On October 27th, Bio-IT World published an article on the newly released OpenClinica 2.5. In a somewhat bold statement the article’s author stated that “Akaza Research has given pharmaceutical companies reason to take heed of the open source movement.” Akaza Research, of course, is the primary commercial force behind OpenClinica, the world’s most popular open source electronic data capture software.

What the author fails to explain, in my opinion, is why this is the case. For instance, I personally do not believe that the larger pharmaceutical companies would choose an open source EDC system for open source’s sake. In other words, the cost and flexibility benefits of open source, while significant, may not offer the same degree of value to Big Pharma as it would to myriad smaller companies. The industry’s largest firms have the financial resources and technical expertise to obtain and utilize essentially any solution in the marketplace and will therefore need a stronger motivation in order to move to open source. And I think that this motivation has to come from the quality of the technology and the overall solution through which it is implemented.

I do not believe OpenClinica would be making such a strong impact in such a short period of time if it weren’t for the robust open source community behind it. It is this community that provides fundamental value to the software. The decentralized efforts of users around the globe fuel OpenClinica’s evolution in a way that is both rapid and driven by true market demand from the trenches. The result is a product containing features that real-world users want and that work in the way these real world users want them to.

The open source community also helps to self-police the quality of OpenClinica distributions. There is a diverse group of users and developers who experiment with beta releases and continuously scour the system source code. From their unbridled vantage points within the community, these people report issues in a frank, public, and uncompromising manner. This transparency and candid public discourse about the software makes it difficult, if not impossible, to cut corners or sweep defects under the rug.

In a sense, with proprietary software you never really know what you’re getting. With open source software you know it all—both the good and the bad. It is the open source community that drives OpenClinica’s success, and this, in my opinion, is why pharmaceutical companies have reason to take heed of OpenClinica.