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Blackstone Adds Customization to Software; Three New Hires Bring Biology Experience

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When Blackstone Computing launched its PowerCloud middleware software platform in November, CEO Brian Ritchie said the company was moving away from its roots as a “technology agnostic” consulting business and toward a tools-and-platform model. But recognizing that the life sciences present a number of computational challenges that software alone can’t solve, the company announced last week that it is adding a new suite of customization services to its PowerCloud offering.

As part of this move, Blackstone has also hired three new scientific consultants for its professional services team: Glen Otero, formerly an application scientist at DoubleTwist; Richard Groves, previously head of scientific services at Genomica; and John Smutko, formerly a research investigator at Millennium Pharmaceuticals. The three replace several Blackstone scientific consultants who left the company in recent months in response to its change in direction.

Ritchie said the company’s scientific consulting staff is back up to its original size now and there are no hard feelings on either side of the departures. As Blackstone moved toward its new software-centric model, he said, “Some of our staff wanted to remain pure consultants, yet the company was moving in a different direction. We’ve brought in people that understood our new model…with experience in tools companies and the commercial services environment.”

Blackstone’s former employees, who include Matthew Trunnell, Michael Athanas, Chris Dagdigian, and William Van Etten, have moved on to independent consulting careers.

The new group at Blackstone will concentrate on three aspects of customization for PowerCloud: configuration services to adapt the technology to a company’s organizational structure; migration services to convert clients’ data analysis pipelines into the new environment; and acceleration services to optimize third-party applications.

Blackstone seems to be bucking a trend in the bioinformatics software sector to move away from shrink-wrapped software and toward customization. Is Blackstone jeopardizing its business by changing directions now? “We’re not an application company. If we were, I’d say absolutely,” said Ritchie. The risks are different for an IT infrastructure company than a scientific applications vendor, he explained. “For applications, what’s hot today may not be needed tomorrow; but for infrastructure, that glue is a company’s strategic investment and allows them to plug in applications, hardware, and so forth. It has much longer staying power.”

— BT

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