The cloud is not quite the enigma it once was, even in heavily regulated industries like life sciences, financial services, oil and gas and utilities. After all, many of us use the cloud every day with social media, online banking and shopping, and photo storage. The list goes on. These are areas where we feel comfortable, or at a minimum, feel the benefits to be gained far outweigh any perceived risk. However, many in regulated industries still hesitate to venture into the cloud with their global enterprise application—the very place where cloud technology excels with its flexibility, scalability, accessibility, cost-efficiencies and reliable performance.
To date, the largest concern regarding adoption of cloud technologies is security. However, the security myth is slowly being discredited as regulated industries realize cloud system servers pose no greater danger of a security breach than premise-based servers. In fact, reputable cloud technology providers have adopted stringent security protocols to meet the requirements of heavily regulated industries, as their business model would surely collapse without them. So, with growing confidence, companies in regulated industries worldwide have started embarking on rewarding trips into the clouds.
An Ascent to Efficiencies and Collaboration
Certainly technology does not stand still. Servers grow old. Software needs continual updates. Internal networks become overloaded. The cloud offers an escape from these concerns and provides an airlift to a higher technological plain where almost any innovation is possible. The challenge is how to best harness this innovative capacity in a heavily regulated environment. One of the greatest ways regulated companies can become dramatically more efficient is by leveraging cloud technology for collaboration with partners and affiliates around the world.
Hands down, the cloud is the ideal technology for global collaboration because it provides real-time access over the Internet from any device, any time. That’s the first part of the collaboration equation. In addition, with global access to a centralized system, the cloud ensures that there is just one, always up-to-date version of information, providing a single source of the truth to all collaborators.
From a content perspective, the cloud eliminates the need for duplicate documents. As such, everyone works off the same rendering with constant version control—a significant advantage for life sciences companies, for example, when working with dozens of external partners, such as contract research organizations, contract manufacturers, creative agencies, and other collaborators. Now also think about creating Rx brand applications for multiple countries, and it’s easy to envision the speed and clarity the cloud brings to the collaborative process.
Innovation Inspired by Efficiencies
Efficiency, indeed, is one of the major benefits the cloud offers regulated industries. Although not necessarily a glamorous contributor to innovation, developing efficiencies in costs and processes opens the door to creativity. For instance, a top 10 life sciences company recently implemented a supply chain initiative via a cloud document and vendor management platform. All of the company’s 500 suppliers are required to link into a cloud-based information exchange chain, where each supplier is represented as a node on a virtual supply chain.1 With this global access conveniently at its fingertips, the company is able to maintain better control over its processes and documents, allowing government authorities fast insight into operations when required. This efficiency leads to more profitable operations allowing for greater innovation elsewhere in the organization.
Another innovation-inspiring efficiency the cloud offers: The elimination of heavily time-consuming software service pack updates and their accompanying administrative headaches. With cloud applications, these burdensome updates disappear and free IT departments to focus on delivering new capabilities that provide significant business value and meet changing global regulatory requirements, such as the FDA’s recently published guidance notices on safety labeling, study plans and providing submissions in electronic format. In turn, the cloud allows IT departments in regulated industries to worry less about how to manage continually changing legislative requirements and more on strategic initiatives. An example in the financial industry is the Dodd-Frank Act passed by the federal government in 2010—a banking reform measure that alone contains more than 1,500 separate provisions, including nearly 400 rule mandates subject to change at any time!
Dealing with Complex Governance Issues
While security concerns are often unfounded, there are legitimate reasons why heavily regulated industries have been slow to adopt cloud technology. Global regulated enterprises deal with complex governance issues that change as they cross borders. Life sciences companies must adhere to regulations from global health authorities, such as the FDA and the European Medicines Agency (EMA). These regulations govern everything from the planning and execution of clinical trials to the manufacturing of the product itself.
Banking and finance also must address individual government regulations on consumer protection, currency and securities. Despite all of this regulation, the banking and finance industry stands out as a true pioneer. Needing to respond to a customer base enamored with cloud technology, banks have been quick to offer cloud-based solutions to its customers. Online Bill Pay services are the most well known example. But now some banks have technologies that allow consumers to deposit checks using camera technologies on mobile devices; complete mortgage applications online; and view bank and portfolio statements at the touch of a button.
All of these functions use cloud technology to some degree. According to a study conducted by IBM, 60% of Chief Information Officers (CIOs) in the banking industry indicated they planned to use the cloud, a number that almost doubled from two years prior. Banks have recognized that those taking “advantage of cloud computing are in a better position to respond to economic uncertainties, interconnected global financial systems and demanding customers.”2
Life Sciences On the Way Up
Steps are currently being taken by life science companies to engage with cloud technology, portending an innovative future ahead. Based on a recent Accenture study, life sciences will begin to channel services associated with the gathering and consumption of data through the cloud and this “global flow of data both to and from life sciences companies will transform how pharmaceutical companies go to market.”
Already some life science companies are using cloud-based document management systems for research and development and clinical trials. Social media is integrated into consumer and physician programs, as well as CRM systems for internal and field sales. These cloud-based CRM systems now have the capability to be networked throughout the industry, allowing life science companies to work together to contribute updates to the master data repository. This ability to “crowd source” data updates across the industry is certainly an innovation that will drive more effective outreach.
Yet there is so much more to be done. For instance, why can’t we just take a picture of clinical trial-related documents, as consumers do of their checks, and transfer them to a document vault in the cloud? Healthcare providers and institutions are storing patient records in the cloud, but many in the life science industry still hesitate. Certainly the huge financial risk the industry faces if core business information—product recipes, clinical study design or submissions data, for example—were to escape, plays a major factor in this reluctance to innovate.
Overcoming the perceived risk of an insecure environment will happen over time as the industry becomes more educated on the security measures taken by cloud providers, and as they and their peers have more experience in the cloud with business processes. Yet this is just one factor that holds life sciences back from adopting cloud technology.
Losing the Fear of Losing Control
Another equally, if not more important factor, is the fear of losing control. To overcome this deeply ingrained fear, life sciences and other industries might want to follow the advice given by oil and gas industry solutions provider, Dave Martin, VP Product Marketing & Microsoft Alliance, Gimmal. The oil and gas industry has also been historically hesitant to innovate, primarily because it is subject to strict regulatory compliance and border regulations, which can be further complicated by data sovereignty laws. How organizations manage people and processes in the cloud and satisfy compliance requirements remains a challenge, and many in the oil and gas industry are turning to new cloud technologies to meet the challenge.
According to Martin, “Companies are mapping what they used to do on premise and looking to extend that to the cloud. We need to first understand and identify what parts of the process can be sent to the cloud and what stays on premise.” Martin suggests that companies “define the ascent to the cloud” and leverage the cloud as part of a broader information management strategy, moving in progressive steps to get to their goal. He emphasizes that the key to a successful cloud conversion, however, “is understanding that leadership and ownership for the initiative come from within the organization itself.”
In following this approach, the life sciences industry will discover they still have control—and the sky’s the limit on where cloud innovation may take it.
1. Anne O’Riordan, Hussain Mooraj and Raj Bhasin, “Three ways the cloud is revolutionizing life sciences,” July 2013. Accenture.com/
2. IBM, “Cloud computing for banking: Driving business model transformation,” pp.2-3.