The software that ordinary people prefer is getting simpler. Easier. And it’s increasingly running not on a desktop computer, like Microsoft Word, but online.

Last year, the web ratings firm comScore estimated in this Powerpoint deck that, in the U.S., an impressive 78 percent of users had tried a small, internet program called a widget. Widgets are apparently more popular than watching online video, the firm says.

Now the trend is starting to ripple through the business world. One of the heaviest pieces of iron in the industry—SAS Drug Development—is now available in an online mode. In its so-called “on demand” offering, SAS hosts the program, and users log on via the internet. SAS’s goal is to have customers up and running on the system in a month.

Life science firms’ IT departments need not be involved in setting up SAS Drug Development in this approach. But unlike widgets for consumers, the features and functions of the online version are the same as if the SAS program were running on a protected, customer-owned server. “The capabilities of the system are identical,” says David Handelsman, business solution manager at SAS. “All we’re really doing is scaling the solution down to make it more applicable to small and midsized businesses. We provide the bandwidth. Customers log in, do what they need to do.” Here’s a news release with more details.

Same Functionality

The main thing that’s different about the online version of the program is that it can’t be tailored in unique ways, as the largest firms in the pharmaceutical industry prefer to do. “In talking to larger customers, we have to accommodate existing business processes and we spend a bit more time customizing our product,” says Handelsman. “Small companies are generally more interested in their intellectual property than their infrastructure.”

But even SAS customers with plenty of IT infrastructure, like Lilly, use the hosted version. That allows their IT department to focus on other organizational computing needs.

Stats In The Cloud

Eventually, SAS projects, perhaps half of all SAS Drug Development customers will be using the program in a hosted or software-as-a-service (SAAS) mode. The unease or fear about data breaches that might have been present a few years ago has largely evaporated. “We are seeing extraordinary comfort working over the web that no one anticipated,” Handelsman says.

SAS Drug Development, of course, is a complex beast: it is a data repository for every file, image, document and report in a modern clinical research program. Obviously it supports a regulated industry and company-specific data standards. But it’s also a collaboration tool, intended to help companies monitor projects.

Collaboration Environment

So how does all that work over the internet? “We’ve done extensive performance testing,” says Handelsman. “We have customers using the system worldwide and we are meeting their expectations.”

Handelsman says that with the new emphasis on transparency across the business world, the on-demand version of SAS Drug Development could provide visibility into work being done by outsourcing firms. Many sponsors and contract research organizations (CRO), he says, wrestle with where to put a project’s data. The sponsor organization doesn’t necessarily want to have to wait interminably to learn about minor aspects of a trial. With the data locked down online, protected by SAS, CROs can control the effort but sponsors can still have access and not have to wonder where one aspect of a trial stands.

Says Handelsman: “What the industry wants to be able to manage a little bit better is to have more access to their ongoing project work. They have to work with the CRO as to how to do this. What we’re providing is a technology and a methodology. They don’t want to put it on a PC down the hall.”