In this second blog on optimizing cloud-based software deployments in highly regulated industries such as Life Sciences, we consider the critical decisions linked to the rollout itself, as well as ongoing support, and the kinds of provisions that are too easily neglected.
Opting to deploy or switch to a SaaS-based software solution is a decision process all of its own, as discussed in a recent post by Alicia Whitney. But the considerations don’t stop with choosing the cloud route or a particular software provider. It’s just as important to make sure that related service and support requirements are addressed, particularly in a regulated industry such as Life Sciences.
Every SaaS solution has to be built on a strong foundation – certain standards must be met, and validation maintained – to ensure that business processes play out as they should, and that all associated data retains its integrity and dependability over time.
Here are three of the more critical decisions relating to the actual implementation and ongoing support:
1. The time & budget allowed for implementation of the cloud-based software
Although externally-hosted platforms and applications are generally much quicker to deploy than their on-premise equivalents, rollouts still take time because of the preparation work involved to move data across and check that everything is as it should be.
It can take a minimum of three months to switch on a cloud-based system, and potentially a lot longer for a large company with high volumes of data. That’s not least because of the data checks and cleanups required to ensure the new software delivers and can be relied upon.
As the old adage goes, if you feed garbage into a new system, you’ll get garbage out – however advanced the software might be. When preparing a migration to a new SaaS platform, it is critical to include an assessment of the existing data or content, and evaluate how much cleansing and enrichment needs to take place before that information can be confidently migrated to and used reliably within the new environment.
Someone will need to make this assessment and advise on the next steps, which is likely to mean engaging a qualified and suitably experienced independent third party. This will need to be someone who knows both the industry sector and its particular demands, as well as the source and target software platforms or systems involved.
It is far better to understand the need for this assessment ahead of time. Ignoring this process and reacting after the project starts often causes panic, delays the go-live, and ends up costing a lot more.
2. Who will advise on & provide the necessary support
As the subject matter expert or ‘system owner’, unless you appoint someone, internal or external, to look after support and release considerations, your company will be at the mercy of the software vendor’s schedule for next releases, feature updates, and you will need to manage and resolve any issues this fixed schedule might create. The software vendor may provide initial implementation and configuration advice, but the documentation for subsequent releases is intended for a wider audience of their entire customer base. It certainly won’t be tailored to the specific considerations and validation needs of your organization.
Although it is a positive that providers are continuously enhancing the functionality of their cloud-based platforms and applications, every update can present new configuration decisions which in turn may have a bearing on software validation and business process. These incremental releases can happen several times a year, each with possible implications for workflow or data functionalities. You may be able to choose which features you turn on as a new release is issued, but having someone outside of the vendor company who can assess what’s involved and help make a judgement call will be invaluable – especially for a small company that lacks this capability in house.
3. Service-level agreements (SLAs)/statements of work, and more
Not all third parties/vendor service partners are alike, so it’s important to research what you’ll be getting in the way of independent advice and support as you embrace a new cloud-based/SaaS solution.
Elements to consider when evaluating different service providers include:
- Their relevant industry and associated business process knowledge (e.g. in Life Sciences, or other regulated sectors)
- Their breadth of platform/software-related capabilities
- The quality and granularity of their service-level agreements (SLAs) or statements of work
Ask, too, where the service provider’s capabilities, services begin and end – can they deal with the data assessment, preparation/enrichment, migration, and post-go-live support? And can they help you plan or refine your timeline and budget so that this is realistic?
It’s easy to be lulled into the belief that the cloud/SaaS option is the quicker, easier, smoother solution because the hardware, security, and scalability provisions in an externally-hosted solution are no longer your concern. And honestly this is often true. It is also true that long-term solution success can be attributed to equally valuable tasks of: upfront assessment and preparation, a smooth deployment and implementation, an effective content migration, and skilled platform maintenance. These are all elements fme helps pharma and biotech companies with every day. We’d love to help you as well.
To find out about our comprehensive SaaS consulting, implementation and support services, including fme PlatformAssist™, please contact us and we’ll schedule a time to discuss your specific requirements.