Magazine Article | June 1, 2010

Increasing The Pace Of R&D Innovation With Cloud Computing

By Vijay Koduri

We’ve all heard considerable talk about the positive impact of the life sciences revolution — in terms of health, well-being, and even business. Yet, what may not be entirely visible is the revolution occurring inside life sciences companies. Many of these companies are evaluating their innovation and R&D processes with a critical eye to how the latest technologies can make them more efficient. And, quite a few are discovering that two specific technologies — cloud-based collaboration and enterprise search — can have a significant impact on research efficiency. 

In many ways, this focus comes as no surprise. Life sciences companies work within some of business’ longest product development cycles. According to Pharmaceutical Research Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), developing a new drug takes between 12 and 15 years and can cost over $800 million. With a patent protection cycle of 20 years, each year matters — months and even days can affect the bottom line. In fact, Specialty Pharma conducted a detailed ROI analysis and concluded, “Time is worth about $4 million per business day in lost profits and $6 million in lost sales for a product with peak sales of $700 million.”

Furthermore, research professionals work in environments that have changed vastly over the last 20 years. Globalization and consolidation have shifted workflows, often bringing researchers and scientists from around the world together to work on shared projects. To facilitate productivity across various time zones, researchers need to be wired around the clock, from any location — their home, office, or even an airport lounge — and from any device, including their mobile phone. What’s more, researchers need good search tools so that they can easily find and leverage the work already conducted by fellow researchers around the world. The last thing a researcher would want is to spend three weeks repeating an experiment simply because they didn’t know that someone in their organization had already done that, but that they couldn’t find the results. 

From an IT standpoint, this changing work environment creates new requirements that IT systems designed one or two decades ago simply can’t support. For instance, most enterprise applications are still based on client/server technology, which requires a piece of software for that specific application to be housed on the access device, like a PC or a handheld. Client/server models carry inherent security risks since they require company data to be stored on the client device. If this device is lost or stolen (as 10% of corporate laptops are), corporate data can be compromised. In fact, 1,200 laptops are lost each week at LAX airport alone.

Fortunately, technology has advanced considerably in the past decade. Cloud computing and associated technologies now present a unique opportunity for R&D departments to leverage IT innovations designed for the modern workplace. Specifically, two technology categories can help increase the pace of R&D innovation — cloud-based collaboration and enterprise search. Both of these technologies, if implemented correctly, focus squarely on the user and provide researchers the ability to find information and collaborate much more effectively, without leaving any footprint whatsoever on the access device.

Many leading life sciences organizations are starting to discover the benefits of cloud-based collaboration. One example is Mind Research Network (MRN), a private nonprofit research foundation dedicated to advancing the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness and brain injury. Nearly two years ago, MRN moved its entire staff to a cloud-based email and collaboration solution. A driving factor for this shift was the fact that its workforce was becoming increasingly mobile, with nearly all of its employees using laptops as their primary computers.

This increased mobility has opened up new opportunities for innovation and process improvement. In one project, for example, researchers needed to conduct research in remote locations using a mobile MRI. Being able to access cloud-based documents and update their research wherever they worked ensured that information was kept current and that all researchers had access to the latest information.

In another MRN project, researchers made extensive use of cloud-based video collaboration to observe a range of therapy sessions and evaluate the effectiveness of each. Because therapists and researchers were located across the country, project leads were concerned about the costs of setting up videoconferencing equipment for each session.

A breakthough occurred when they decided to leverage their cloud-based email system, which included free video chat capabilities, allowing researchers to remotely view the therapists’ sessions. Next, researchers provided input to the sessions into Web-based forms, instantly aggregating rankings and comments into a single, securely viewable spreadsheet. This simple solution not only minimized costs, it sped the time from concept to launch and significantly streamlined internal collaboration and result sharing.
Larger organizations are also realizing the benefits. A large California biotech company chose a cloud-based email and collaboration system two years ago. Since then, grassroots adoption among researchers collaborating on documents in the cloud has been strong, driven by the ability of multiple authors to work simultaneously on the same document. In fact, as they are starting to work more closely with third-party research firms, they look to their cloud-based collaboration system to further improve communications and to allow secure sharing within approved domains. Compared to a traditional IT solution, which would have required complex security integration with identity servers, proxy servers, and so forth, the cloud offers a secure workspace allowing safe collaboration with each third-party research firm.

Search is another evolving technology that is increasingly critical in the life sciences. According to IDC, knowledge workers can spend up to 25% of their time looking for information. Research scientists are no exception. Enterprise search tools can serve as a “one stop shop” for researchers, helping them find what’s needed across diverse information repositories without having to move between applications or content management systems. Since lab results, demographic data, and documents of all kind are often “siloed” in dedicated content repositories, old models had researchers interrupting their workflow to seek out different kinds of information through separate dashboards or interfaces.

Today, the right search solution allows seamless navigation across these repositories, giving researchers the information they need on-demand — regardless of format or storage system. As Essilor, a company in the opthalmic industry, learned, deploying the right search solution raised the levels of access — and performance — delivered by its vast knowledge bases. According to an Essilor project lead, “With our legacy content management system, we could easily create content but could not effectively find, share, or manage it. With our enterprise search solution, we were able to search across our entire knowledge base quickly and effectively.”
Ultimately, researchers are the lifeblood of life sciences companies. By deploying search and collaboration tools that focus on the researcher, companies can go a long way toward fostering a more open, knowledge-sharing culture. And in turn, a heightened level of knowledge sharing can increase not only the flow of ideas, but also the pace of bringing new innovations to market. No wonder the real life sciences revolution is occurring inside the company.

About The Author
Vijay Koduri is a senior product marketing manager for Google Enterprise, heading up the marketing for Google’s enterprise search product line. He has 15 years of seasoned experience in product marketing, strategic thinking, entrepreneurship, and business development.