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Corporate Acquisitions Pose Unique IT Integration and Product Development Challenges for Global Supplier of Medical Testing Equipment

Thu, 08/19/2010 - 7:50am
Don Cunningham

The Project: Waters Corp. needed to create a single, common software development platform for its technology tools and systems to leverage its distributed teams’ expertise in order to meet the needs of its global medical and pharmaceutical customers.

The Solution: Waters collaborated with IBM on an integrated IT system solution that combines requirements management, change management and configuration management tools for a more collaborative and flexible approach to global software development and delivery in the design of sophisticated medical and chemical testing equipment.

When a company makes an acquisition, one of the biggest challenges to making it a success is integrating different cultures, policies, procedures, etc. That’s the situation Waters Corp. found itself in when they acquired several companies in multiple global regions to help them broaden their chemical analysis and life science instrumentation businesses.

As specialists in developing science solutions for scientific laboratories all over the world, Waters technology supports their customers’ specific needs and drives scientific invention, helps ensure final product quality, and helps keep the worldwide food supply safe for consumers. They are global, with a presence in 40 countries around the world – so working with teams of people in multiple regions is not a new experience. Nonetheless it’s never easy bringing a new organization into the fold.

Within Waters’ IT department, the acquisitions essentially created three different software development groups totaling more than 200 developers operating in Europe and the United States. To run a business effectively, they knew it was essential to find a common software development approach that would be streamlined, efficient and work with their “follow-the-sun” development day that crosses multiple time zones.

To take on this challenge, they identified several key issues to address within their initial steps, including:

  • Global collaboration: Waters needed to find an effective way to share marketing, development and evaluation information.
  • Traceability: the company needed tight control of the content in their products. All functional specifications need to be supported by a marketing requirement and they also need to have associated test cases, so having the ability to trace and document everything is essential. For example, Waters’ has customers that must meet the strict requirements of organizations like the Food and Drug Administration. So, in the systems they provide, there must be mechanisms for demonstrating traceability that help customers show the accuracy of their information, testing processes and other requires procedures. In the field of chemical analysis, there is simply no room for guess work.
  • Creating a central repository: Waters’ IT department wanted to have all its databases centrally located. This didn’t seem possible because of the limitations of network performance between sites, so they replicated database information from one site to another. This was a great solution when they started, but as the database information grew, the data replication time became progressively longer and therefore unacceptable.
  • Electronic signatures: Each site utilized paper-based systems and Waters’ knew this wasn’t acceptable for their global system. They would need a technology solution that included electronic signature capabilities.
  • Electronic Audits: Waters needed to have the ability to support customer audits from any site paperlessly.
  • Scalability: Initially, Waters started with one development program which could grow even larger. They didn’t want to re-engineer the system to add another site, so they added a network connection and server instead.
  • Customization: Tools needed to be adapted to the company’s development process. They did not want to have to base their process on the limitations of the technology tools.

With these factors in mind, they began the search for a technology partner that could help them navigate through these challenges and deliver a reliable solution with the flexibility to scale up as their business continued to grow. IBM, with its extensive portfolio of Rational software tools and services, was able to meet Waters’ needs and provide a comprehensive technology solution that fully united their development teams. Among the tools at their disposal, they selected IBM Rational DOORS to help with requirements definition and management; IBM Rational Change for improving project quality and accountability; and IBM Rational Synergy for integrated configuration management.

As these tools were customized for Waters’ specific needs and put into practice, they began to see the benefits emerge immediately. First, they had a common development platform for everyone to use, eliminating discrepancies and unnecessary processes. Also, process automation increased dramatically, which was of particular importance to their traceability process. Their former paper-based, manual system was open to human error, but the IBM Rational solution was fully automated so there was no guesswork. This alone made the company’s audit and documentation processes tremendously more effective.

Round Trip Traceability

Round trip traceability with IBM Rational software

Using Rational DOORS, a requirements management tool providing a central requirements repository, the Waters development teams were able to take advantage of the repository to develop the functional requirements and design to achieve the system requirements. The functional requirements are linked to implementation requests in the Rational Change tool, then to the development tasks and actual code inside Rational Synergy. Waters’ quality assurance process verifies test coverage based on the functional requirements for both components and applications. This level of traceability helps the company meet the demands of their customers, who have requested this information in their internal audits.

Of course, programs like Waters’ are always evolving. Recently they began upgrading to the latest versions of the IBM tools. Part of this upgrade involved consolidating all the servers at each site into one centralized server. This will enable them to also use a disk storage solution to minimize their system backup downtime to about 10 minutes per day and eliminate a data replication delay to all their servers. Now when new information is entered into the database, it is immediately accessible globally.

While incorporating new groups from multiple regions is never an easy proposition, the first box that should be checked on the ideal roadmap to success is getting the right technology tools in place to ensure everyone is “speaking the same language.”

Don Cunningham is a business analyst at Waters Corporation.

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