by CIO New Zealand

CIO100 2018 #31-100: Chris Duran, Biomatters

Mar 28, 2018
CareersCloud ComputingDigital Transformation

“Over the past 12 months we have successfully released a new cloud-based product for enterprise Biotechnology customers called Geneious Biologics,” says Chris Duran, CTO at Biomatters.

“Geneious Biologics is a next-generation cloud software solution purpose-built for commercial antibody discovery and screening.”

Delivered through a web interface, Geneious Biologics leverages the power of ‘big data’ to help deliver lifesaving drugs of the future.

“To put this into perspective, Biomatters’ flagship product is a desktop-based scientific software package for Molecular Biology RD. We sell to more than 10,000 user accounts worldwide, including the Top 100 university institutions globally, and over 75 percent of large Pharma.

“Our traditional business model was machine-based, perpetual product licensing. This marks the transition away from this traditional business model to a modern SaaS business, powering the next generation of biotechnology innovation and development.”

He says the development of this new service required a fundamental change in the composition of the technology team delivering on these services. This included the creation of a two-tier services team: a cloud platform development team and a web-application development team.

“Analytics are an important component of running a successful SaaS business, and 2017 saw Biomatters starting to build up capability in the data science space to better understand our users and our software.”

Over the past year, the company has developed a cloud-based PaaS for Bioinformatics.

“We take a platform approach to our technology, underpinning our new technical mandate to deliver future solutions for our customers through cloud-based services. This PaaS has been designed to allow us to rapidly develop and deliver targeted solutions for the biotechnology industry.

“Our flagship cloud-first service is Geneious Biologics: a solution specifically designed for enterprise-level antibody discovery and screening.”

The platform represents a paradigm shift for enterprises involved in antibody discovery for biologic drug development he says.

“To support our cloud development, we have also introduced a new cloud-relevant technology ecosystem.

“Our cloud platform is built upon scalable systems such as Mesos and AWS Batch, using functional programming paradigms, allowing for abstraction and elegant handling of horizontal scalability and concurrency. This paradigm is realised through the Typesafe stack, which is a modern, functional, and scalable framework with the robustness and stability of the Java JVM ecosystem.

“As a previously pure Java desktop environment, this diversification of technologies marks an exciting chapter in the technical side of the organisation.”

He believes the cloud has changed the role of the modern CTO, “perhaps irreversibly, and definitely for the better.”

“Once the CTO was a minor C-level executive that answered to the CIO. They were the resident geek. They didn’t interact with the board, nor did they have HR, operational responsibilities,” he says.

“This is no longer the case, and cloud computing may well have been the proverbial precipice. These days, technology innovation is an integral component of a company’s value proposition.

“This, of course, is most manifest in technology companies. The boundary between internal infrastructure and technology and external technologies for the customer-base are either blurred, or removed altogether.”

As a technologist, it is very tempting to consider success as an ‘engineering problem’, Duran says of a crucial career lesson he took on board at Biomatters.

“It isn’t,” he states. “It is a social problem. Sure, one needs to build a great product that has a competitive edge, but to do so you need a team to build this product, a team to sell/distribute the product, and a team to advertise the product.

“The common denominator is people. In fact, your company is only as good as its people,” he says.

“This was really brought to a head with me when I was working to transform Biomatters into a cloud services company from its desktop software beginnings. I thought that the biggest challenge would be building the technology required to deliver software services on the cloud. This was not the case.

“What I learnt was that the biggest challenge was getting our team structure and composition into a state that was setting up our developers and commercial operation team members for success. To fill this gap, we hired experts in this new technology stack and embedded them with existing teams.

We hired experienced product managers that knew the new product space and technologies inside-out. We provided training and horizontal team transfers to ensure people were working with technologies that they were excited by, and comfortable with.”

Andrew Steel, CEO of Biomatters, explains their customers use cutting edge science and technology to solve some of the most important challenges in the world, particularly with respect to improving human health and longevity.

“Our team draws great strength and motivation from understanding that our solutions make a positive contribution to addressing these challenges,” he says on the value delivered by the team led by Duran.

“In order to deliver this, it is critical that our technology leadership operates with a clarity of perspective into current science and technology developments, combined with a deep insight into who are customers are and what they need.

“Further, this must be translated into a clear and pragmatic definition of what we can provide to them based on an understanding of our resources and general internal capabilities.

“Finally, it requires an ability to communicate, motivate and support the team to deliver against the plans.

He says Duran brings all of these qualities and more to his executive leadership of the technology team. “That has been instrumental in the success of our business.”