Clinical research organizations (CROs) partner with pharmaceutical and life sciences companies to conduct clinical trials. They are driven by the need to combat future pandemics like COVID-19 and are growing and evolving to offer more services by moving to the cloud to achieve their goals.

"A Microsoft and Open Systems industry-leading CRO customer saved nearly $3 million by moving to Microsoft Azure and optimizing Microsoft 365 E5."

Paul Keely, Chief Cloud Officer, Open Systems

Why Are CROs Changing?

  • No central cloud platform to provide a foundation for innovation and delivery of new cloud-based clinical trial programs and other research services
  • Too many siloed third-party systems and suppliers create unnecessary complexity and cost
  • Critical applications such as Microsoft 365 E5 would benefit from more performance, a consolidated infrastructure, and centralized management

The New Reality for CROs

  • Microsoft Azure Sentinel, Azure Log Analytics, Azure Monitor operationalized by Open Systems
  • Essential services (compliance, data protection, and security) are now cloud-based and centralized
  • Microsoft 365 E5 is optimized, more efficient, and able to deliver additional benefits

Why It's Better

  • Azure and Microsoft 365 provide the cloud platform needed to support innovation, new information services, and clinical trials
  • Compliance, data protection, and security are centralized and more comprehensive, transparent, easier to manage, and actionable
  • Migrating and centralizing essential services to a cloud platform dramatically reduces costs by millions of dollars while streamlining operations and reducing the number of suppliers.

A CRO Cloud Journey

The Clinical Research Organization (CRO) industry experienced sudden growth in 2020 due to the surge in research and development efforts related to COVID-19 and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 11.48% by 2023. Visionary leaders in the industry want to move beyond simply conducting clinical trials. Their goals are to become global healthcare intelligence partners for the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies. A market that was valued at $1.27 trillion in 2020.

To realize their vision, CROs must build new cloud-based platforms that can support multiple applications, tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of users, and reach every corner of the globe. These platforms must support applications and programs such as virtual care delivery, decentralized clinical trials, and other research and information-related services.

Related: Open Systems, Microsoft Azure, and Microsoft E5 Help Reinvent Clinical Trials

CROs have lofty ambitions that can only be realized by leveraging a cloud-based platform that’s powerful, scalable, agile, and ubiquitous. But before embarking on any cloud journey, they must come to terms with rising cyberthreats.

Clinical trial records may include intellectual property and other trade secrets. They can also contain Personal Credit Information (PCI), Protected Health Information (PHI), and Personally Identifiable Information (PII). A recent study revealed that 90% of cyberattacks on healthcare organizations are financially motivated. That’s because healthcare records are up to 7x more valuable than similar financial records.

As a result, cyberattacks within the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries have become more frequent and damaging. For example, one study showed that 4 out of 5 companies in the sector had been exposed to mid- to high-level threats last year.

As CROs explore their options, three challenges became immediately apparent:

  • Existing infrastructures are comprised of several distributed systems and vendors that don’t interoperate. That means operational visibility is hazy, data is difficult to correlate, and managing compliance, data production, and security consumes too many IT resources.
  • CROs strive to continually innovate, explore different techniques, and deliver new services, all of which require a cloud platform. Generally, infrastructures are too fractured to support large-scale programs, and mid- and long-term goals don’t have the foundation needed to be achievable.
  • Although Microsoft 365 E5 analytics, security, and compliance services play a vital role in a growing number of CROs, E5 would benefit from a more robust and centralized platform.

As CROs look to their future, they require a platform with the attributes they need to make their vision a reality.

  • All services need to be provided by a well-integrated cloud platform instead of many different suppliers. The new platform would replace finger-pointing, poor integration, and management silos with a simple-to-manage, easy-to-support, and centralized solution.
  • CROs have a cloud-first vision for all their services and trial programs. Many have offices worldwide, and their users are often mobile – working from home or within different medical facilities. Only a cloud-based platform will provide the required accessibility and easily reach and service all their sites and users regardless of where they work.
  • Compliance and security log data must be insightful, actionable, and transparent to provide the necessary information to make decisions and take action.
  • Any platform needs to integrate seamlessly with Microsoft 365 and support a SIEM (security information and management) service to enable the full functionality of E5.

Out With the Old - In With the Cloud

As CROs review all the industry-leading cloud suppliers to find the best provider, they’re learning that Microsoft Azure meets all of their criteria. CROs are also discovering the commitment Microsoft has in ensuring their solution not only meets their current requirements but will support them far into the future.

Moreover, Microsoft understands the value of operationalizing technology and services. Another important benefit of Microsoft is that they have partners, like Open Systems, to support implementation and provide additional insights.

Microsoft and Open Systems understand what new products and services CROs need to achieve their goals. CISOs and IT teams learn what to expect and are shown how Microsoft’s 365 E5 and Azure Sentinel work together to improve overall compliance, data protection, and the security posture. For example, the Open Systems team identifies opportunities for CROs to replace monitoring tools with Azure Monitor or consolidate compliance and security data onto Azure Log Analytics, reducing the number of suppliers and lowering costs.

To help demonstrate the economic benefits of a new cloud platform, Open Systems, together with Microsoft, will perform a free cloud readiness and economic assessment using the CRO's real-world costs. CROs often learn that the Microsoft Azure implementation will result in substantial annual savings by eliminating existing applications and unnecessary data centers. Moreover, by optimizing Microsoft 365 E5, several existing tools can be replaced by E5 tools, resulting in additional annual savings and a further reduction of suppliers.

A recent industry-leading CRO and Microsoft + Open Systems customer discovered that they could realize a $2.5 million annual savings by shifting to Microsoft Azure. This was accomplished by eliminating no longer needed applications and unnecessary data centers. Moreover, by optimizing their Microsoft 365 E5, several existing tools could be replaced by E5 tools, resulting in an additional annual savings of $400,000.

"Working hand-in-hand with our partner Open Systems, we implement new cloud realities for CROs using Microsoft Azure. Together, we have the products and services needed to help all CROs and other healthcare providers in migrating to the cloud."

Michael Perriello, Account Director, US Health & Life Sciences, Microsoft

Full Cloud Ahead for CROs

By working with Microsoft and Open Systems, leading CROs can replace outdated infrastructures and a mishmash of solutions with an operationally efficient cloud platform.

CRO compliance, data protection, and security services become cloud-based with Microsoft Azure Sentinel, Azure Log Analytics, and Azure Monitor. Microsoft 365 E5 is optimized, and CROs can realize all its benefits. The new cloud-based platform supports CROs with worldwide reach and ensures that services are uniformly applied, securely delivered, and centrally managed. Administering all services with the new platform is simpler, and IT teams have more time and resources available to focus on more strategic issues and plans for the future.

The new Microsoft Azure platform provides CROs with confidence that they have everything required to support next-generation clinical trial applications and other research services. With Microsoft and Open Systems, it's now full cloud ahead for visionary CROs and their goals to transform the clinical trial industry and evolve their organizations.