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Microsoft: Eyes on the LS Enterprise


By John Russell

Nov. 12, 2008 | Many folks wonder what Microsoft’s eventual play in the life sciences will be. Clearly biomedical research looks more and more like an exercise in digital content integration, management, and mining. Within the last few years, Microsoft—and others—awakened to opportunities in health care writ large and to biomedical research as a key piece of that enterprise. To a large extent, Microsoft’s life science push has followed its traditional dependence in independent software vendor partners building solutions on top of Microsoft products. There is even a relatively new organization, the Microsoft BioIT Alliance, aimed at wooing ISVs and helping sell to life sciences (see, “Microsoft’s Move into Life Sciences,” Bio-IT World, Nov. 2007).

Yet the size and complexity of the biopharmaceutical industry presents other opportunities and challenges. Many large companies want enterprise-scale solutions which Microsoft would dearly love to sell directly. In health care, for example, Microsoft’s Amalga “product” is an enterprise-scale data integration solution sold directly to big hospitals. Indeed, Microsoft is building a specialized version of Amalga for the life sciences, which will be ready soon.

Then there is the army of software developers toiling inside biopharma which Microsoft would love to persuade to write apps on Microsoft products.

Health Care Missionary
Spearheading Microsoft’s missionary work to biopharma is mostly Michael Naimoli’s job. He is director of the life sciences group, one of three groups—providers; plans; and life sciences—embedded inside Microsoft’s U.S. Health and Life Sciences organization which is GM’d by Steve Aylward.

Says Naimoli, “Seven years ago there were approximately five people focused on health care worldwide at Microsoft,” says Naimoli. “Now there are more than 700. My group is responsible primarily for the enterprise space (in biopharma and medical devices), so these are the largest customers in the U.S. The goal of my crew is not really to go and talk about products, but to go in and talk about solutions for the business—so get out of IT and have conversations with the business decision-makers around what are they trying to do and how can Microsoft help.

“We try and focus outside of IT, so the vice president of clinical development, discovery decision sciences, sales and marketing, medical affairs, manufacturing—key decision-makers in those arenas. Occasionally the CIO—we certainly talk to the CIO and his or her organization, but our conversation is about how they service their customers within the organization and what their customers are looking for.”

Naimoli won’t say much about the forthcoming Amalga-like product, but talks freely about efforts to win over internal developers. “[These are] developers that for long time have been writing applications on our competitors’ platforms. They are often fans of open source software. We do provide standards-based solutions for the industry,” he says.

“The way we’ve been dealing with that group has been to go in and demonstrate what our platform can do with respect to data visualization and workflow and collaboration. We have them look at Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF), for example, and we’re working to have them think, “I’m going to write to WPF or I’m going to learn about WPF.” Or we have them look at HPC Server 2008 and say, “Maybe high-performance computing on a Microsoft platform is something that we have to look at and consider writing applications to it.” That’s becoming a bigger part of my group’s focus,” he says.

Building a History
Microsoft is also working to build its lineup of powerful case histories. Two arrows currently in the quiver are its work with Eli Lilly and Novartis. With Lilly, it was the Orion project in which PerformancePoint Server and Project Server were deployed to provide data visualization and project milestone information enterprise-wide. A Novartis, he says, “We built the decision support environment. That’s a solution that pulls together project data and all of the documentation around the project data into a single system.”

While Naimoli group has limited interaction with the BioIT Alliance, “I can tell you our plan in the not-so-distant future is to provide them with code that we’re working on—live code around data visualization.”

It will be interesting to watch this next stage of Microsoft’s LS effort. 

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This article appeared in Bio-IT World Magazine.

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