June 8, 2011 | Guest Commentary | With all the hype around Cloud computing, it’s hard to know what is real and what is merely Cloud vapor. Cloud computing refers to moving network infrastructure—servers, database, etc.—to a Cloud environment. However, the Cloud can cover many net-native solutions, from Cloud solutions that augment IT infrastructure (IaaS) to Web development platforms (PaaS) to Cloud-based applications (SaaS), and many more.
Rather than get hung up on what the Cloud is or isn’t, we should see it as an opportunity to consume technology in a new way. In moving R&D to the Cloud, you can leverage several different technologies. The focus today is around improving collaboration and information exchange across communities and using a technology known as Integration as a Service or Cloud integration. This allows the exchange of information in real time across all organizations in the community, from health care providers and research institutions to labs and suppliers.
One of the greatest benefits of using the Cloud for collaboration and electronic information exchange is interoperability. There is great disparity between IT capability, back-end systems and applications and resources across the industry. Many health care providers are slow to adopt the latest technology, and often research organizations don’t have the money for cutting-edge applications. With the Cloud, everyone in your “community” can leverage existing applications.
Consider an example from one of the largest life sciences organizations in North America. It was exchanging procurement and R&D messages across hundreds of external organizations, some of whom had basic back-end systems, while others were connecting via marketplaces, such as GHX, and some had procurement applications like SciQuest. They tried to manage all these connections themselves, but found it challenging, resource intensive and slow. This company implemented a Cloud-based integration solution, and also outsourced management of the solution to the Cloud provider, which minimized the impact on its fairly modest IT department.
The result was increased efficiencies and faster information flow. However, the greatest benefit came at the go-to-market stage, where it saw increased orders and revenue from customers that were integrated via the Cloud platform. These customers, ranging from small universities to major hospitals, were able to seamlessly connect to the company’s eCommerce site and easily purchase whatever they needed, from DNA kits to cell cultures to diagnostic tools.
With your intellectual property and vital R&D information going back and forth across your company, researchers, hospitals and other organizations, how can you possibly trust the Cloud? If you choose the right Cloud provider, your information is as secure if not more so than traditional communication methods.
Many current Cloud solutions provide excellent security, offering end-to-end encryption, strict access control rules across the entire business process, strong authentication requirements, and a clear audit trail with reporting. You should have complete visibility on how, when and where that data has been accessed and by whom. In addition, look for vendors that have passed compliance mandates, such as PCI DSS and SAS 70 Type II, which offer assurances about the Cloud provider’s capabilities.
Moreover, don’t jump to the Cloud without doing the proper due diligence. Many organizations move too quickly and end up with a solution that isn’t well supported, doesn’t play nice with other applications or does not have the security or compliance required. Here are a few key areas of evaluation when considering any Cloud solution:
- Vendor finances and customer base: How long have they been in business? Do they have any reference customers you can talk to? Do they understand your industry and market needs?
- Dedication to Cloud: There are benefits to going with a company dedicated to an “as a service” solution, since their priority will be to invest in and support that solution. However, it may prove beneficial to leverage a company that can provide both on-premise and Cloud-based solutions.
- Strong architecture: How have they built their platform? Is it scalable, secure and reliable?
- Security and compliance: Many Cloud providers ensure data security in motion, but what about at rest? Do they have any compliance certifications to ensure their own security and controls as well as ensure you can maintain adherence to your mandates?
- Infrastructure: Does the Cloud provider manage its own data center? Remember, behind every Cloud is an old fashioned network and data center. Make sure the vendor has a strong infrastructure, including back-up and recovery.
- Strong SLAs: Make sure the Service Level Agreements (SLAs) work for you. What is the SLA around uptime? It should be at least 99%. Are there other areas you require to make sure the solution is delivering what you need, such as guaranteed delivery, support response times, transaction times, etc. This can be an area of negotiation.
Evaluate where your current bottlenecks are, and identify which processes can be moved to the Cloud with limited impact on workflow or back-end infrastructure. Fully leveraging B2B integration can provide immediate and quantifiable results for your business.
Margaret Dawson is VP of product management for Hubspan, a Cloud B2B integration provider. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org