Synaptic is a San Diego biotechnology company that develops drugs based on proteins and peptides. Synaptic currently has one product approved by the FDA, and two additional drugs undergoing clinical trials. There are about 1200 employees at the company. Of these, about half are located in San Diego, and another half are employed in field sales and in remote manufacturing facilities. Synaptic has a fairly large information technology department, that the company calls “Information Management” (IM). Headed by Chief Information Officer (CIO) the IM department employs about 100 people and is charged with support of all communication and computer systems used in company operations. IM is organized in three divisions according to the function of the client organization: Research IM, Manufacturing IM and Infrastructure IM. Each division is headed by a Director. The three IM Directors report to the CIO.
In addition to the IM professionals, Synaptic employs a number of “computational scientists” who conduct biology research using mathematical models on a computer. These scientists are not members of the IM department, but instead report to the Director of Computational Biology, who, in turn, reports to the Chief Scientific Officer (CSO). Majority of these computational scientists, and Director herself, hold advanced degrees, and are quite proficient in computer programming. Just like the IM professionals, many of the computational scientists have been with Synaptic for years. Many maintain close personal friendships with their colleagues. Some even circled back to the company after attempts to pursue other job opportunities.
SITUATION AND INTERACTIONS
Because of the nature of their research, computational scientists frequently interact with the IM personnel, and there is some overlap in responsibilities. Traditionally, computational research projects are initiated in the Computational Biology group. Due to the nature of research work, many of these projects are quickly abandoned. But those projects that do go on eventually require support from the IM. The support may mean custom development, allocation of space on servers and databases, program execution and monitoring with periodic reports to the scientists, data updates and uploads, etc.
However, the cultures of the Computational Biology and IM groups are quite different. Scientists value innovation, originality, and speed. Many of them prefer to work in solitude, and this practice, despite all politically correct references to the importance of teamwork, is not frowned upon in the company. On the other hand, computer professionals in the IM are concerned with stability, business continuity, documentation, and long-term planning. Also, IM has a very strong preference to make decisions in meetings. The cultural difference between the two departments may be traced back to the typical career tracks of scientists and computer professionals. Scientists would normally go through multiple years of academic experience prior to joining Synaptic, and some senior scientific managers, including the CSO, held tenured positions in the past. IM workers would typically leave academia upon graduation and spend the bulk of their careers in industry.
The cultural difference between the groups causes frustration on both sides. IM managers are complaining that scientific software development is done ad-hoc and follows no standards. To quote one of the IM directors, “They throw something together, then come to us and demand that we support it. Yet there is no documentation for it. And worse even, in many cases they do not consult us beforehand, only to discover later that it [the new project] is not compatible with the company IT architecture. How would you like to be asked to switch to a new line of servers, on an extremely tight deadline, without advance planning and without budget to buy any? How would you like to have your job dependent on...
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