Changing Industry Expectations: Why do turnkey solutions sacrifice configurability?

In this blog post we’re aiming to discuss a prominent cost-saving strategy in clinical trials and how it interacts more generally with beneficial qualities of technology offerings that serve the industry. Specifically, how turnkey solutions can enable rapid study startup, and the relationship these solutions have with the tradeoffs and advantages offered by configurable solutions.

It is widely known at this point that slipping study startup timelines pose one of the more challenging issues to address in our industry’s ongoing effort to drive down the cost of conducting clinical research. Often, starting a new trial may simultaneously be paired with the effort to onboard new technologies, and it is in this case that turnkey solutions may provide some relief. There are many vendors in our space that provide an offering specifically tailored to the model of rapid startup. When provided with a pre-configured, pre-validated environment, the overhead of testing or adjusting a new tool to meet a trial’s specific needs can be largely ignored and saved. This also allows efforts to be more completely focused on the difficult tasks of protocol design, site identification, and the logistics of managing multiple arms of a trial.

Turnkey solutions often come with a very important caveat, however. That is that they are, to a large extent, highly rigid configurations of the system. Because of the way software solutions are often built, in order to provide a pre-configured environment that can be guaranteed as functioning, safe and secure, end users are disallowed from making modifications to that setup, not just initially, but for the lifetime of that solution’s use. Sometimes, this can be a very worthwhile tradeoff. But, in the long term, sacrificing configurability can tremendously impede your ability to grow and evolve your technological ecosystem alongside your own changing business practices, and hamper your ability to respond quickly and effectively to protocol amendments.

Having a highly configurable environment means that as things change both internally and in the industry at large, you will never find yourself designed into a box. A configurable technology is able to change in a way that captures lessons your organization has learned about efficient processes and workflows, in the very tools it provides you. This safety and certainty that your solution can change when it needs to, is necessary to build a long-lasting relationship with your tools, and reap the benefits that can be found only by tailoring them to your own specific needs over time. Commonly though, much as with turnkey solutions, configurability also comes with a cost. A highly customizable solution generally requires you to have a much higher level of knowledge and technical skill with the product to implement it, and is not often offered alongside a well-developed pre-configured starting point. Without a pre-configured environment, your time to deploy a new technology can be unpredictable, and any delay in study startup can be cost-prohibitive cost.

While these benefits that can be offered by eClinical technologies are typically mutually exclusive, there is absolutely no reason that they must be. In an upcoming blog post, we will discuss at length, how the CTMS solution developed here at Datatrak provides a novel and powerful pairing of both the rapid deployment possible with a turnkey solution in a tool that was purpose-built for ease of configurability.