The critical catalyst that let this drug company go 100% cloud

Credit: Horia Varlan via Flickr

About four years ago, AMAG Pharmaceuticals began an ambitious project to get rid of its internal and hosted data centers and move everything to the cloud.

While cases like these are still rare enough to be notable, they tend to follow a pretty standard template. Companies often begin by moving off Exchange or Lotus Notes to Gmail and Google Apps, as AMAG did. They find a cloud-based CRM system -- often Salesforce, although AMAG chose a smaller company called StayinFront that's focused on life sciences. They allow line-of-business units to choose particular cloud services for their own workflows, then use an online authentication system like Okta (as AMAG did) to give employees single sign-on.

But there's one critical thing that's unusual about AMAG. Its entire business -- designing and selling drugs -- is reliant on intellectual property. Companies like this are notoriously reluctant to move their full operations to the cloud. All it takes is one careless employee giving access to the wrong outsider at the wrong time to expose the crown jewels. Even when companies like these move mostly to the cloud, they tend to keep some core systems on premise to reduce this very real risk.

So how did IT vice president Nathan McBride convince the company that it could go 100% cloud?

"We started moving to Google Docs in 2009. We still had our [Documentum] eRoom server in for stuff we considered sensitive. We were waiting for someone to give us a product that gives us audit level control over Google Docs," says McBride, who is speaking at the CITE Conference next month.

Then they discovered a small startup called CloudLock that proposed to do exactly what AMAG was looking for.

"We said, 'We'll pay you if you let us beta test your product. We'll give it a full run, and if it works, you will have solved our company's problem.' They came in, met with us, spent whole day talking about all our problems -- a huge development session. A month later, they came back said 'Here you go.' They hand-delivered their product, which we use religiously."

McBride continues, "CloudLock gives us full control over every single document -- all 1.5 million documents in our Google Drive space. We use policy engines to report on keywords, who's doing what, who shared what with who. We know everything that happens to every single one of these docs from genesis to deprecation. Once they gave us that, we immediately commenced moving everyone to Google Drive." 

CloudLock also gives McBride a daily report of everything every employee has done with a document. If he sees something he's not sure about, he calls the employee or emails them the next day. So far, he hasn't discovered a single malicious leak.

"In every case, the person who I've talked to has had a justifiable reason for sharing. God bless my users. Either I have really terrible policies, or they're all really behaving." He says the most common occurrence is when an employee shares a document with a partner, then forgets to revoke access after the project has ended.

Since completing its move to the cloud and eliminating its last server, McBride says AMAG has enjoyed "astronomical" savings for a company of about 200 employees. Just moving off Exchange and Active Directory to Gmail and Google docs has cut email management costs in about one-twentieth -- from around $400,000 per year (including managing backups and hardware) to around $20,000 per year.

But more important, the change has also affected how people think about technology at the company. Employees are encouraged to explore and find their own technology solutions to their problems, and they often spread throughout the company like wildfire. 

"We were using Smartsheet for task management. One person came in and said 'this is too much, isn't there something simpler for task management?'" They decided to give a simpler tool called Trello a try and  -- "Boom, it blows up, everybody wants it," explains McBride.

"Somebody else comes up to me and says 'I love all the Google training you do, but is there a way you can get videos?' Literally two days later, I'm reading my Twitter feed and this little tiny company called Synergize comes out with a plug-in for Chrome, Synergize Training...Now it's built in with every Google app, full video training for every function." 

He firmly believes that this is the future of work -- employees choosing their own tools, no matter what IT tells them to use.

"I recently found out that ... 75 of the top 100 schools use Google Apps. I tell you what, in the next 5 years, the attrition rate of companies moving to Google Apps is going to skyrocket. All these brilliant kids coming out, matriculating the next three or four years, they're going ot say 'Wait , what, Office 365? No. That's not happening. This is how I work.'"

For more details, be sure to attend McBride's session, "BYOS: Building a Cloud-Based Service Organization" at the CITE Conference in San Francisco on Tuesday June 4. He's talking a little bit after noon. 

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