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New Directions for BioIT Alliance

BioIT Alliance will transition to standards development organization.

By John Russell

November 10, 2009
| CAMBRIDGE—During a two-day meeting in October, the BioIT Alliance rolled out a plan to lessen its dependence on Microsoft and morph into an independent standards development organization (SDO).

The Alliance has hit a few speed bumps in growing membership, establishing its value, and changed leadership three times since its inception three years ago. Now, said director Les Jordan of Microsoft, transitioning into a self-supporting, independent SDO was the best and perhaps only route for the BioIT Alliance to successfully establish itself. The role is a badly needed one, he emphasized. The BioIT Alliance should take on the important task of establishing interoperability standards among Bio-IT technology suppliers and seek close collaboration with other health care technology standards groups such as CDISC to ensure the full range bench-to-bedside technology interoperated effectively, he said.

The meeting, chaired by Jordan and held at Microsoft’s New England R&D Center in Cambridge, Mass., had a rich agenda designed to quickly set in motion the BioIT Alliance’s direction change. Presentations from other SDOs—including CDISC (Clinical Data Interchange Standards Consortium) and IUPAC/inChi project—offered lessons from their pasts and practical dos-and-don’ts for building and operating an SDO. Talks from technology providers CambridgeSoft, iLink Systems, Accelrys, and Thermo Fisher Scientific spotlighted technology trends in their respective markets, also indicating where interoperability standards would be valuable.

Jordan presented an outline of the FY10 strategy. Top goals are: 1) to enable collaboration between members; 2) foster development of tools and standards; and 3) develop a governance structure and path to become fully independent.

Initially, there will be 3 classes of members. Sponsors, intended for larger companies, would pay a $5,000 fee the first year and $10,000 in the second year, and automatically receive a spot on the Board of Directors. Associates, intended for smaller companies and biotechs, would pay fees based on a sliding scale from $500 to $1500 per year. Employees of associate member companies could rise to the BoD through a voting process. Supporters, a category for students and non-profits, would pay $25 per year and be able to participate in BioIT Alliance activities but not vote.

At least initially, board members would serve two years, said Jordan. Early plans call for board members to meet monthly by conference call and face-to-face twice a year. Jordan emphasized this was the starting point, and that over time the governance would evolve likely emulating CDISC. Microsoft will remain a sponsor, said Jordan.

Cautious Response
Attendee response was positive but cautious. “The devil is in the details. What is it really going to do?” noted one. Jordan pointed to early milestone including: to set the vision and areas of focus by November of this year; have the first BoD conference call in December; form collaborative working groups in January 2010; and develop bylaws in 2010.

Becky Kush, president of CDISC, reviewed its history briefly and noted it wasn’t until its third year that CDISC was able to refine its mission, suggesting the BioIT Alliance is in a somewhat similar stage now. She emphasized the importance of interacting with existing standards organization and not trying “to re-invent the wheel.” She advised the BioIT Alliance to document its processes, to involve multiple stakeholders, and define a clear focus and scope. It’s also important, she said, to decide whether or not your effort needs to be global.

As for when Microsoft would pull its support plug, Jordan quipped, “as soon as the Alliance is ready.” 

This article also appeared in the November-December 2009 issue of Bio-IT World Magazine.
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