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Roche to implement Google Apps for 90,000 employees

You are probably aware by now that Roche has made a deal to roll out Google Apps on a global basis. This was reported by many news organizations and bloggers. One that is quite interesting, however, is on ZDNet since it generated quite a bit of heated discussion.

The rationale for this important move has to do with interoperability issues, or lack thereof, between the two solutions used previously by Roche and Genentech. This is stated by Roche CIO, Alan Hippe, on Google's Official Enterprise blog.

Reactions to the announcement focused on three issues:

1. Data Security

2. Data Privacy

3. Usability

In particular, comments pointed out security flaws in Google Apps, the probability that Google would inappropriately mine the Roche data/documents for their own purposes, and that users would get a much weaker set of email and MS Office-like functions.

These concerns may be real but also show that the commentators do not know how Roche operates. First, nothing at Roche is done in haste or without due diligence. The type of questions raised by those reacting to a press release would have already been studied to death by Roche staff and made available to senior management including risk, QA, procurement and legal staff. The decision would not have been made without Google agreeing to a detailed set of system requirements and the contract no doubt contains an equally strong Service Level Agreement (SLA). There would also be strict controls on privacy and security including what Google could or could not do with the data. Indeed, it is likely that the only thing Google will be able to do with Roche data is to provide appropriate technical support. And yes, it is also likely that an agreement is in place to govern how data moves (or not) between borders.

Then there is the rollout. Although I have worked quite closely with Roche IT on application implementations in the past, I am not privy to the way Google Apps will be rolled out. What I can predict is that it won't be done on a one-shot basis. One probable scenario (given what Dr. Hippe has stated) is for the email and calendaring functions to be rolled out first and even that in a phased manner to the 140 countries where Roche operates. It will probably start with the USA and Switzerland, then the UK, followed by the rest of Europe. Other regions would follow with double-bite countries like Japan going last.

You can then expect word processing, presentation and spreadsheet functions to follow. However, I would be willing to bet that other collaboration features (e.g. blogging, social networking) may come out before or in parallel with the more traditional office functions.

Although Roche and Google maintained radio silence on the current systems, it does not take a genious to see that Microsoft is in jeopardy at Roche. Given that this industry tends to follow the leader, Microsoft may suffer the fate of Blackberry in the biopharma sector. You may be elated or deflated by the prospect.

IT Trends for 2012 by SAFE-BioPharma

The following was recently released by the SAFE-BioPharma Association. Although the IT trends they cite may be on the adoption curve, it is not clear how long the adoption will take. As with almost anything in our industry, don't expect it to happen overnight.


Fort Lee, NJ (January 19, 2012) -- Three trends will shape the life sciences in 2012, according to an analysis by SAFE-BioPharma Association. They are the expanded use of standards-based interoperable digital identities, cloud computing in clinical trials, and the use of electronic trial master files for clinical trial management.


Industry leaders are rapidly increasing use of these unique digital identities among employees, collaborators, and clinical investigators. Issued once every three years, they take the place of multiple on line identities and can be used to control access to information and physical facilities. They also provide the ability to apply legally-binding digital signatures to electronic documents. The benefit of interoperability is that the digital identity is recognized and accepted by US government agencies, by other companies [broken sentence]


As demonstrated in a study between the National Cancer Institute and company-based cancer researchers, significant time and cost savings are realized when trial-related documents are accessed from the cloud rather than delivered by courier or mail. Interoperable digital identities (NCI researchers using government provided digital credentials; company researchers using SAFE-BioPharma digital credentials) give researchers access to the cloud-based electronic documents as well as the capability to apply legally-binding digital signatures.


“Trial Master Files – the central record containing the files associated with clinical trials – are one of the last areas where clinical development records are primarily paper-based,” explains Mollie Shields-Uehling, president and CEO, SAFE-BioPharma Association, Multiple pilot studies scheduled to start in the next few months indicate that pharmaceutical companies are preparing to make the process electronic. Companies will use SAFE-BioPharma digital identities to manage access to documents and to provide participants with the ability to apply legally-binding digital signatures.

The global SAFE-BioPharma digital identity and digital signature standard is used throughout the biopharmaceutical and healthcare communities to meet specific security and confidentiality needs. It was created with participation from the US Food and Drug Administration and the European Medicines Agency. The standard and its ongoing development is managed by SAFE-BioPharma Association, a non-profit supported by its members. For more information visit