Cloud Computing has been around for quite some time, and while the pharmaceutical industry has been more cautious in adopting the technology we are now doing so for several reasons.
It has become the only option for certain software systems such as Workday. In fact, while using the Cloud to maintain HR data was unthinkable five to eight years ago, enterprise-grade HR systems today are only available as a Cloud Computing solution or Software as a Service (SaaS), and many other systems are now only offered as Cloud solutions.
The Smart Choice
Cloud Computing is also now more complete, with a much faster cycle time to get it up and running, and overall it’s easier to support. Another big positive – the Cloud helps drive standardization and helps keep our processes aligned around the world, in part by offering industry-wide best practice templates and limiting customization.
How the Cloud is used
We use the Cloud for systems such as HR, training, travel, and expense. However, for the pharmaceutical industry, business critical areas such as manufacturing and lab systems are typically not moving to the Cloud, in part because critical GxP systems are looked at closely by regulators.
We want to directly manage and maintain control of these systems on premises.
Data security and Integrity
Tier one vendors – Workday, Concur, Plateau, and others – are often as secure as our internally hosted systems. Cloud vendors undergo a rigorous certification process that indicates the level of security around their systems.
Whether we use the Cloud in any given instance depends on the application, vendor, and type of data. For example, I don’t envision maintaining our plasma donor management system in the Cloud in the foreseeable future because of the type of critical information it contains.
Regulators in markets including the Europe, Russia, and China are increasing their compliance requirements around data privacy for Personal Information (PI) to ensure companies are properly managing the data.
Companies have to demonstrate to the regulators that these systems have been properly implemented and are properly managing PI.
Pros and Cons
We see Cloud as a strategic imperative, as more and more solutions become exclusively Cloud-based.
One change the industry is struggling with is how to deal with the impact the Cloud has on the IT budget. In the past, traditional systems have been capital costs that were depreciated over a number of years. The Cloud, however, cannot be capitalized.
This is a problem in numerous industries, mainly from the standpoint of internal governance when going through the budget process.The net budget impact to the company is about the same for Cloud-based and traditional solutions.
The industry’s wariness of the Cloud has definitely eased. It comes down to the kind of data you maintain in the Cloud, i.e., data with or without PI. By requiring prospective vendors to undergo a rigorous audit, pharmaceutical companies can ensure the vendor has the proper architecture and processes in place to safely and effectively maintain company data.