Global Scientific Collaboration in the Cloud
Collaboration is all around us. In our global economy, very little is created from start to finish by a single individual or organization. Virtually everything we buy today, from electronics and clothing to cars and food, is created through different versions of collaboration throughout the world.
Separation of labor amongst the people and organizations who can do the work most quickly and efficiently is a model across all industries. Externalization is not only efficient and financially beneficial, it is the path to success.
We’ve been working with scientific organizations to enable collaboration and have identified 5 common collaboration models. With the benefits of externalization so obvious: faster timelines, more economic efficiency, better use of workers, ability to fail and succeed more quickly at a reduced cost, the question again becomes, why are some organizations still hesitant to outsource some of their work? The answer: the perceived lack of good technology solutions and the practicality of managing such diverse operational structures.
Technical solutions for collaboration do exist, and when used properly, the practicality of managing off-site research organizations becomes far less daunting. A simple and elegant platform which allows the standard collection, storage, analysis, and dissemination of scientific data is key to a successful collaboration. The chosen platform should allow for instant data and document sharing, speeding timelines and improving security by side-stepping the use of email, and interactions between colleagues. In addition, the ability to quickly create new, secure accounts with access to the platform, without having to invest in expensive IT infrastructure, is invaluable. Removing a partner’s access can be accomplished just as quickly as provisioning their account.
Five Collaboration Models
When executed properly, research collaboration enables project teams to efficiently draw upon external resources to address project goals and objectives in a timely manner. The optimal platform solution is one in which models can be easily configured to fit the needs of virtually any organization.
Model #1. Multi-site
Multi-site collaboration describes teamwork requirements within a single organization. This collaboration model deals with internal collaboration as opposed to external partnerships. A large multi-national organization can experience many of the same communication and technical issues which face externalization models. The multi-national corporation may have several research teams working independently in labs spread around the globe.
In Multi-site collaboration, the parent organization assigns projects to internal facilities which may be within the same country, or around the world. Even though these organizations may all speak the same corporate language, communication can still be an issue. There are societal, cultural and technical differences which make every facility unique.
Parent organizations use a platform which allows all of the child organizations to communicate with it directly. This single workspace allows facilities to deposit data quickly and easily into the system which can be accessed by appropriate users within the larger organization at any time. The parent organization can seamlessly check on the real-time status of any experiment and communicate any changes in plans or workflows instantaneously.
Model #2. Research Externalization
Research Externalization is the fastest growing collaboration style. This model includes a sponsor organization working with outside groups such as CROs, CMOs, universities or other partners to complete projects. This type of externalization allows the sponsor organization to run and analyze multiple parallel projects while focusing on its core competencies, rather than needing to build each capability itself and/or put all internal resources toward one project at a time.
The sponsor organization provides each partner with appropriate project parameters and portal access, and the external organization provides testing, creates compounds, or completes any other required tasks. The data collected or provided by the external partner is loaded directly into the sponsor’s secure platform, eliminating the need for emailed Excel files or other manual methods of data exchange. The outsourcing providers only have the ability to see their data and any other relevant information allowed by the sponsor organization.
This model of research externalization not only allows the sponsor organization to track all data and ensure that their standards are being met around the world, it also helps to facilitate the basics of shipping materials and creating timelines. With both sponsor and external partner able to monitor workflow, bottlenecks are more quickly and easily identified and corrected. Further, processes can be standardized across the sponsor organization and its partners, as well as across partners to ensure consistency in sample prep, inventory, etc..
Model #3. CRO/CMO Provider
The CRO/CMO Provider model allows contract work provider organizations to increase their efficiency in partner interactions. A contract research organization faces a unique set of challenges. The company may modify its workflows to fit the specifications of different sponsor organizations and often simultaneously delivers multiple projects to a variety of clients. To be successful, a CRO must ensure that all projects are completed successfully to the sponsor organizations’ unique requirements, and that sponsors have fast and secure access to their exclusive information.
Some larger CROs can dictate how they will provide information to their clients. Using a common communication platform, sponsor organizations can be quickly added and removed as projects begin and end. No investment in fixed cost IT infrastructure is necessary at either end of the collaboration partnership.
A platform for instantaneous communication is important for CROs and CMOs (and other service providers) which often require approval to take the next step in the scientific process. When the sponsor organization has instant access to the data on the platform, all communication takes place between well-informed teams on both sides of the relationship.
Model #4. Consortium
The Consortium model is the most interconnected, and potentially the most complicated, of the collaboration models. In a Consortium, a web of interconnected thought leaders and provider organizations grows around a project; there may or may not be a traditional sponsor organization. The Consortium allows many different organizations to work together toward the same goal. This sort of model is often seen in the automotive and aerospace industries. These R&D partnerships create vast intellectual supply chains, with security rights and access granted to each contributor on an individual basis.
The Consortium model is on the rise due in part to cloud-based platform technologies, which sidestep the need for investment in fixed IT infrastructure. Research Consortiums will optimally use scalable, secure, cloud-based collaboration for data-intense projects across multi-partner research and development communities. If the consortium leadership determines that a provider should be added, a new account can be created to allow the new organization to join. Once the work is done, the account can be closed (preventing access by that account, but leaving data and audit trails intact) and the organization is removed from the web of research suppliers.
Model #5. Academic
The Academic collaboration model can include important combinations of each of the other collaboration models, but also takes into account distinctive academic structures and requirements. An academic core facility may perform tests for a variety of scientists and research organizations within the institution. As with the Multi-site model, these researchers are all within the same parent organization but their work must be kept separate.
In addition, or alternatively, the university facility may also be performing tests for an outside organization via the CRO/CMO model or the Consortium model. The institution may also be involved in cutting-edge research for other research consortiums. The ability to quickly open and close new accounts for organization or individuals, without investment in new IT infrastructure, is of utmost importance in the university setting where budgets often do not fall in line with research projects and goals.
No matter your organization’s needs, establishing an effective and consistent technology platform can improve collaboration across teams, geographies, and organizations to speed innovation.
Thermo Fisher™ Platform for Science™ software is designed to handle these collaboration models.