AstraZeneca Pilots Microsoft Lync For Better Collaboration

R&D, supply chain operations, and the communications budget gain from Microsoft's unified communications suite, says pharmaceutical CTO at Enterprise Connect.
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AstraZeneca is proving the case for unified communications powered by Microsoft Lync as a way to improve collaboration across research and development groups and between supply chain management and suppliers.

AstraZeneca chief technology officer Angela Yochem spoke about the early results of what is still a pilot project in an interview at UBM's Enterprise Connect conference in Orlando. The pilot included 4,300 people from all functional groups in the company. AstraZeneca has not committed to Lync as an enterprise standard, she said, but she also made it clear she likes what she is seeing so far. Although she didn't mention it, a statement from Microsoft public relations also alluded to a 7,000-person rollout in the U.S. starting in April.

Kirk Koenigsbauer, corporate VP with the Microsoft Office division, is giving a keynote presentation at Enterprise Connect Wednesday. Lync was also in the news this week with an HP/Polycom announcement about simplified delivery of equipment and services for enterprises that choose to deploy Polycom videoconferencing equipment in conjunction with Lync software. Although Microsoft itself didn't make major news announcements at the show, it is working to solidify Lync's reputation as a serious entry in the unified communications market that other vendors must reckon with and integrate.

Lync is Microsoft's software for managing voice over IP phone calls, as well as videoconferences, instant messaging, and Web conferencing. AstraZeneca's story helps make the case that Lync is being taken seriously by large, established corporations.

[ Mobile unified communications is happening faster in the consumer market than the enterprise. See Mobile Unified Communications Still Hard. ]

AstraZeneca is a global pharmaceutical and biotechnology company with operations in more than 100 countries. Yochem said she is in the market for better, more flexible communications and collaboration technologies because of changes in the industry. "It used to be a pharmaceutical company would own all aspects of drug discovery, manufacturing, and commercialization, but we've moved to a model where more of that is outsourced," she said.

That means more collaboration with more people, including collaboration with people at partner companies, Yochem said. One appealing aspect of Lync is its ability to federate communications across the firewall with videoconference participants in other organizations, she said.

Some of the early benefits of the Lync trial:

-- The time required for sales training on a new medicine was reduced by 75%. A likely interpretation is that it wasn't so much the training that went faster as all the meeting logistics and travel that were eliminated, Yochem said.

-- A supply chain team reported the time required to complete routine transactions with suppliers shrank from days to minutes once a federated Lync connection was in place.

-- A global research and development team reported it was much easier for them to set up videoconferences. Even though AstraZeneca has high-end videoconference rooms available, making Lync available at the desktop eliminated a lot of the overhead of scheduling video collaboration sessions.

In a survey of 1,000 of the participants, 93% said they would recommend Lync to colleagues, 78% thought their productivity was enhanced, and 75% were willing to give up their landline phone if they were provided with Lync. "I thought that last one was the punchline," Yochem said.

In addition, although the focus of the pilot was on improving productivity rather than saving money, "we're very interested in some of the savings we've seen," Yochem said. One of the participants in the trial who goes on regular two-week trips to China saved $600 in communication costs alone, she said.

AstraZeneca is not necessarily an all-Microsoft shop, Yochem said, so it is evaluating Lync on its own merits. "We do use SharePoint, but other than that there's a pretty equal division of other very large players," she said.

In addition to video and unified communications, Yochem said she is interested in asynchronous modes of communication such as enterprise social networking, which have the advantage of creating a searchable archive of communications that can be mined in the future as a record of organizational knowledge and thinking. There are several experimental uses of social collaboration technology in use around the company, but no one standard platform for AstraZeneca, she said.

"Part of my to-do list this month is defining the exact nature of the capability we require," she said. That doesn't mean she will be selecting a product, only sketching the "needed business outcomes" she would want a new collaboration technology to deliver, she said.

Follow David F. Carr on Twitter @davidfcarr. The BrainYard is @thebyard and

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