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 or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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  • From Accelrys CEO Max Carnecchia:


    We continue to hear from customers and analysts that there is an innovation productivity gap in new product development, which is particularly acute within those industries that rely on science to innovate and bring new products to market. The technologies that have been in place in these industries range from homegrown systems to closed, vendor-specific solutions that only target a specific scientific process within R&D. These existing software technologies create disconnected data sources and lead to manual, disconnected processes that stem from the lack of a core infrastructure that drives efficiencies in other areas of those businesses – downstream manufacturing with ERP and PLM for example. The pressure to solve this problem has increased due to a number of important trends that we have seen within our customer base and analysts have validated: the externalization of research and development; increased government regulation; the move to “first to file” patent laws; and continued downward pressure on margins as companies move to bring products to new markets that require a different cost structure. Externalization in particular is top of mind for executives in pharma and biotech, with companies increasingly collaborating with (or outsourcing to) contract research organizations, academic institutions, etc. Finding an infrastructure and systems that can support this model within R&D and eases the process in transferring that knowledge and innovation through to manufacturing is a key strategic imperative for them. These customers are focused on trying to bridge the gap between the innovation and commercialization cycles of their business, coming to us for help and going to the analysts for answers. Without a solution that addresses this gap, they will continue to waste money and resources, losing their competitive advantage.

    If you look at other functions within enterprises, they have benefitted from software solutions from Oracle, SAP and Salesforce that make processes more efficient and have moved throughout a company’s value chain. These include CRM, PLM and supply chain management. However, scientific R&D hasn’t seen the same benefits because the data that is created isn’t “clean cut” information that can be entered into a database for easy tracking, manipulation and analysis. The complex R&D data sits in disconnected databases and important information and knowledge is either inaccessible or simply not available for further research – and it certainly can’t be leveraged in downstream processes like manufacturing that would benefit from the context and insight gained in R&D. For example, in the course of manufacturing a new biofuel, a company realizes one of the compounds is reacting poorly (or is not environmentally friendly) and it needs to be replaced. Without a software platform that can track the R&D process that went into creating the biofuel, scientists would have to go back to the drawing board or recreate the original R&D process to find a suitable substitute – a waste of time and money that causes a significant delay in bringing a new product to market. These companies invest significant portions of their budget in R&D, it is what differentiates them from their competitors, and that investment made is often a “1 and done”.

    Our announcement is focused on 1) calling out this innovation productivity gap, raising awareness and encouraging the scientific and vendor community to close the gap and 2) announcing the first scientifically-aware software platform that can help start to bridge the gap and enable Accelrys, customer and vendor tools to be able to share information from early research and development to early manufacturing.

    So in regards to your question – is this the same as what we discussed last year? Yes and no.

    Yes, it is a manifestation of Accelrys’ strategy. Yes, this is a new way to look at and implement the process for scientific discovery.


    Max Carnecchia