The Future of IT in the World of Big Data

Tom Cahoon:
Hi everyone. Welcome to this podcast from Cambridge Innovation Institute for the 2017 Bio IT World Conference and Expo, which runs from May 23-25 in Boston Massachusetts. I'm Tom Cahoon, market research analyst and administrative assistant. We have with us today one of our workshop leaders for the pharmaceuticals R&D informatics track, Michael Elliot, CEO of Atrium Research and Consulting. Mr. Elliot will be opening and giving an overview talk for a workshop titled, "Virtual Pharma", evolving toward true data exchange highways beyond corporate fire walls which will be exploring the shift from internal research toward a more expansive collaboration model, as well as the changes information system landscapes will need to adapt to this new environment. Mike, thank you for joining us.

Mike Elliot:
Well, thank you Tom. It's a pleasure to be here today.

Tom Cahoon:
How do you see IT responding to the changes in how pharmaceutical R&D is performed?

Mike Elliot:
I view the transformation that we're undergoing from a traditional fully integrated bio-pharmaceutical operation to a distributive one. One of, if not the greatest challenges IT and informatics departments are facing in the near future. The reason I say that is, while we've got research virtualization externalization growing at a very rapid pace, particularly in discovery, and this whole new model that we're in requires different approaches to data management, different architectures, different technologies, and different operating models. The majority of R&D IT spend today, is really just keeping the lights on, in other words, maintaining existing legacy applications.

It's not unheard of for a pharma company to be spending 70-80% of their time just keeping their existing systems that were designed for on premise internal use, keeping those systems going. These systems that we built for internal consumptions really don't have the security, collaboration, other capabilities necessary for this new distributed research model. When you throw in these vast number of data formats that get exchange between partners, and then the semantic variations, or just the language that people use, the terminologies people use, or the differences of those between multiple partners in a research ecosystem, they're quite a number of hand fulls the IT challenges have to address.

What we hear is there's a lot of just “where do I begin” type of questions being asked. Do you start with a horizontal collaboration infrastructure to build that tool set to put out what is needed for specific partnerships, or do you narrow your focus, go deep in functionality into a domain like Medcan or Translational Genomics? Companies are struggling with this. At most pharma companies, IT is really in reactive mode, or firefighting mode, if you will, to these research changes. These new business relationships are being formed, many of them extremely complex agreements calling out unique confidentiality, IP ownership rights, and they don't involve IT in the front end of that process.

The project teams departments in therapeutic areas are hitting IT up pretty much after the fact to solve these data flows, or these agreements that have already put in place. You create this environment where I've got a lot of legacy systems already going, this kind of change that people are throwing at me, all these new types of arrangements and resultingly, the majority of data between partners is shared using emails and PDFs. I call this, in an article I wrote several years ago, the devolution of informatics. When you look at it from an opportunity perspective, the supplier community always seems to be helping in certain use cases. Overall the track record, I think, is pretty mixed. Most have been reacting to this trend at the pace of their clients instead of getting in front of it.

I think that's the real change. I think when we talk about where IT has to respond, I think we need to have a different environment where IT takes a greater role in the business development processes and the governance processes, and I see this as a huge change in the conventional model. They really have to get in front of this evolution and just not react to it because they'll never solve some of the basic issues around this new world order by just reacting to individual project teams and what they need. They need to understand not only the needs of the executives, but the business development groups and these project teams. You have to lead not only with technology and I think that's the other change that has to happen. You can't just lead with technology. You have to look at data operations and what the governance models are, how you curate data, the stewardship of data, and they need to push the legal community to accept the cloud and build the architectures that are sustainable for many years to come. I do see this as a transformation of the traditional way that IT has been done at these organizations.

Tom Cahoon:
You say informatics suppliers have a mixed record when it comes to numerous challenges pharmaceutical companies face. What do you see them needing to improve in their future?

Mike Elliot:
Well again, I think in our relatively small markets, vendors tend to address very specific use cases. There's very good tools to address these particular problems and that works well within a company's firewall. When we talked about open collaboration partnerships and virtualization, these vendors tend to view the problem without a lens. How can I just do what I'm doing but enable others to use it? You see a lot of these quote cloud services being offered by vendors. In reality, the vast majority of these cloud tools are just legacy applications, hosted by a provider like Amazon. They aren't architecture to the cloud. They aren't especially good at addressing the security requirements or research virtualization and they make use of a lot of older technology with negative impacts their performance when they're spun up in these environments.

Their cloud strategy is in many ways murky and primarily for marketing purposes. I think the biggest issue is this narrow field of view, as I mentioned. There are many other considerations beyond just tools like WIMS or ELAN. There's the management of agreements and how they impact confidentiality, the logistics of materials. How do I post samples between partners? How do I manage portfolios and projects and so forth? Just tools for transforming data between the number of different partners' technologies because everybody kind of builds up their own tools, and getting in front of enabling and promoting standards like Allotrope and some of the others that are coming out there, kind of missing from most of the suppliers.

I do think what they need to do is change when you look at this research virtualization, you need to be thinking more holistically. You need to provide a more integrated set of capabilities, maybe not as deep for internal purposes, but more of a cohesive collection that moves us away from this tendency to just use email. I think they have to be more active, more promoting, in the terms of whether it's Bestow, or Allotrope, or whatever. Get in front of this with behind standards instead of trying to avoid that, and be much more proactive than reactive.

Tom Cahoon:
What do you hope to learn for yourself at Bio IT World?

Mike Elliot:
Well, I attend several conferences a year and speak at several as well. From what I do, Bio IT world is really the premier event. I go for two main reasons. The first is just to learn. I'm very interested in the innovative ways companies are using to solve data management analytic problems. For my purposes, I also look for trends in the marketplace. I evaluate the messaging that goes across a number of people at these shows, seeing where can you pick apart to kind of look at the key trends, formulate the direction of the market. Then I try to discover what the vendors are doing to address any of these emerging trends. Are they getting in front of some of these? Are they enabling sets of capabilities that we're going to need in the future?

The second is basically the network and it's a lot of reconnection with many of the thought leaders in the industry. I also go to the show to build new relationships, especially those who appear to be emerging innovators in the field. There's always new folks that are coming to the event that haven't spoken in the past, that haven't been there in the past, maybe from small biotech, some emerging company, or they're new within the one of the larger pharma companies trying to make a difference there. We're trying to look at those talks and meet with those folks, trying to learn from them, going back to point number one, what could kind of drive that as a best practice?

Tom Cahoon:
Mike, thank you for sharing your thoughts with us today.

Mike Elliot:
Thanks for having me folks. I really appreciate the opportunity today to speak with you.

Tom Cahoon:
That was Michael Elliot, CEO of Atrium Research and Consulting. He'll be Opening the workshop, Virtual Pharma: Evolving Toward True Data Exchange Highways Beyond Corporate Firewalls for the Pharmaceuticals R&D Informatics Track at the upcoming 2017 Bio IT World Conference and Expo, which runs from May 23-25, in Boston Massachusetts. If you'd like to hear him in person, go to for registration information and enter the key code podcast. I'm Tom Cahoon and thank you for listening.

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