The tension around R&D applications – DIY or ROI?

In the modern R&D world, who’s responsible for the total cost of ownership and specification of the most effective R&D applications?

On one side of the argument, you have R&D departments that have developed their own applications rather than trying to fit something off the shelf. These guys are used to a degree of control, and they want it to continue.

On the other side, you find central corporate teams that want to introduce standardized packaged solutions that they believe will be more cost effective, more supportable, and will provide better ROI in the long run.

Quite often, these misaligned views of the world can cause real tension. In a recent case, for example, we were brought into resolve a situation where a LIMS (laboratory information management system) package had been imposed on the research team from ‘on high’. Anyone who is familiar with LIMS systems will know that they work best when managing repetitive processes – for example taking something from a manufacturing batch, analyzing it and reporting back.

In a more complex research environment, they’re far less useful. Research requirements are much faster moving and experimental, and you might try millions of combinations before you arrive at a result. LIMS systems just aren’t cut out for this and become highly restrictive and cumbersome.

So you can see how the tension arises, and also how it can cause really critical problems for scientific research organizations. If R&D focuses solely on bespoke ‘DIY’ applications, it could potentially rack up expensive support and maintenance bills in the process. On the other hand, if the corporate team has the final say and introduces an inappropriate system, that might impede the R&D work which ultimately drives the organization’s profit.

It’s not a dissimilar situation to the issue of BYOD, or Bring Your Own device.

This is another area where real tension arose between two opposing forces, and potentially could cause chaos. Users, for their part, wanted complete freedom to use their own mobile devices at work and argued that their productivity would improve as a result. But their IT departments were worried that a BYOD policy – rather than saving money – would actually see costs spiral out of control, mainly due to the need for new security measures, network improvements and the cost of supporting multiple platforms.

The answer here was to move responsibility for some mobile devices to the user’s own research budgets. Then if the manager wanted to pay for, say a better quality mobile phone for their staff, because they thought it would increase the return on the investment made into research, so be it; that is their devolved decision.

Another way that organizations have resolved the situation is to introduce a slightly different system known as CYOD, or choose your own device , whereby users have more opportunity and freedom to select devices, but they have to choose from an approved list that’s been thoroughly evaluated by the experts.
In either case the real reason that the schemes are successful is that the user teams have actually been engaged in the process of deciding which devices go on the list, so they’re happy with the outcome.

In a similar spirit of cooperation and conciliation, R&D teams and their corporate counterparts need to stop arguing over whether systems should be built from scratch or packaged and work out a middle way.

We get involved in helping them come together to work out exactly which R&D systems can be standardized and the requirements; and which are going to need to continue down a DIY route to meet very specialized and localized research needs. Often there’s a need to hang these individual investments off a wider architecture (for example, a service-oriented architecture that puts in place rules and means for plugging into well-defined shared data). But ultimately, R&D teams and central functions management will have to accept that they need to share the pain of working out exactly what can be standardized to bring costs down and maximize the opportunities between DIY or ROI.

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Andrew Chadwick

Andrew Chadwick

Andrew Chadwick is principal consultant in life sciences and healthcare at Tessella. He has ...

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