Why This Well-Known Biotech Firm Deploys 17,000 iPads and iPhones

There were some impressive enterprise deployments discussed at the AppNation conference in San Francisco on Thursday.

I’ll lead off with Genentech, the Bay Area biotech firm that is now a subsidiary of Roche. Their 7,000 iPad rollout was news to me, and ranks them sixth on my list of largest iPad deployments in the world.

(View the entire list of more than 530 enterprises that have publicly-confirmed iPad deployments here).

According to mobile application team manager, Paul Lanzi, Genentech has standardized on Apple for mobile, with 17,000 iOS device users worldwide (so by inference, 10,000 iPhones, though it surprises me less and less when I hear about companies deploying iPod Touches, too). All of the Apple devices are corporate-owned, as the company doesn’t do Bring Your Own Device (BYOD). Genentech does have 15,000 BlackBerry users, but they are only allowed to do e-mail, no apps. It doesn’t support Android due to the fragmentation-related hassle. “It’s a really tricky one,” Lanzi said.

While many firms talk about how their device deployments are driven by the ROI they hope to get from using apps, Genentech is actually following through. The company has deployed 60-some apps to employees. Indeed, Genentech rolled out its first mobile Web page even before the iPhone was released, said Lanzi. “We’ve already retired some apps,” he said.

The app that Lanzi was most proud of was Genentech’s app for its popular corporate intranet, which recently won an award for its usability. According to Lanzi, it’s not uncommon for several hundred employees to comment on a posted article, or for an article or posting to get 1,000 or more votes of ‘like’ or ‘dislike’. Extending the intranet to iPhone and iPad has significantly contributed to the activity.

Lanzi hopes to extend the app so that employees can write status updates and check-in to various locations on the Genentech campus like the cafeteria, auditorium, or particular branch office – just like people check into their favorite bar or restaurant on Foursquare today.

To date, most Genentech apps are custom-built. Security is eased by the fact that they all data is transmitted via a common Web Services Bus, Lanzi said. Genentech is belatedly starting to offer VPN access now.

Lanzi does expect Genentech to buy more off-the-shelf apps now that the selection is growing. These will be nominated by Genentech employees, not IT, he said. That’s a tangible sign that employees are gaining power on IT decisions impacting them.

Can apps be ’spammy’?

Another interesting enterprise user was medical journal publisher, Elsevier, which was candid about the problems its had pursuing its aggressive app marketing strategy.

The Dutch company has created 150 iOS apps mirroring the content from well-known journals like the Lancet, according to senior vice-president Scott Virkler.

(To learn about how healthcare’s embrace of mobility has also turned dangerous, read here.)

That has caused problems with Apple, which apparently considers Elsevier’s approach to be “spammy,” hypothesizes Virkler, as it rejected three Elsevier’s apps from the App Store last week.

Virkler blames Apple’s bias towards thinking of apps in terms of distinct features, rather than distinct content. Aggregating multiple journals into a single app, as Apple wants Elsevier to do, said Virkler, doesn’t make sense since the audiences for something like the Journal of Cardiology and The Sleep Medicine Review differ greatly.

Virkler does admit that Elsevier’s apps, as they are today, don’t add much value over the journal articles other than bringing them to devices. There are plans to change that, by adding relevant content such as medical databases related to that field or specialty. And possibly prodded by Apple, but Elsevier is also thinking of creating new apps centered around specific topics that would aggregate content from different journals.

SAP CIO Oliver Bussmann gave the keynote speech at AppNation, talking about how SAP has deployed 40-some apps internally to 14,000 iPad users, which ranks it the second-largest user of iPads today. That figure could go grow to 20,000 iPads by year’s end.

If you want to read more about SAP’s aggressive mobile plans for 2012, including around Android, BYOD and apps, read more here. Or if you want to learn more about how SAP is building its own secure, enterprise-friendly alternative to DropBox, read here. Or if you are an enterprise developer wanting to hear more about SAP’s Enterprise App Store and the growing partner ecosystem around it, read this.

Eric Lai reports on and analyzes how organizations are adopting mobile devices and apps. This piece is reposted from his UberMobile blog at ZDNet. He is interested in writing more about the intersection of healthcare and mobile technology. Please contact him at ericyolai@gmail.com or via Twitter @ericylai.

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3 replies »

  1. That’s an awesome story on how technology is actually being used in an effective manner in the health car industry. 17k ipads and iphones is huge, but as long as people are using them then you can’t beat that.