Bits of Pharmaceutical Data: Why Pharma Can Fail at Tech Integration

The Cloud means many things to many people. Working in pharmaceutical marketing, whether you like it or not, you need to understand the foundation of the tech your using to fully unleash its capabilities.

For that reason, whether working from the assumption that utilizing the Cloud has become second hat or working from the assumption that the Cloud is still opaque to the majority of consumers, one peculiar aspect rings through: Cloud Computing is everything and nothing to many. So I ask, how amorphous is the Cloud in the context of hardware and marketing/advertising?

Odysseus wept when he heard the poet sing of his great deeds abroad because, once sung, they were no longer his alone. They belonged to anyone who heard the song. — Ward Just, 2004

In 1993, when I was 7, my older brother and I became obsessed with building our own computer. Up to that point, we had run through two family computers, both Dells, which in the long run, broke down and became overly annoying to operate/fix. In an attempt to avoid purchasing another Dell, my older brother, 13 at the time, purchased (with the help of my father) an empty tower from a local computer store and began the process of purchasing needed parts. The computer we built was an amalgamation. This is how I learned to build computers and servers.

My brother and I, circa 1993. Even though we played outside, I was quietly obsessed with anything and everything tech — platforms, gaming systems, computers, hardware, etc.

While the computer we built was considerably faster and less prone to disaster than our family Dell, we could never find a hard drive large enough to hold all the data we loved. Every hard drive we purchased from 1996–2002, was never large enough to store and process all the bits of data we craved.

Enter the Zip Drive.

The Zip Drive, a floppy disk storage system first introduced in 1994 by Iomega, served the computing world as a medium grade portable storage platform ranging from 100 MB to 750 MB. The idea behind the Zip Drive was simple: with external hard drives too expensive for a good portion of computing consumers and with USB storage platforms not yet advanced enough to offer higher resource storage solutions, the Zip Drive filled the gap.

Fast forward.

Local and external hard drives have become a cheap tool of information storage. USB devices are both small and cheap avenues to carry and transfer bits of data from one machine to another. The common thread between the three: physicality.

As the world has transformed from local to global so have the avenues upon which we share, store, transfer and utilize data. The Internet has given rise to Cloud Computing and yet, a service which is roughly defined as remote servers storing data accessible 24/7/365 via the Internet, is a blanket term which feels more amorphous now than it ever has.

The Cloud, or cloud computing, means many things to many different people. The reality though is much easier to understand: the cloud is data stored in a data center server which you, the user, can access via the open Internet through a device of your choosing.

There are a few reasons for this.

1. Tech Advertising is Killing Other Forms of Advertising

How the Cloud has been presented to the public matters. While programmers, devs, NOC engineers and web hosting Linux admins understand the Cloud as bits stored in remote severs within a data center accessible via the Internet — the public only gets to see the advertising end of the solution.

Infamously, the single most noted ad for confusing the market as to what the Cloud means is the Verizon Uppernet. Take a watch.

In a span of thirty seconds, the word “Cloud” is stated six times without reference to what it actually is. The ad uses a buzzword surrounded by pretty graphics without supplying meaning or context. The term “low information” applies.

Too often, managed service providers have purposely advertised Cloud Computing technology as an amorphous tech meaning everything and nothing. It is no wonder out of a survey of 1,000 Americans, 95% of users claimed they never used the Cloud when in fact their online activities — online banking, shopping, emailing, social networking, storing/playing music — were all Cloud based. The survey, conducted by Wakefield Research for Citrix, proved in earnest how far removed the public is from what the Cloud actually is/does.

This plays to the very heart of the problem within pharma marketing and advertising. We constantly look to build engaging ecosystems, full with new tech solutions and tried and true platforms, without understanding how they mechanically integrate with one another.

For better of worse, the API has become a crutch “digital savvy marketers” lean on to speak about tech integration within their marketing campaigns. This shows itself in the lack of understanding within:

  • Business Rule Construction
  • Data Aggregation vs. Data Optimizations based on Aggregated Data
  • Hardware vs. Software integrations
  • Customer Journey Insights Based on Platform Integrations
  • Proposing “New Tech” Solutions as Opposed to Tried and True Tech Solutions Applied to the Right Pharma Problem

2. Many Forms Stemming from the Same Technology Infrastructure

There are more than 500 million Dropbox accounts worldwide, more than one billion Gmail accounts globally, more than 100 million Netflix accounts internationally and more than two billion Facebook accounts.

Storage, email, streaming content and social media.

All Cloud Based.

To the average consumer who doesn’t understand how the Cloud has transformed the back-end infrastructure of the Internet (virtualization, networking, SaaS/PaaS/IaaS architecture) making the connection between email, streaming content, data storage and social all working off the same infrastructure is a hard ask.

The basic tenant of the Cloud — bits of data stored in a remote server accessible 24/7/365 via the Internet — is so deeply embedded in the current infrastructure of the Internet that most consumers have no idea what or how consumer facing solutions utilize it.

The problem of understanding is one of ubiquity.

With Cloud Computing infrastructure so highly ingrained in the tech culture, any real discussion of it for the public becomes white noise — a constant taken for granted with the expectation of universal understanding.

Again, this serves wholly to undermine public knowledge and pharma advertising/marketing efforts.

Why?

If the underpinnings of the tech we all utilize are masked in advertising lingo, understanding data integration flow between devices can prove tricky. With HIPAA governing how medically sensitive data can be transferred between technologies and platforms, large consequences can ensue if said data isn’t stored, transferred, regulated, and protected in a very specific manner.

Due to the lack of understanding of tech matched to a subset of pharmaceutical marketers and medical professionals not understanding true HIPAA Compliance Regulations, data mistake can, and often do, occur.

This is a major issue given a growing sector of pharmaceutical providers are building engagement ecosystems on the bedrock of multiple devices powered by a variety of complex integration and DB concerns.

3. Physicality Matters

If you are reading this, you have a physical monitor in front of you.

Maybe that monitor is a cell phone or a tablet or a laptop. Whatever the monitor, you are reading this via a physical interface. The physical world makes sense precisely because it is tangible. Outside of the physical devices used to access Cloud based information, there is nothing about Cloud Computing — from the consumer side — that can be considered physically tangible.

At its root, the Cloud is information.

Data.

Bits.

Stored, transferred, utilized and built upon.

In and of itself, the Cloud is wholly virtual. Outside of back-end servers, routers, nodes, power/cooling equipment etc. and the devices information is digested through, the Cloud is wholly virtual.

The reason users and pharmaceutical/medical professionals connect with a USB device or an external hard drive is because they can attach a physical understanding to virtual bits.

The physical makes the virtual feel real. The physical makes the virtual tangible.

The Cloud has none of this and thus, it remains an elusive concept which the majority of the public can only vaguely guess at causing, as noted, many complex issues to come to a head.

Amorphous At Best

And then, when it was made simple, distilled, counted in bits, information was found to be everywhere. — James Gleick, The Information

So, I ask again: how amorphous is the Cloud?

Due to fuzzy advertising capitalizing on buzzwords as opposed to tangible concepts, due to ubiquity of infrastructure and application and due to a lack of physical tangible devices, the Cloud is everything and nothing to the marketplace. At best, Cloud Computing is and will remain an amorphous concept. At worst, it will remain a founding principle of Internet infrastructure upon which the next generation of tech — Web 4.0 — is built which a vast majority of the public doesn’t understand.

This said, if you want to learn about virtualization and Cloud Computing and move beyond simple buzzwords, check out WIRED, PCMag, or any variety of publications who work in the tech space.

To move beyond the bits — to understand how the Cloud works — I recommend checking it out.


Brad Yale can be reached at byale@thebloc.com.

If you’re wondering, he still has a pile of Zip Drive disks holding everything from early versions of Microsoft Office, to Sid Meier’s Civilization and a bunch of MP3’s which he used to try and woo girls in high school with. Try being an optimal word.

Although they are virtually useless in today’s Cloud economy, if you would like a romantic Zip Drive disk playlist to woo your significant other, please reach out.

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