The Covid-19 pandemic redefined “business as usual” by accelerating digital adoption and the switch to remote working. Cloud-based software solutions have become the new “normal” for companies that want to maintain momentum in a rapidly changing marketplace. However, choosing the right solution for your organization requires careful consideration.

Introduction

Traditionally, software products have been deployed on the customer’s premises, with each customer running its own version in full isolation. Nowadays, software vendors are increasingly migrating their software to the cloud – either offering a cloud-based option as well as stand-alone software, or switching exclusively to cloud-only solutions.

While new SaaS (Software as a Service) products are specifically designed for cloud-based environments, most industrial software products have evolved over many years. They may even include compilations of different products that have been forced together through acquisitions and mergers. This means, despite glossy marketing materials and claims of full functionality, a software solution hosted in the cloud may not necessarily be optimized for that environment.

The secret to choosing successfully is to start with a critical understanding of your organization’s needs. For example, if you know that collaboration and communication is a key success factor for your organization, then you should investigate these features thoroughly when reviewing possible solutions – and not simply rely on the vendor’s checklist of functions.

“Cloud computing is a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.” National Institute of Standards and Technology (U.S. Dept of Commerce)

What is cloud computing?

Every company’s needs are different

There is constant pressure on companies to increase efficiency and productivity while reducing waste and minimizing risk. Digitalization is a valuable tool to achieving these goals. While some enterprises are more committed than others, every company is undergoing its own digital transformation journey.

Digital adoption also varies across and within industries. For example, Life Science makes incredible use of digital technologies in research and development, but less so in drug manufacturing. This is partly due to the stringent regulations relating to the use of computerized systems in production environments.

Each company needs to navigate its own path

For some, a digital adoption strategy focusing on cloud-based solutions could form the basis for competitive advantage. New opportunities are reflected in the rate of development and the increasing range of cloud software solutions now available, such as eQMS (electronic quality management systems), LIMS (laboratory information management systems), MES (manufacturing execution systems), APS (advanced planning and scheduling), PLM (product lifecycle management), or ERP (enterprise resource planning), to name but a few.

In their efforts to secure market dominance, software application vendors today offer a range of different SaaS options. They all come with benefits and drawbacks. It is simply a case of deciding which cloud option model is most suitable for you and your organization.

Multi-tenant cloud solutions

Multi-tenant applications are purpose built and deployed on a shared infrastructure that is hosted entirely in the cloud. The code base is the same for all customers. This creates a similar customer experience for all users as everyone has access to the exact same functions and features.

Since the need for infrastructure and local software installation is eliminated, applications can be supplied and configured very rapidly. Software costs are generally lower than other cloud models and payment is usually on a monthly or annual subscription basis, avoiding any up-front licensing costs associated with on-premises software installations. Having a single, centralized code base also means all customers receive regular, automatic software upgrades at no extra cost.

Some vendors may even develop their software to comply with industry-specific regulations. For example, within Life Science the vendor may take care of the validation steps for IQ (Installation Qualification) and OQ (Operational Qualification). This simplifies quality operations and just leaves the customer with PQ (Performance Qualification) to ensure the production environment is configured according to regulations.

However, it is important to remember that validation responsibility remains with the end user. As stated in EudraLex Annex 11, “Documentation supplied with commercial off-the-shelf products should be reviewed by regulated users to check that user requirements are fulfilled.” Similarly, the FDA and MHRA both highlight that it is ‘YOUR responsibility to make sure that the system works as intended.’

When considering a multi-tenant cloud solution you should keep in mind that the vendor’s goals may not be fully aligned with yours. The vendor is trying to manage (and please) as many customers as possible simultaneously, all in the same environment using the same software version. For smaller companies, or those starting out on their digital journey, this short-cut to best practice may be an ideal solution. But for more sophisticated and demanding companies, the simplicity on offer may not compensate for the lack of flexibility and customization available.

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  • Short start-up time for new customers
  • No start-up investment + low operational costs
  • Simple operation with automatic software upgrades
  • May include pre-installed regulatory support

  • No, or limited, customization options
  • Forced upgrades according to the vendor’s schedule
  • Features may be changed or removed
  • Heightened security/privacy concerns due to shared resources

Single-tenant cloud solutions

In single-tenancy cloud solutions each tenant (customer) receives a singular instance of a SaaS application dedicated to them. As well as access to their own software instance, customer data is also isolated from one another with each customer having their own exclusive database, including separate data backup.

This level of exclusivity not only provides enhanced data security but also means customers have greater control over upgrades. They can choose to delay or even skip an upgrade cycle depending on their situation.

For many companies, the main advantage of the single-tenant option is flexibility. It offers a greater level of control and more possibilities for customization for addressing the customer’s specific requirements. It is also a better option should you wish to migrate to a self-hosted domain at some point in the future.

Of course, these advantages come at a cost. Start-up time is longer and initial investment costs are higher than with multi-tenant applications, especially if extensive customization is needed. Operational costs are also higher since maintenance is managed by the customer.

Depending on the vendor’s routines and underlying technology, performance may also be affected during periods of peak capacity usage, i.e. is the application truly single tenant?

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  • More possibilities for customization
  • Enhanced data security + own database with easier backup and restoration
  • Greater control over upgrades and development
  • Easier migration to other applications

  • Higher investment and running costs
  • Longer start-up time
  • Customization requires resources/time
  • Requires own maintenance

Hybrid cloud solutions

A third option is the hybrid approach, which balances the benefits of private and public cloud solutions. With hybrid cloud, companies can reduce their operating costs and enhance their data security simultaneously by splitting their data between on-premises storage for sensitive data and cloud storage for less sensitive data.

For companies that have invested heavily in on-premises data centres, the hybrid cloud approach is appealing due to its relative ease of adoption. Advances in systems integration mean the hybrid model is increasingly emerging as a viable alternative to public and private cloud models. It combines greater control and data security with scalability and accessibility.

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  • Makes use of previous on-premises investment
  • Greater security for sensitive data
  • More flexibility and control
  • Combines scalability and accessibility

  • Higher total investment costs
  • More complicated to implement
  • Higher operation and maintenance costs
  • In-house systems expertise required

Pseudo cloud solutions – Buyer beware!

As more companies realize the benefits of working in the cloud, more pseudo or fake cloud providers have appeared, eager to exploit the trend. Pseudo cloud systems are those where the vendor simply hosts their original software on hardware in a remote location using virtual machine technology. This is done even though the software may not be compatible with any meaningful cloud transition.

Instead of re-writing the software code or developing a native cloud solution, the vendor takes the shortest possible route to offering a ‘cloud’ solution. Such legacy systems are invariably difficult to maintain, support, upgrade or integrate with other solutions. It goes without saying, customers need to investigate the pedigree and trustworthiness of potential cloud solution vendors.

Key decision factors

Data security

Data security is a major concern when deciding whether to migrate applications to the cloud and consolidate IT resources. Verizon’s Data Breach Investigations Report 2021 » determined that, for the first time, cloud security breaches surpassed on-premises breaches. So, transitioning to the cloud will raise anxiety for any company working with strictly confidential information, such as patient data, intellectual assets, product design and R&D, etc.

In a public cloud, you hand over control of your data to a third party, introducing more access points and potential network weaknesses. Additionally, your data is usually stored in close proximity to other companies’ data, creating a more alluring target for hackers. However, focus on data protection and new cybersecurity solutions are helping to ensure greater safety for customer data. At the same time, one of the primary security risks is human error, which affects both on-premises and cloud solutions to the same extent.

Flexibility

Whether you’re contemplating a traditional on-premise solution, or you want to take advantage of the cloud, it is important to investigate beneath the vendor’s marketing material. Promises of adaptations and customizable templates may mean little more that choosing between a selection of colors and layouts. Key functions and features available today may be top of mind when comparing different vendors but you also need to be able to visualize your future needs. Otherwise, you risk ending up with a rigid solution that doesn’t support your growth and changing business requirements.

Compliance

In regulated industries, such as life science, a compliance perspective needs to be central when assessing the various vendor models. An understanding of the system landscape and vendor supply chain (Infrastructure as a Service, Platform as a Service, Software as a Service) is essential, together with 3rd party vendor control, quality system usage and lifecycle control.

Strategic fit

There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. Your choice should be strategic, based on the characteristics of your business and your organization’s digital transformation journey. In this regard, every company is unique. It’s not just about transforming paper into electronic documents that can be accessed from home. It’s about reimagining business processes throughout your entire organization and embodying a new mindset for a digital world.

Which cloud solution is right for you?

There is no doubt that the cloud is one of the most value-generating technologies of our time. Even so, adopting cloud technology, or simply moving parts of your business to the cloud, does not ensure business value. However smart a system may be, its value will be determined by the extent to which it improves your users’ productivity and the overall efficiency of your operations.

In order to know which is the best solution for your organisation, you need to take an ‘inside – out’ approach. Begin with a clear understanding of your current situation and needs, together with a vision of where you will be in 3-5 years time.

Each cloud-option model offers both benefits and drawbacks. Compromise will be unavoidable, but you should focus on the option that is the best match for your company’s digital transformation path. At the same time, the number and range of SaaS solutions will continue to grow at a rapid pace. Prioritize your key requirements, whether that is data security, flexibility, collaboration, or something else, and thoroughly investigate potential vendors on these points.

If you can keep your feet on the ground and your head above the clouds, you won’t go far wrong.

Are you considering a new cloud-based solution for your business?
Get in touch and we can help to make sure you get the right solution for YOU.
Daniel Dinulovic
Consultant
daniel.dinulovic@plantvision.se
+46 (0)73 8205643

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