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February 1, 2011

Ushering Biotech Firms into the Cloud

Bruce Maches

In my last post I mentioned that I am working with a small bio-tech client on creating an IT strategy that involves utilizing the various facets of cloud computing to fulfill their IT needs as much as possible. This company is less than 50 people but has some of the same IT needs and challenges of much larger organizations. They also have as a stated goal in creating an IT infrastructure that requires essentially next to no on-site support and uses hosted applications and remote infrastructure for their primary applications and systems.

Like many other small bio-techs they have limited financial resources. They are totally focused on getting their primary drug candidates through the research and development process and into clinical trials as quickly as possible.

Their research generates considerable amounts of data that needs to be stored and protected. This company, like others of approximately the same size, has similar business, computational, communications and collaboration needs as with any other organization.

Additionally, like any similar company, they must also generate and safeguard the huge number of reports and documents that will be incorporated into the final FDA new drug application (NDA).  While doing all of this they must also adhere to the appropriate regulatory guidelines that are a part of the life sciences industry.

So from a tactical standpoint what has been done to move them towards a cloud/SAAS based IT strategy?

Here are some example areas where my client has leveraged the cloud to obtain applications and systems needed to run their business:

Document Management – This is a critical function for the overall approval process. Any bio-tech must be able to provide a centralized repository where documents and files related to regulatory approval of their products can be safely stored and assembled into the actual approval applications. My client uses a SAAS provisioned document management system that provides all of the functionality they need without the overhead and expense of buying and maintaining the system internally. There are many vendors in this space (EMC, LiveLink etc.) that can fulfill this need.

Collaboration – Many bio-techs have the need to share files, collect information and collaborate with outside organizations and agencies. Using a cloud based application, such as SharePoint, allows my client to perform this function without the need to provide internal IT support.

Backup/Restore – one of the easiest to provision and to implement. Since my client is using outside contract research organizations for their clinical trials they do not have any HIPAA requirements for their data. To facilitate their backups we engaged one of the major vendors and now have their data being backed up into the cloud.

E-mail – This is a no-brainer. More and more companies are turning to outside vendors to provide the commodity IT functions such as e-mail. Given the issues around viruses, spam, archival and e-discovery (especially in the bio-tech industry) the costs and complexity of administering e-mail internally just cannot be justified in the current economic client. Using a SAAS e-mail system makes perfect sense for those companies that wish to outsource their e-mail applications.

The results are that my client has access to the systems and applications that they need to run their business without having to create and support the costly and complex infrastructure required.  Currently their on-site IT support needs are fulfilled with just having a tech on site 2 days a week and once we finish their migration the support needs will be reduced even more.

I am also working with another even smaller client where we have put so much functionality into cloud based systems that their office consists of a wireless router and printers and that’s it. All IT functions are provisioned externally and they access their data and applications via laptops, pad devices, or cell phones making their IT support requirements essentially non-existent.

As more and more applications and services are available in the cloud the need for need for life sciences companies (or any small company for that matter) to have to fund and support their own IT infrastructure will become less and less. Those that embrace putting their IT functions in the cloud will be able to direct more resources to getting their products approved and to market.
 

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