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As Workflow Market Heats Up, InforSense Retools Platform, Eyes Broader User Base

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The market for workflow software enabling linkage of disparate analytical applications is one of the healthiest areas in life science informatics. Accelrys and InforSense, two of the leading players in the field, claim that growth for their products has grown significantly over the past year. 
 
Now, with the launch of InforSense 4.0, InforSense is striving to match or exceed its competitor on many levels, embarking upon a strategy to target customers beyond its current foothold in life sciences.
 
The launch follows last week’s announcement that InforSense had hired two new business-development staffers and moved to new offices in London and Cambridge, Mass., to accommodate its expected growth to around 130 people by the end of this year [BioInform 06-08-07].
  
InforSense appears to be making good on an aggressive growth strategy that it outlined last October when it raised $10 million in venture capital. At the time, CEO Yike Guo said that the financing would support the company’s expansion into more enterprise-scale implementations [BioInform 10-13-06].
  
Toward that end, the company has added a number of new features to its InforSense platform that are expected to be of interest to enterprise users. In particular, the company has expanded its support of SQL-compliant databases beyond Oracle to include IBM’s DB2, Microsoft SQLServer, and MySQL.
 
InforSense 4.0 also includes the ability to support a greater degree of streaming data in real-time; the ability to link portal services for building multi-stage applications; and a new workflow scheduler for task scheduling.
 
The horizontal platform — once referred to as InforSense KDE, but rebranded as InforSense to simplify naming in the public’s mind, according to spokesperson David Menninger — is designed to support everything from biology and chemistry to text-mining.
 
Along with the core InforSense platform, the company offers a number of specialized modules branded under the “sense” name, including ClinicalSense, GenSense, BioSense, ChemSense, and TextSense.
 
Jonathan Sheldon, chief science officer for InforSense, told BioInform that data scalability has been greatly enhanced in the new version.
 
“In genetics, it’s important to have the ability to do record-level streaming; it’s useful [when one needs to] look at interpreting the results,” Sheldon said.
 
Sheldon also touted version 4.0’s software development kit, which includes a simpler scripting method based around the Groovy scripting language for Java and “facilitates customization,” he said.
 
Playing Catch-Up?
 
Ton van Daelen, product manager for Pipeline Pilot at rival Accelrys, said that InforSense is simply following Accelrys’ lead with the launch of 4.0. “Some of the features they’ve implemented address some of the shortcomings they’ve had compared to Pipeline Pilot,” he claimed.
 
With regard to data streaming, previous versions of InforSense passed data through the workflow “as a block, from one component to the next,” he said. “That is convenient in some cases, but if you have a lot of data, it’s no longer practical to pass it from one component to the next; you use too much memory.”
 
Additionally, van Daelen claimed that InforSense is catching up to Pipeline Pilot in its support for the most popular application servers among pharmaceutical firms — WebLogic, WebSphere, and JBoss.
 

“In genetics, it’s important to have the ability to do record-level streaming; it’s useful [when one needs to] look at interpreting the results.”

Van Daelen added that Accelrys has “probably been there for the last year or so” in terms of integrating a web service presence, working specifically with customers to make workflows available for the larger enterprise.
 
“Neither Pipeline Pilot nor KDE are tools that will take over your whole infrastructure, but you need to plug and play with whatever infrastructure is in place,” he said.
 
Pipeline Pilot has been a bright spot in Accelrys’ product lineup. In the firm’s fiscal fourth-quarter earnings call last month, CEO Mark Emkjer included Pipeline Pilot among a handful of tools that are expected to stem the “erosion” that the firm is experiencing in sales of its legacy products [BioInform 05-18-07].
 
But according to Joe Donahue, chief business officer with InforSense, “it’s a common misconception that InforSense and Pipeline Pilot are competitive. Pipeline Pilot is an excellent tool in the chemistry area and handles the specialized chemistry data formats very well.  It was architected to do this,” he wrote to BioInform in an e-mail.  “InforSense was – from the beginning – architected to handle many different data types, and large amounts of data in a high throughput environment.”
 
He added that InforSense has 73 commercial customers and “many of the customers in life sciences use both products.” He said that for “a few” of these cuistomers InforSense integrates Pipeline Pilot “across the domain with other applications/data.”
 
Donahue added that InforSense also has “a number of customers” that have implemented InforSense in the chemistry domain as their preferred provider because “it provided the most open and scalable architecture.”
 
Looking Beyond Life Sciences
 
InforSense currently counts AstraZeneca, Bayer, Biogen Idec, Boehringer Ingelheim, GlaxoSmithKline, Procter & Gamble, Sanofi-Aventis, Syngenta, and Unilever among its customer base, but is eyeing opportunities beyond this core user community.
 

Menninger told BioInform that the life science market currently contributes around 75 percent of the privately held firm’s revenue. By the end of the company’s fiscal year, which ends March 31, life science revenues are expected to increase overall, but contribute only about two-thirds of total revenue as the order flow from different vertical markets — such as manufacturing and finance — increases.

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