A Cautionary Tale: Configurability and Real Life

“Configurable” is a much bandied term these days when folks in the clinical trials industry get together to talk about technological support systems like IRT (IWR/IVR).

A configurable system is taken to mean “a state of being that is the opposite of custom-coded”. In other words, faster, cheaper, easier to adapt; changes that can be made with the click of a button rather than requiring two days of coding. In its most honest form, a system designed with an eye toward configurability is a must-have leap forward from a custom-coded system. It should be the first cut on any procurement checklist for vetting an IRT.

But, realistically, that’s where the wish list stops.

What a ‘configured system’ is not is a one-size-fits-all magic bullet. And yet all too often that’s the expectation… and the cause of inevitable frustration.

At present, the search for…and claims of…a 100% configurable system is purely a hypothetical construct designed to serve a hypothetical project. We can imagine Project A and configure a system to meet all the needs of Project A. Voila!  Beyond that, in the real and messy world of clinical trials, 100% configurability is not only a myth…but perhaps it’s not even desirable.

“The only way to make something 100% configurable is to artificially limit what the system can do,” says Steve Zimmerman, Veracity Logic’s founder and developer. “We’ve come a LONG way when it comes to configurability, and there’s still more we can do. But until we’re willing to turn away clients who have a real need for features not in a system’s current list of configurable outcomes, we’ll always be creating, improving, developing. All of us. And that’s a good thing!”

Zimmerman points out another flaw in the “100% configurable” claim. “Suppose I developed a system that has an extremely powerful configuration capability, to the point that it could be manipulated to do everything you might want, everything a development tool could do. Wouldn’t we still need a developer – oops, I mean a ‘configurator’ – to ensure the new complex configuration is correct? And wouldn’t we still need a validation crew to test and re-confirm all the system configurations met project specifications and performed correctly? Yes is the answer to both those questions.”

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