Leaky Sprinklers and “The Future of NGS Market Study 2011”

         November 23, 2011

Have you ever chosen to do something yourself instead of paying money for the alternative, when, in the long run, the alternative is not really that expensive? We all have, as we all have limited budgets. One particular example comes to mind in my own life.

My boyfriend, Ben, and I bought a house in April. Unfortunately, it wasn’t properly winterized last winter and the sprinkler system leaked. Ben and I decided we could fix it, and so Ben smeared sealant on the parts of the pipe that were dripping. He let it dry for two days before turning the water to the lawn back on.

Know what happened? There was a new leak, and one of the original leaks still dripped. So, he put sealant on the new leak and a bit more sealant on the original leak. And waited 2 days. And crawled back down into the basement to turn the water back on. And found a new leak plus the original one still leaking just a little bit. He then proceeded to repeat this process over and over again for most of the summer.

So what does my story about leaky sprinklers have to do with next-gen sequencing analysis? Let’s pause and come back to that.

I have a confession to make: Cambridge Health Institute’s “The Future of Next-Gen Sequencing (NGS)” Market Research Study has been sitting on my desk since July. (Download the complete “The Future of NGS Market Study 2011” here.) I was really looking forward to reading it, but hadn’t had a chance given all the initiatives in the Marketing Department, until recently. As I anticipated, it was a good read.

Some of the comments throughout the survey highlight the frustration with analysis tools for NGS data:

  • “NGS software is usually poorly documented and buggy.”
  • “[What is needed is the] ability to readily analyze the data without having to be a computer genius.”
  • “Make NGS data more accessible through visualization. Less reliance on bioinformatics people.”
  • “[What is needed is] more robust analytical tools that have open source flexibility, but a friendly and efficient user interface.”

And the question – can anything possibly handle all this data – came up several times:

  • “There will be a period when everybody will be spending money on NGS that will lead to a lot of data that will be impossible to analyze.”
  • “The industry cannot expand to $100B/year unless the data analysis bottleneck is addressed. We may soon be able to sequence the human genome in a day for less than $1000 but what use will this be if it still takes a man/year to analyze and interpret the results.”
  • “Benefits from NGS will continue to be throttled by software not adequate to cope with analyses required.”

These responses seem to be crying out for robust software that is easy-to-use, quick to results, and can handle the glut of NGS data ready to drown researchers in a sea of As, Gs, Cs, and Ts.

But, here’s the thing that struck me the most of any of the results of the survey. Question 5 of Survey 1 reads: “If you were highly confident of a commercial software offering’s capability to support your needs would you invest in it, even if a less proven open source alternative were available?” Just over 50% said yes; nearly 30% said they didn’t know; and almost 20% said no.

So paraphrasing, just under half of survey respondents could be highly confident of a software’s ability to meet their needs and still not be sure about buying it.

Which brings me back to Ben and my leaky sprinkler problem. We have been in our new house for several months now, and the sprinkler pipes still leak. Ben didn’t want to go down the path that would cost money but solve the problem (i.e. hiring someone to come out and fix it right away). Instead, he was sure he could do it himself using the stuff he had lying around the garage.

What has that decision actually cost us? Ben spent a few bucks on sealant, and that’s it, right? Not really. What about Ben’s time? Let’s say he has spent several hours a weekend on it since we moved in. Calculated at his “real” salary, that’s several thousand dollars.

Or adversely, what would we have spent to avoid unfavorable consequences? I – Jessica – would have easily paid several hundred dollars to have a nice lawn all summer instead of a dying one. And, of course, how much would Ben or I paid to not be bickering all summer over the sprinklers?

The point being, there was a solution out there that we were “highly confident” would meet our need of a fixed sprinkler system, and we chose to do it ourselves.

Now we all know there are times when going with open-source software is unavoidable. But have you considered its potential cost to you beyond the “free” initial price tag? The cost in time? In opportunity cost? In unfavorable consequences? If you are “highly confident” something will meet your needs, will you be one of those who jumps in and says, yes, this will work for me? Or will you be one of those who says, “I can do it myself.”

And ends up with leaky sprinklers all summer long.

…And that’s my 2 SNPs.

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