Accelrys Takes on Productivity Gap with Scientific Lifecycle Software

[Corrected 5/1/12, 10:35 am. See below.] Amid a nationwide effort to spur a renaissance in American manufacturing, San Diego-based Accelrys (NASDAQ: ACCL) is flipping on the switch today for technology that represents a culmination of much of the strategy that CEO Max Carnecchia outlined for me last year.

At that time, Carnecchia explained how the company’s $175 million merger with Symyx was knitting together “a series of individual islands of capabilities”—creating a series of scientific software products to help manage the entire process of scientific development, from R&D to commercialization and manufacturing.

Accelrys has added a couple more islands since then, and is working to create a comprehensive archipelago of scientific software as a service. Last May, the company paid $13.1 million to acquire Contur Software, a private Swedish developer of Electronic Laboratory Notebook (ELN) software used by scientific organizations to document their research. In January, Accelrys paid another $35 million to buy VelQuest, a Hopkinton, MA-based company that makes software used to help life sciences organizations manage their lab test procedures and keep them in compliance with FDA regulations.

[Corrects product name to The Accelrys Enterprise Platform] Today Accelrys is introducing a Web-based technology platform that combines elements of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) with Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) for scientific-driven R&D organizations. Accelrys calls it The Accelrys Enterprise Platform, saying it encompasses the full course of scientific innovation lifecycle management—from inception through R&D, commercialization, manufacturing, and even product disposal.

Michael Doyle

“We have some customers who maintain information on [product] formulation, carbon footprint, and ultimately the breakdown of the product,” says Michael Doyle, the company’s director of product marketing and principal scientist. With the platform, Doyle says the company is taking an enterprise-wide approach that enables pharmaceutical, chemical, energy, and other science-driven industries to connect far-flung pieces of their global businesses. Applications built on the Accelrys platform are web-based and run in the cloud.

As part of the company’s enterprise approach to supporting scientific-led innovation, Accelrys also is issuing what it calls “an industry-wide call to close the productivity gap” that is slowing the process of product development and increasing the time it takes to bring new products to market. “The Accelrys platform is foundational to bridging that gap,” Doyle says. As part of its SILM marketing campaign (and in a bid to encourage a broader discussion), Accelrys today switched on a website that serves as a kind of social-media forum for addressing the industrial productivity gap.

Accelrys is targeting a growing consensus that industrial innovation in the U.S. is stalling, and cites an Accelrys-commissioned study by IDC Manufacturing Insights that shows a high failure rate of product innovation and commercialization among U.S. companies in all industries. Only about 25 percent of these projects result in a product that reaches the market—and of the products that make it, two-thirds fail to meet original design or consumer expectations.

Albeit self-serving, the Accelrys study comes at a time when the White House and industry leaders are focusing increased attention and resources in an effort to jumpstart innovations in U.S. manufacturing. After decades of viewing manufacturing as something that can be outsourced to the lowest-cost supplier, the effort is intended to spark an American revival by improving efficiency and quality, and enabling U.S. companies to make products better, faster, and smarter than their global competitors.

President Obama introduced the initiative, known as the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership (AMP), last June at Carnegie Mellon University. The effort, which has enlisted universities, industry, and the government, includes more than $500 million in federal investments in key areas, including a “Materials Genome Initiative” to dramatically reduce the time needed to design, build, and test new materials and manufactured goods.

While the Accelrys announcement is not connected with these initiatives, the company says the effort clearly validates the importance of science as a key driver of growth and innovation. Its customers already include the nation’s biggest chemical, biopharmaceutical, energy, and aerospace companies, as well as government agencies and universities.

“There is a capability gap between discovery and manufacturing, and we think that is critical,” says Accelrys’ Doyle. “It doesn’t matter who you talk to or in what industry.”

The broader issue of sparking a renaissance in U.S. manufacturing has become a priority for Duane Roth at Connect, the San Diego nonprofit organization focused on technology innovation and entrepreneurship. Roth envisions a sea change away from the Peter Drucker era—in which the legendary management consultant recommended outsourcing key business activities like manufacturing—and toward a renewed focus on bringing both low cost and high quality to domestic production.

“It used to be that CEOs got up every day and said ‘How fast can we get to market?'” Roth says. “Now we have CEOs waking up every day and asking themselves, ‘How can I provide the highest quality at the lowest cost?'”

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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