When Bruce von Herrmann joined the team at Applied Biosystems a year ago, it’s fairly safe to say his name didn’t mean much at the time. An outsider to the field, von Herrmann had spent more than 20 years “working for high tech” — at places like Hewlett-Packard, Silicon Graphics, and 3Com — and had decided he wanted to “apply my experience to a new industry.”
But after close to a year at his new post, von Herrmann feels that the life sciences field is a perfect niche for his data-handling background. “I’ve been part of extremely large data management organizations,” he says. “The skill set that I bring … I don’t think is very pervasive yet” in the systems biology field.
As senior director and general manager of informatics, von Herrmann is charged with figuring out customers’ needs and working with his team to deliver sound products. The first part has been easy: “The customers that we have at Applied Biosystems really are extremely knowledgeable about their domains and really knowledgeable about what they want from AB,” he says. But knowing what they need doesn’t make the next part much easier. Customers are demanding what everyone in the field wants — some sort of soup-to-nuts informatics system that can handle as many disparate data sources as needed. And, as icing on the cake, something that also handles regulations like FDA rules that can age gracefully over time. “They need to be able to change [the system] fast and without losing things, and cheaply,” von Herrmann says. Data, of course, is being generated faster and faster, making everything that much harder for informatics handlers and data users throughout the field. In the not-too-distant future, he notes, “data is going to be measured in petabytes … rather than terabytes.”
His goal is to “become the trusted advisor for our customers,” he says, bringing them the end-to-end solutions they’re looking for as well as helping them deal with data from non-Applied Biosystems sources.
At press time, Applied Biosystems was still in the throes of working out its restructuring into vertical business units. Von Herrmann says his informatics division will be changed around — “it’s going to become part of the larger service organization” — but adds that he had no further details on how informatics would be affected.
— Meredith Salisbury