Accelrys said this week that its recent decision to make its SciTegic Pipeline Pilot workflow software freely available to academic researchers is part of a plan to bring fresh technology, ideas and even people into the company.
Ton Van Daelen, product director of platform technologies at Accelrys, told BioInform that the company has offered a version of the system for academics at an 80-percent discount for some time, but previously lacked the “bandwidth” to offer a free version.
“In the early days [of owning Pipeline Pilot], we did not have the bandwidth, but as [the product] has grown, [it needed] to have a certain quality to be put out there,” Van Daelen said. “We now believe we have excellent online documentation and training resources” to support academic adoption of the product.
The company expects that the system, called SciTegic Pipeline Pilot Student Edition, will enable academic researchers to develop software modules and easily share them within the academic community as well as the commercial scientific community. The company said it will host a free software library on its website “to promote the sharing of scientific innovation between academia and industry.”
Van Daelen said that the company saw an opportunity for the free version of the platform because some in the commercial community have been “hurt” by academic code for docking, sequence analysis, or other applications that may lack user-friendly interfaces.
“That is code that people in the industry would like to use,” he said, adding that a “buggy interface” can hinder industry adoption of this code.
“This has already generated tremendous excitement from our industrial customers. They see it as a great way to get ahold of academic functionality that will be directly useable by them.”
He added that some in industry have had “bad experiences with academic code that in the end, cost more money than the benefit they provided,” though he declined to name specific firms that have been affected by this problem.
Currently, he said, “there’s a big training cost” associated with adapting academic software for commercial use — a hurdle that Accelrys hopes to address with the launch of the free platform. “This allows academia to put components and functionality ‘out there.’”
In addition, he said, “If there is something that has a commercial opportunity we try to find a relationship with the academic group to commercialize it.”
He added that another potential benefit for Accelrys could be if the academic developers who adopt Pipeline Pilot’s student edition end up joining the company. “It helps if they are familiar with our workflow platform,” said Van Daelen.
“We are actively recruiting. We will definitely let Student Edition users know about opportunities at Accelrys,” Van Daelen added.
More than 50 universities worldwide have requested copies of Pipeline Pilot Student Edition, including Boston University; the University of California, Los Angeles; Hebrew University; Ben Gurion University; Cambridge University; University College London; Moscow State University; and Goethe University.
“They’d rather buy into an open platform than a proprietary platform, and this [marketing strategy] will do that,” he said. “I think it will ensure that the platform will be around for a long time.”