When approached about writing this article, I must admit that my initial reaction was dismissive. I questioned myself about writing something that other leaders would find beneficial and worth their time given the vast amount of reading that we do each day. Then, as I went about the execution of my new role, it dawned on me; Information Technology in the biopharmaceutical industry is experiencing a state of disruptive change that we have never experienced. The days of building strategic plans and architectures that included large capital investments in data center builds, teams of certified network engineers, and high cost year over year maintenance of the systems once built are going away. So I reconsidered and decided to share some of my thoughts regarding these changes. Over the past two years, my reading of the biopharmaceutical “tea leaves” when it comes to the implementation of pivotal technologies to sustain both operations and build competitive advantage leaves me with the belief that we are all scrambling to understand and make decisions that challenge two decades worth of concrete knowledge and understanding of just how “IT” works. The words “annual license” and “annual maintenance” are quickly being replaced with words like “subscription” and “multitenant”. I recently attended a small local event with a company that resells for one of the big storage companies’ hardware and it was interesting to listen to the discussions and witness the clear divide between the strategies of cloud based storage versus on premise based storage. I am of the opinion that a storage strategy must include multiple variables that are needed to meet each organizations individual business needs and requirements and that those will eventually change as companies change and the technology changes around us. But that’s not the reason for mentioning the event, what I observed while networking at the event is that at the most senior levels of the technology industry there are three types of leaders a.) Those that get it, b.) Those that don’t, and c.) Those that kind of get it but are unsure. Let’s look at some examples of what I mean.
"A storage strategy must include multiple variables that are needed to meet each organizations individual business needs and requirements"
For as long as I can remember the model for building and selling hardware and software has been the same. The engineers for companies like Dell, HP, IBM, EMC2, and others built hard drives, chassis’, servers, and mainframes, regional and local sales representive were responsible for targeting customers for business along with resellers. Folks like me would have a sales executive that would meet us for lunch or take us out to dinner and discuss our annual budgets and needs for growth. Then when the time came we cut a purchase order for the equipment, have our inhouse certified engineers install it, and most likely celebrate over a cold beverage during happy hour in disbelief at how much more performance we’d purchased and be giddy at how the new bezel or blinking lights looked in our datacenters. I firmly believe that those days are behind us, “I get it” (I think).Then there are those in the “don’t get it” group in our industry. I recall a recent conversation with a sales representative that had just completed a pilot project and he asked me “When will you be making a decision on a vendor?” and my response to him was “I’m not, in fact I am heading in a different direction with my strategy and plan on placing what you piloted with us in the hands of a service provider, simply put I don’t plan on investing in hardware at all.” His reaction was disbelief and he responded with a very disappointing tone knowing that he’d lost the sale and I knew that he had likely set expectations with his management. He “didn’t get it” and continued to make attempts to tell me why his companies hardware performed higher than any other competitors and wanted to know when he could follow up to meet with me face to face. Lastly, there is the group that can see the changes occurring but don’t yet know what or how to operate in order to change with the trends. Along with the representative I just mentioned there were a handful of others that I also had to disappoint, and some of them understood, they realize the industry is changing and that their target customer base likely aren’t people like me, but are service providers that will be hosting the services that I am buying. Services that are now provided such as Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Software as a Service (SaaS), and Desktop as a Service (DaaS), are a fundamental shift away from our clean and pretty sunny side up view of how our technology offerings to our companies as leaders have traditionally looked. The biopharma industry as of today is packed full of software offerings that rely on technology and architectures that were put in place 20 years ago and remain cash cows for software companies and boat anchors for companies with large employee bases and significant amounts of investments in both dollars and people. Layer into this large dinosaur of a software market the demand for a mobile workforce and the agility to successfully move into implementing today’s technology has about the same odds as winning the lottery. The only real option is to scrap the investments made over many years and start over. The good news is that at there are a number of innovative companies emerging that have realized the trend and are throwing us a life raft. Another compelling reason to scrap old technology is that it forces groups, departments, and functions to re-evaluate how business is being conducted and look for immediate productivity gain sand cost savings. The challenges we face with the delivery of technology to the biopharma industry with a solid understanding of the technology backbones and architectures are hard enough to say the least. Now as we enter into an era of technology change that’s new, uncertain, and exciting all at the same time the challenges become exponentially more difficult. However, embracing the changes, learning, and taking smart risks are pivotal to creating competitive advantages for our companies. In closing, if you’re a leader who continues to admire the picturesque view of a nicely rounded sunny side up systems landscape versus the not so appealing view of a scrambled architecture you might consider reaching for that bottle of ketchup to make the decisions more palatable.