Pharmaceutical and pharmaceutical research organizations have always played a critical role in helping us fight disease and keep healthy. Their importance has been further underlined by the pandemic and the speed with which they had to work and develop a vaccine to help the entire human race.

However, like every other business this sector has had to deal with the pandemic and its impact ensuing impact. One of the big changes it has seen, and on that is likely to remain with it even in the future, is the move to a hybrid work style.

For organizations engaged in research, especially in the pharmaceutical space, there are two significant challenges to doing business in the hybrid work era.

The first is network capability, which can largely be described as the experience that the organization provides to employees who work remotely and rely on proprietary, custom, as well as ring-fenced applications on the corporate network for their daily workflows.

The second challenge is security. Protecting employees and the intellectual property they create, the corporate network, and the organization’s applications is critical. Cybercrime is on the rise. Being the victim of a ransomware attack is one of the biggest fears of CIOs today, and in this industry, every document generated by researchers can be worth a fortune, making the organizations in the sector an even more attractive target for the malicious actors.

In the case of the client that Cisco worked with recently, the vision was clear from the start – to become a future-forward organization that supports hybrid work while ensuring complete network visibility and observability, a high degree of network automation, and a significant leap in terms of security. This was the mandate provided by the CIO.

Diving deeper into the customer’s IT challenges

The pharmaceutical research player is a global leader in its own right, and by extension, has a certain technology backbone in the form of technical infrastructure and applications in place.

While this meant that the organization was technologically-savvy, its past investments were a bottleneck in its journey to the future-forward state it imagined. More specifically, the investments it made in a variety of products offered by different vendors over time meant that it was almost impossible to weave together a single dashboard that offered an integrated view of the network, its applications and users, and so on.

Being a heterogeneous-and multi-OEM environment, the client’s IT team struggled with management of its technology portfolio, lacked horizontal and vertical visibility of traffic flows in its LAN and WAN environments, and was unable to provide employees working remotely with secure access to applications. Siloed network management operations also resulted in higher MTTR (mean time to resolve), increased complexity, and network downtime.

Further, staff often complained of poor experiences when accessing applications; the organization used a VPN (which is a good first step) but their model necessitated that traffic be routed via headquarters prior to accessing the application resulting in perennial latency issues. This isn’t in line with best practices followed by organizations who place a premium on employee experiences in the digital world.

Finally, a major challenge for the IT team was its strength. A mere handful of IT professionals serviced the needs of a few thousand employees globally – creating a serious strain on their ability to deliver top-tier services to staff while keeping applications and network infrastructure running smoothly. This had to change immediately.

SASE is the antidote to the imminent technology challenges at most organizations

Cisco’s team offered SASE (Secure Access Service Edge) as a solution, leveraging a suite of integrated offerings from within its portfolio to help the customer achieve its vision quickly.

SASE, a term coined by Gartner and pronounced ‘sassy’, is made up of several components such as SD-WAN which drives connectivity and FWaaS and CASB which provide control. Although recently introduced, SASE has already helped customers struggling to move to the cloud, enabled banks to secure themselves while modernizing their networks, supported conglomerates dealing with complexity, and allowed hospitality giants to transform guest experiences – and helping the pharmaceutical research client wasn’t a challenge it couldn’t overcome.

Our team deployed a mixed stack comprising of SD-WAN, Umbrella Secure Internet Gateway (SIG), DNA Center, CASB, and ThousandEyes which helped the client immediately remediate technical challenges and bolster the organization’s overall security.

For example, the solution stack provided deeper visibility into application delivery monitoring and WAN health while ensuring security at multiple levels, helping the IT team offer, trace and continuously improve on the user experiences it provided. The end-to-end lateral view of workflow and user access helped target issues that dampened the employee’s experience.

The SASE stack also rescued the company’s IT team from mundane everyday operations-related tasks by introducing intelligent automations into their workflow.

Using well defined policies and centralized network management, for example, the team was able to onboard new staff, irrespective of location, network, or device, seamlessly and without manual intervention. Given the size of the team vs the size of the company, this resulted in substantial savings in effort and time.

Today, the SASE stack is foundational to the company’s infrastructure.

It enables end-to-end device lifecycle management and control, provides with deep visibility into device and network health, and puts troubleshooting tools at the IT team’s fingertips to help them resolve issues quickly when they arise. Further, the SASE stack has helped take observability to the next level to enable the team to trace any remote worker, on any application, over any network to improve the experience and security overall.

In a matter of months, the company was able to overcome all its initial challenges. What was most exciting, however, is that they did it all in record time and without disrupting business as usual. If you know the nature of pharmaceutical research companies, you’ll know that this was a commendable feat – achieved not just as a result of Cisco’s solutions but also the support and leadership shown by the client’s executive and managerial cadre as well as its entire IT team.

To learn more about how SASE can help you, irrespective of which industry you work in, read a blogpost I recently authored on the subject. If you need more help, get in touch with our team now.