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Knowing when to let go

Knowing when to let go


There’s nothing like a tough market to force companies to take stock of their core business and reassess the best use of internal resources. Martin Magazzolo, global practice director of CSC Life Sciences’ Software Solutions Group, charts the move toward content as a service amid changing market dynamics.
Last Updated: 13-Sep-2012

Although life sciences organisations have a reputation for being conservative in outlook, keen to retain tight control over their information-based assets for fear they might otherwise compromise their competitive edge or customer safety, times have changed. With markets showing no immediate sign of recovery and competitive pressures fiercer than ever, pharma companies are finding they must rethink their business models if they want to secure their futures. And certain intensifying regulatory demands have added to the complexity surrounding content management. All of that has conspired to create a situation that is unsustainable administratively, if organisations want to stay lean and keen and able to outpace their competition.

One of the major shifts is that companies are finally learning to let go — by entrusting aspects of their operations to external suppliers: those that can offer specialist-managed service and superior economies of scale in handling noncore activities. Having gained confidence from their experiences in outsourcing basic information technology (IT) infrastructure management, companies have now begun putting their trust in content-as-a-service providers: in the form of cloud-based managed-service suppliers that can look after those companies’ critical data assets and improve the way the assets get processed and maintained.

AstraZeneca leads the way
AstraZeneca’s chief technology officer Angela Yochem has been candid about her company’s need to relax its internal controls and instead seek expertise from a wide range of external sources. Yochem’s view is that shifting the responsibility for certain aspects of IT delivery to specialist third parties frees the company to focus on opportunities that improve the business bottom line. Yochem is not alone either: to improve their abilities to collaborate and expand mobility, other large pharma companies, too, are making significant changes to the ways they operate, having recognised that such capabilities as content management are commodity components of their business, not competitive differentiators.

Drawing on external services makes sound economic sense. Buying or building massive, costly internal solutions that cater to peak workloads is now seen as wasteful. Owning systems and running them carry cost burdens too, in terms of licence fees, maintenance and upgrades — not to mention that systems’ fitness for purpose may be short-lived as the needs of the business evolve and change. While outsourcing services have not always had good reputations, virtualisation technology and cloud-based delivery models have been transformational, enabling rapid access to new technologies, facilitating easy scalability and leading to substantial cost savings. The ability to scale IT infrastructures both up and down in terms of capacity is a huge draw for companies, especially given that in most cases, companies will only ever need to pay for the resources they actually use — because the services are being provisioned as a service.

As well as introducing additional cost efficiencies because staff become freed from repetitive administrative burdens, the prospect of holding content somewhere external and central introduces other benefits. In the pharma industry, information is continually being created, updated, used and read by multiple people in different departments and locations. The more global that markets have become, the more widely content needs to be shared. Whatever companies’ feelings are in regard to entrusting valued assets to third parties, there is now a competitive imperative that scientists and thought leaders have seamless access to information that has the potential to advance discovery.

Dynamic, secure collaboration gets enabled
Collaboration between academia, biotech companies and even competitors is on the increase too. With such a diverse group of people involved in the drug development and marketing process today, the ways content gets gathered and managed must evolve. No one would dispute the fact that intellectual property needs to be safeguarded, yet it has become clear that, strategically and competitively, organisations now need greater visibility than traditional bespoke electronic content management solutions allow. Pharma organisations can take heart from the fact that content as a service, or cloud-based information delivery, has evolved significantly to offer secure transmission and the ability to partition one company’s data from that of other companies within the boundaries of the cloud. It means that data that needs to be secured can be, while information vital to a collaborative effort can be made available to authorised parties by means of a common but secure Internet-based framework. That feature removes a layer of complexity and permits the participants involved in a project to access the same common core of data directly — rather than having to extract information from an in-house system in order to pass it on.

Confidence comes from planning
Of course, any shift from internal control to content as a service requires a willingness on the parts of IT and business leaders to relinquish a certain amount of control over the location of their data. But rather than needing control over where data resides, the only thing companies really need is assurance that their data will be managed securely. Ultimately, a dedicated managed-service provider with a purpose-built data centre is going to be much better equipped to ensure that than an internal IT department is. Where there is resistance to the proposed changes — out of a protective instinct for, say, people’s jobs, legacy investments and the interwoven business processes linked to those bespoke solutions — cloud-based solutions can provide a way forward there too, offering organisations a migration path as long as they plan well.

Success in adopting content as a service demands a best-practice approach that starts with the appointment of a high-level internal sponsor — such as the head of research and development, or the chief scientific officer or even the CEO — to drive and support the initiative throughout all of its phases. Next, the project will need an IT leader — whether an external partner, or the chief information officer or chief technology officer. A sound IT strategy is crucial: business processes must be well thought out and technology solutions considered in terms of both short-term and long-term implications and benefits.

Competitive advantage is acquired
In terms of system performance, any concerns have been largely addressed as cloud-based services have matured and as the success of software-as-a-service-based applications like has proved. This — essentially a sales-tracking database in the cloud — is now the go-to resource for enabling collaboration between colleagues and customers. Of course, electronic content management is a more complex proposition. But increasingly, IT leaders — and in their wake, business leaders — are beginning to recognise that as long as the issue of performance can be addressed and as long as the provider can show that its storage facilities are trustworthy, content-as-a-service will lift a costly and cumbersome burden from the industry. Those that move quickly to seize the opportunity stand to gain the most because of the new agility cloud-based solutions offer them. As organisations begin to chart new growth strategies, bold, innovative thinking and a dynamic, service-based approach to content management will stand them in good stead to reach out and exploit new markets.