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Unsolved Problems

Business technologists often start working on problems before they know what the final answer will look like. In the movie industry, Sony is tackling the early stages of designing a digital film process, from creation to distribution. Big Pharma knows it has a problem with analyzing drugs' side effects once they're out of clinical trials, and it's wrestling with the IT needed to solve it. And the government, which knows by its own grades that its cybersecurity isn't good enough, decides one aven

Sony Pictures A Digital Future
filmSony Pictures Entertainment is going digital. It's partnering with Ascent Media Group, a services company for the entertainment industry, to convert warehouses full of films, television shows, and other media assets into digital format.

It's a key step toward Sony's strategy to digitize its operations, from production to distribution. The effort will use Hewlett-Packard's new Digital Media Platform, a suite of servers, software, and services built to create, use, and store digital media.

Sony and Ascent Media have been testing the HP software and hardware since November and already have converted 500 movie and television titles using the system. "This project marks a significant step towards the future of file-based digital-content delivery," Jeff Hargleroad, Sony's senior VP of worldwide product fulfillment, said in a statement.

Sony also is installing a fiber-optic network to transfer its digital media to and from a number of facilities, such as screening rooms and Ascent Media's facility, where the film will then be distributed to theaters and television stations. For now, Ascent Media will distribute the digital film on portable storage devices. One of the next big steps toward a digital future: transmitting the files via satellite or some other electronic medium.

-- Laurie Sullivan


Drugmakers Need New Analysis Tools
Now that drugmakers have discovered that long-available medications such as Vioxx and Bextra have potentially dangerous side effects, IT managers in the industry see the need for new tools to more quickly analyze drug-usage data to spot problems earlier.

How to collect and analyze information about commercially available drugs was a frequent topic at last week's SAS Users Group International conference in Philadelphia. A number of major pharmaceutical companies use SAS Institute Inc.'s analysis software.

Pharmaceutical makers continue to test drugs and monitor information about their use after they hit the market. But stepping up surveillance of drugs once they're on the market will become a top priority for drugmakers, said Raymond Bain, VP of biostatistics and research decision sciences at Merck Research Laboratories, and the industry is working on new methodologies to do that.

One challenge will be collecting data from disparate sources and standardizing it for analysis. Unlike data collected during clinical drug trials, data on actual usage and side effects can come from hospital health records, patient health diaries, payment claims, and other sources that are all in different formats.

Some format issues will disappear if the health-care industry switches to electronic medical records from paper-based systems.

-- Rick Whiting

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