What happens when you spend $350 million and forget to listen to your customers?
What is caBIG-
caBIG stands for the Cancer Biomedical Informatics Grid and was originally started in 2004 to create a framework and standard by which everyone who is doing research can easily share information and collaborate with others.
Between 2004 - 2010 the total cost was $350 million.
What did the customers/users have to say?
In 2010 the new NCI Director asked for an independent assessment to be done on caBIG. They basically asked the customers of caBIG what they thought of the program. Below is an excerpt from the reported findings.
There was complete agreement that caBIG®’s original goals were worthy and remain highly relevant to the future of cancer research in the United States (U.S.). However, there was also strong consensus among those interviewed that caBIG® has expanded far beyond those goals to implement an overly complex and ambitious software enterprise of NCI-branded tools
There was strong consensus from the interviews on the following points:
- The caBIG® program management structure is overly complex and expensive.
- The contractors did not really understand the cancer research space in which
they were operating.
- The internal processes for soliciting and evaluating proposals for subcontracts
are not transparent.
- Participation of the same contractors in both program management and software
development has the potential for conflict of interest and unfair competitive advantage.
- There is a perception that caBIG® favors an “in group” of participants.
There were several fundamental problems in the approaches used to implement the caBIG® program, including:
- A “cart-before-the-horse” overly broad grand vision for the program.
- A “build it and they will come” mentality.
- An unfocused attempt to address all problems in clinical and basic research.
- A “one size fits all” approach to funding and management of scientific and
software development projects.
- A business model that is unsustainable and not cost-effective for the NCI or
- Development and management of clinical informatics and basic science discovery
tools under one umbrella organization.
- Lack of independent scientific oversight of goals, priorities, projects and
evaluation of progress.
Those of us in the commercial sector are not surprised.
We saw the behemoth that caBIG was becoming. It was trying to be everything to everybody and lost focus on who its customers were.
There are several tools that caBIG developed that work well, the problem is that there are commercial entities like LabVantage that have comparable tools that are more polished, user friendly and easier to deploy.
The biggest difference is that caBIG is free to use while LabVantage is not. But then again I think $350 million could have purchased a lot of LabVantage licenses!
You can read the entire report here. Download BSA caBIG Final Report - 2-24-11