is most likely going to be less than the cost of doing it yourself, you can get enterprise EDC software.  So, in the final analysis, one can argue that Clinical Studio is “better than free!”