Posts Tagged ‘custom scientific software development’

“Free” Custom Software for Small Instrument Vendors

Saturday, February 7th, 2009

Suppose you make scientific instruments that add value to other instruments.

Suppose your instruments rely on other instruments to collect the data. In mass spectrometry, that means you make a source, detector, or robot for another platform company’s analyzer. You’ll quickly confront some grim realities:

  • Your precious raw data are created in the platform company’s proprietary format.
  • Your competitive advantage is now tied up with the platform company’s decision making. Will they give you access to your own data? Or won’t they?
  • And no surprise, the platform company has no burning interest to support your application in its software.

How can you reach your market when you can’t even read — let alone process — your own data?

But it gets worse. If your instrumentation retrofits to a half dozen existing platforms, then you are going to solve this problem for every platform!

The problem is clear: your data is jailed in their format. What are you going to do?

Here are some candidate solutions.

Export the data and build your own tools.

Ask your customers to use the platform company’s software to export the data to some vendor neutral format like XML or ASCII. This is the most common, but also the most annoying to customers. It solves your problem, not theirs.

Advantages

  • Your team can develop code around a standard representation of the data.

Disadvantages

  • Exporting to human readable text invites fraud and bypasses existing checksum protections often available in the proprietary binary form.
  • Exporting makes two “original” copies of the data – one truly original binary and one pseudo-original ASCII/XML — creating ambiguity over process order.
  • Exporting is resource intensive. It requires CPU cycles to parse and write, and then to parse and read again, and it more than doubles disk space use.
  • Exporting is often not automatable. Unless the platform company has an export-to-text function in its scriptable API, your customers will have to export manually.
  • Exporting is not complete. Only the data that the platform company thinks you need will be exported.
  • Even if you export, you’ll still have to hire a team to parse the data and build your application.

License the platform company’s SDK and build your own tools.

Advantages

  • You will eliminate the export requirement and read data faster than by parsing ASCII or XML.

Disadvantages

  • Platform company’s API may not have the functions you really want/need, so only part of the data will be available.
  • The license agreement may not suit your business needs.
  • The API may not suit your development environment. Often, SDKs are dll-based and so are available for Windows-only processing.
  • The API may not be up-to-date with current platform instrumentation. Since the API is not part of the platform company’s mission, it has little incentive to keep it current.
  • The API may be intentionally crippled “for safety.” Unbuffered reads/writes may never break, but they won’t be very fast, either. You should not be surprised if your tools under-perform the platform vendor’s own tools.
  • You still have to hire a software group.

Wait for your application to be supported by the company that controls the format.

Advantages

Zero cost; zero effort.

Disadvantages

  • Forever-to-market
  • Little control over design
  • Vanishing competitive advantage.
  • This is no way to run your business.

There is another way

Describe your application to BioAnalyte. Provide some use cases (benefits) and some data. Also, name a few customers who would be willing to pay ~$2K for a first copy of the software. We’ll do this rest.

We (or you) sell to your customers you (or we) receive a commission. As the applications evolve, we follow you, and all of the funding comes from your customers.

  • We read raw vendor from all of the platform instruments companies.
  • We use our own readers, so we can port them to a web environment, or MacIntosh, or Linux.
  • We meet your specification to a T.
  • No up front cost to you, and no software group salaries on your books.
  • Steady residual revenue source over time as sales increase.
  • And we are as flexible as the market place itself.

Our software is free for you. It is customized for your and your customers’ needs. And it helps you get to the marketplace in a hurry.

Drop us a line. msredux@bioanalyte.com.