The Anatomy of a Scalable IT Infrastructure for Biotech

Posted by Steven Vigeant on 6/4/13 4:17 PM

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The IT needs of a biotech company, especially a small one in the initial stages of funding and research, can change overnight. Experimental breakthroughs (or failures), influxes of capital, and new contracts can cause your existing IT infrastructure to suddenly become inadequate, even ineffective. All biotech startups need to prepare for the speed and consequence of this change. If you are not ready to shift your IT capabilities as rapidly as your business needs change, workflows can slow or break down, and these processes may end up needing to be changed to meet the new demand. You could also end up with data dispersed in different locations while you try and implement a new system thus potentially putting valuable data in jeopardy.

Instead of scrambling when the needs of your company inevitably change, make sure that you have an IT plan in place from your first day in business that can scale itself to the needs of your company. Scalability is a crucial but often overlooked feature of biotech IT systems. It is never too early to find the right outsourced IT provider to help you in the early stages develop this plan. Even if you feel that you don’t have much business to offer this company, they should be interested in helping you in these early stages as there is almost guaranteed business in the future for them. As you work with your IT services provider to develop an adaptable technological base for you company, keep the following concerns in mind:

Data Storage and Sharing

Every startup biotech company has valuable data and files that it needs to have available to multiple people, and, often times, the early-stage team works from dispersed locations. At this early stage, someone in the team has used a cloud file-sharing service, whether for personal-use or business. Often times, because the need is great and many of these services are easy to setup, you move forward without thinking of the long-term consequences or asking the question: “Is this right for my business?" After some time, the team has become accustomed to this system, regardless of whether it's good or not. Then, the time comes when that first big round of funding comes in and you ramp up the staff. Often times these systems are not right for larger teams and when a lot of data will start to be generated within the 4 walls of your office. Now, you find a need to put some kind of data storage system on the local network, but the original team is reluctant to let go of the workflow process that was established early on. Data becomes dispersed and putting together presentations or analyzing data becomes inefficient as you have to work within multiple systems to pull everything together.

Every efficient laboratory needs to be conscious of how its data is being stored and how much capacity it will need. Will the original file storage/sharing system be compatible or integrate with this new local storage system? Because you did not plan earlier for this, do you end up rushing and putting in an inadequate storage solution due to not projecting the cost for a saleable system? In order to analyze the work that your laboratory is producing, you will need to be able to store the massive quantities of information that come out of your lab, but also access it from various locations. Storage demands can balloon into the tens of thousands of gigabytes. If you suddenly get a new piece of laboratory equipment, generate a gigantic data set, or change the speed at which your lab is working, your storage needs can expand exponentially. Without the capacity to store this data, the work of your lab is being lost. A scalable IT infrastructure that is well thought out in the early stages should be able to add or subtract the amount of data you can effectively store and share seamlessly, and at a moment's notice.

Information security

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As your company grows, you will not only have to handle more data, you will have to deal with having more valuable data. With every breakthrough you make and with every new announcement regarding funding, study data, and publications, the threat you face from competitors and potential malicious parties increases. Don’t under estimate the value of your company and its intellectual property.

In your initial stages, it may be enough to have a simple firewall and antivirus system in place. But when your IT needs grow, your security needs grow as well. More employees and contractors means more computers, mobile devices and other devices accessing your systems. Protecting your data has to be a primary concern as you scale up your IT usage or you could face disastrous vulnerabilities. Working in conjunction with a qualified and experienced IT service provider can help you to identify potential weaknesses and implement effective security measures.

Business Communications

Your email, phone, and media communications are an integral part of your business and its success. Don’t under estimate the importance of these systems and choosing the right solutions for today’s needs. You have many options as compared to only a short time ago. Even just 7 years ago, most companies, even small ones, setup in-house phone systems and email servers because that was the way it was done. With today’s technologies, you have options - not one solution is right for every business, so it is important to consider all the options and what features and security are important for your business. Email systems can be as simple as that, just email, but more often than not there is a lot more your email system is doing for you, it is shared calendars, contacts and task lists and lots of IP are in these email threads and attachments. And these systems need to be running 24x7. Mobile devices are connecting to these systems and increasing the risk for unauthorized access to your data. It is great almost all of us have smartphones, so small companies no longer have to pay for mobile phones for employees that need this access but this is also a great risk. You lose a lot of control when everyone is connecting to your systems with their personal devices and computers.

Phone system options are also changing with the cloud but a hosted phone system is not right for every business and should be considered carefully. Quality of a phone solution for biotech companies are as important as cost and flexibility. Nothing is worse than being on a board or investor call and the call is not clear or has problems, it causes distraction and frustration at one of the most important times for your company.

Part of your early stage IT planning should be around these important systems, usually email is first up as every company needs to establish its precense and will most likely work off of email and a cell phone early but don’t put off the discussion around the entire communications solution. At least getting an idea of options and cost early on will help you plan your IT budget for your startup.

Professional maintenance

When your company is suddenly dealing with urgent new projects, IT is one of the last things you think of. You are busier crunching numbers or planning lab trials than thinking about your IT infrastructure that runs everything and how it is being monitored and maintained. Part of scalability is having the right systems in place, but equally important is having someone to manage them. An IT service provider that specifically serves the biotech industry understands the importance of storage, security and the applications like ELN’s, reagent databases and other important applications your company may need to rely on and how quickly your company's needs for them can shift. Letting your provider set up a scalable infrastructure and then handling every detail when it needs to change ensures that the transition runs smoothly and quickly. This also frees you up to think about the other pressing matters facing your company.

Biotech startup founders should read our white paper, “After the Seed: Planning IT Investment for a Biotech Startup,” to learn more about what a scalable IT infrastructure looks like in practice.


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Topics: Cloud IT Solutions, IT Outsourcing, IT Support, Biotechnology Startup, IT Efficiency, Biotech, Data Security, Big Data