November 10, 2009 | As IBM focuses more and more of its business on consulting, it sees major advantages for cloud computing, particularly around the areas of security and compliance. IBM’s first foray into cloud computing for life sciences is in the clinical development space. Kevin Davies spoke to Paul Papas, who runs IBM’s life sciences consulting group, and Stuart Henderson, who runs the consulting business for Big Blue’s pharma R&D clients.
Bio•IT World: Where is the business opportunity for IBM in cloud computing?
Papas: When you look at all the challenges the industry is facing, we see a perfect storm our clients are trying to navigate. They have declining product revenues from products coming off patent, and a lack of R&D productivity to make up for that revenue gap. We’re seeing increasing M&A and licensing activity as companies race to grow their pipelines. However, if these companies are not able to grow the top line, they have to find ways to deliver the bottom line. In order to do this, they must do things smarter.
What do you mean by being “smarter”?
Papas: I’m sure you’ve seen our ‘Smarter Planet’ TV ads. The key message is: the way we live and interact in the world today is unsustainable... To be ‘smarter’ about how we do things we need to implement processes and solutions that are more instrumented, interconnected, and intelligent. Likewise, the way that many life sciences companies operate and perform today is unsustainable. They need to be ‘smarter’ about three things. 1) Innovate smarter, to find new products and therapies to bring to market. 2) Engage smarter, to change how they engage with customers and to figure out their future role in the health care ecosystem. And 3) Operate smarter, change their fundamental operating models and look beyond their four walls to drive maximum efficiency and cost savings. When you think about those things—Innovate smarter, engage smarter, operate smarter—cloud computing is the perfect enabler to operating ‘smarter.’
What is IBM’s offering and how does it differ from, say, Amazon’s EC2?
Henderson: There are three clear layers in cloud computing: There’s infrastructure as a service, platform as a service, and what we call ‘workload cloud.’ Amazon, for example, offers an infrastructure; Google’s Code cloud capability offers a platform, and then when we look at workload, the top layer—there are solutions like SalesForce.com, our own Lotus Live, and our Clinical Cloud solution. For that reason, you can’t technically compare IBM’s clinical cloud offering and Amazon EC2. Another critical differentiator is security. Clinical Cloud is at a maturity level of security that pharma clients are looking for. In a recent survey, we spoke to 90 interviewees in all sectors including banking, education, pharma, health care, etc. The biggest inhibitor to their adoption of cloud computing was security, privacy and regulation. 73% said they were concerned about that. Amazon’s EC2 is a great solution, however to support client needs at the workload layer they want in our regulated industry, strong privacy and security are basic requirements.
Is there room for Big Blue—high-performance computing—and cloud computing within IBM?
Henderson: We come from the high-performance computing world—we invented computing-on-demand! We’ve already launched commercially oriented clouds—Developer Cloud, Test Cloud. However, it is important to note that we practice what we preach. We run IBM Research Cloud Compute (RC2)—our own virtual datacenter that powers IBM’s internal research organization. This gives us unique insights into helping our clients that other services organizations simply do not have.
Can you put this clinical cloud offering into a broader strategic perspective?
Papas: Our [life sciences] clients are changing their business model, exploring and pursuing different business relationships and alliances. In fact, we did a thought leadership piece in 2008: ‘A marriage of minds: Making biopharmaceutical collaborations work.’ The focus was on biopartnering as part of a new more networked business model. Nowhere is this new networked model more critical than in the clinical development space. Today, work is done in silos, the development process is slowed due to multiple hand-offs and information is trapped either in a patchwork of internal systems or behind the walls of CRO partners… We began our work on the “Smarter Clinical Cloud” to cut through all of this. We intend to create a hub as a shared workspace where multiple partners can work together in a secure environment with increased transparency, reduce time to get information, reduced costs, etc. This will all be enabled with cloud computing.
Are you setting up private or public clouds for your clients?
Henderson: There are private clouds inside the firewall of a pharma company, and public clouds outside the firewall. There is a common misnomer when we use those terms: many people think public clouds means anyone can get to it. Those terms are charged and loaded. We’re talking about multi-tenant clouds that are secure and only accessible to those who are actually signed up to use those services. This is especially useful when you’re collaborating with CROs, FSPs, or doing joint clinical development with pharma partners.
How do you achieve that extra measure of compliance and security with your public cloud?
Henderson: Most applications designed for this market don’t have a granular level of security support. With many of the industry’s leading package clinical applications, once you’re in you can see pretty much everything. We have ways at the application level of addressing that. Secondly, it’s the way you access the cloud. While it’s available externally, we use soft VPNs. You don’t have to install anything on the desktop to allow access to the cloud but you still require credentialing and security that you’d expect in our industry.
Papas: Because things are evolving so rapidly, there’s a benefit to working with a company like IBM that cannot only address the foundational security concern, but can provide end-to-end services on cloud strategy, the business process being enabled, and the supporting technology.
This article also appeared in the November-December 2009 issue of Bio-IT World Magazine.
Subscriptions are free for qualifying individuals. Apply today.