Pharma in the cloud is not off in the misty future: it can be done, it can be secure, it can reduce costs, it is extensible and mobile. That was the message of Nathan McBride, Executive Director of IT at AMAG Pharmaceuticals.  McBride’s presentation was one of the most inspiring talks for me at the recent Digital Innovation in Pharma Summit.  I liked the substance: the whys, hows, benefits, and future of “pharma in the cloud.” I liked the story: the vision, the creation of a small team, the “bubble room”, the sub-plots with internal clients and external vendors.

The “bubble room” is my term.  McBride described the formation of his team, a purposely small, lean team. The team worked in a whiteboard sided room, and all around the room they developed their game plan for going to the cloud. Nathan’s team has reduced their IT budget 55% in the past three years – impressive.  More impressive considering the strength of their infrastructure, the broad services they provide to their internal clients, and the tertiary redundancy of their data.

They started with just a handful of bubbles- five key areas they needed to focus on:

  • Storage
  • Security/Authentication
  • Email/Voice
  • Client Management
  • Collaboration

The team’s cloud project “ended” with these bubbles:

Of course it never ends!  Success engenders success. McBride’s team at AMAG have achieved significant commercial benefits in terms of collaboration and IP control; in terms of simpler and easier M&A integration; in terms of cost savings; in terms of ubiquitous mobile delivery of product demonstrations from any device.  The “capture” of data is also accelerated with the AMAG approach.

Some interesting sub-plots: McBride noted that employees “consume” better devices than companies provide, a trend I also heard pointed out at a leading hospital in Boston.  The approach of AMAG (and that innovative medical center) is to allow users to use those devices and provide a manageable, secure framework for them to do so.  He also noted a concern with the “cloud mafia” – or for-profit firms attempting to set up cloud standards that may prove to be exclusionary or, however well-intentioned, self-serving.

He advised other IT people to avoid working with just one vendor.  At the same time, he advised forming partnerships with vendors, rather than just buying software.  And to have a back-up plan.

The results are impressive; the process more so.  It’s a lesson in IT efficiency but also in innovation management, and organizational effectiveness.

Tom Anderson

Tom Anderson is President and CEO of Weymouth Design. He works with pharmaceutical and life sciences companies on mobile and digital marketing and branding strategies.

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