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With Isentris Out the Door, MDL Realigns To Prepare for Expanding Product Line

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In a move to make its business more efficient and to enable "sharper" decision-making, Elsevier MDL has reorganized its informatics operations into three business groups as it prepares to launch several new products over the next year.

"Previously the company was organized along strict functional lines," Phil McHale, vice president of marketing and corporate communications at Elsevier MDL, told BioInform. "There was a marketing group, there was a software development group, there was a content development group, a QA group, a business development group, and then each of those supported the whole of the MDL product portfolio."

The new organization splits each of these operations into three separate business units dubbed the framework group, the workflow group, and the content group. "The intent was to flatten the organization," McHale said. Each of the groups is now "self-sufficient," he said, with "the wherewithal to make sharper, quicker decisions and move things forward without having to bring the whole bulk of the organization along at the same time."

The realignment doesn't involve any layoffs, McHale said, but is "a refocus of the group into these three areas."

McHale said that one of the primary drivers for the reorganization is the release of the company's Isentris data-integration platform in December. The platform, which the company describes as "the successor" to its ISIS data-management system, is a three-tier framework comprising four products: the MDL Base interface and MDL Draw chemical drawing software make up the top tier; the MDL Core Interface is the middle tier; and MDL Direct is a database layer for storing chemical molecules and reactions.

The company began demonstrating Isentris in August, but its launch was delayed, according to parent company Reed Elsevier's 2004 annual report, which noted that the holdup led to "weak software sales" for the year. Reed Elsevier, a publishing giant that brought in total revenues of more than €7 billion in 2004 (around $9 billion in 2005 exchange rates), does not break out revenues for the Elsevier MDL business.

McHale said that the belated launch of the product in December signaled a turning point for the company and sowed the seeds for the restructuring. "We were working to get Isentris out, and we released the final component last December, so we now have the full suite in our hands, in our consultants' hands, and in some of our customers' hands, so we wanted to organize the company so that we could get to work and take advantage of the rich foundation that we've laid with Isentris."

In addition, McHale said, the reorganization will enable the company to align its operations around a number of new products that it plans to launch over the next year. The new structure "gives more focus and hopefully some quicker decision-making so that we can move things through our production machinery and out into the market in a more streamlined way," he said.

The framework group will address data management and data integration, and will comprise products like ISIS, Isentris, and the company's Cheshire chemical structure automation environment. The company views these technologies as the foundation for the applications and content that it is providing through the other two units.

The first of these, the workflow group, comprises several existing and upcoming applications that are intended to automate a number of common discovery informatics tasks. The company has tapped Trevor Heritage, formerly senior vice president of discovery informatics at Tripos, to lead this business as senior vice president of the workflow business group.

"Workflow" is a hot topic in the informatics market, and McHale said that MDL's concept of the term is "complementary" to that of software vendors like InforSense and SciTegic. "We're not linking together strict workflows in the way that they are, but we're supporting workflow in the sense of the daily lives of chemists and biologists in the lab."

Most of the applications planned for this group will build on work that MDL has performed for its customers as part of its consulting organization, McHale said. The company plans to launch a new version of its Assay Explorer biological data management software this summer through this business unit, as well as a new compound-management application called Discovery Logistics that will roll out in "two or three months," McHale said.

The workflow group will also launch a set of so-called registration tools, "which enable a company to identify and store the new molecules that they make." MDL does not have a launch date for these tools yet.

Further down the line, some time in 2006, the company will launch an electronic lab notebook that it began developing earlier this year [BioInform 04-04-05]. McHale said that the company has already built a number of "one-off" versions of the electronic lab notebook for specific customers, "but we now think we know enough about the common requirements across the industry that we can now produce a standard, yet still customizable, product that will have broad appeal, so that's why we're embarking on that."

— BT

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