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Q&A: 5 Questions with Andrew Anderson—Part One

August 11, 2016
By Sanji Bhal, Director of Marketing & Communications (ACD/Labs)

Towards the end of 2015, Andrew Anderson rejoined ACD/Labs after an almost decade long hiatus to pursue roles at PepsiCo and Symyx. Upon his return, Andrew took the time to tell us a bit about his experience away from ACD/Labs and why he decided to come back. Hint: It involves Star Wars… Don’t believe me? Check out his first blog post here.

Anyway, as we approach Andrew’s (second) one year anniversary, I decided to sit down with him to talk about what’s different this time around as well as some of the skills he acquired while working at PepsiCo. Also, be sure to check-in later this month when we publish the second part of our conversation. For now, I hope you enjoy part one…

How has your return to ACD/Labs been different from your original time there? Has there been a surprising aspect in your new role?

If I look back at my first stint with ACD/Labs, I’d say the products we sold at the time were mostly what I would call expert systems. They were self-contained and installed on a single high powered machine either in a lab or on a scientist’s computer. Also, we embraced a one-to-one relationship between the user and the software; which, at the time, was reflective of how work was done in our industry.

Over time, workflows have shifted and become more reliant on collaboration, requiring organizational systems where multiple stakeholders can interact with and share data in different ways. As a result, our systems have evolved with that innovation-lifecycle to become more organization-wide applications. In the time I’ve been away, ACD/Labs has really focused on improving its technology and developing the underlying architecture of its products. More specifically, all the solutions that can interpret the various sources of data contributing to the comprehensive characterization of a material—so that can be chromatography, NMR, mass spectrometry, etc.

However, now that I’m back, what’s most surprising to me is the flexibility of the products. Every day I’m amazed by their capabilities. In fact, just the other day one of our solutions managers was giving me a demonstration, and I was fascinated by the amount of data we can handle in one application, mostly because that never would have been possible 10 years ago. On a similar note, another major surprise has been the company-wide commitment to making these foundational changes. And the added flexibility to the underlying architecture of most of our products is a great example of that.

How has your previous role at PepsiCo influenced your work and thought-processes in your role at ACD/Labs?

First, my previous role at PepsiCo could be broadly classified as “open innovation.” What does that mean? Well in order for big and small companies to innovate, they need to acknowledge it is impossible to do so unless they look outside of the organization for inspiration, so there has to be some sort of flexible and efficient way to interact with the outside world and leverage what is happening to impact your innovation goals.

Being able to understand that mindset has been the single greatest influence on my work at ACD/Labs because when we build new products, systems, and underlying architecture, we have to be mindful that this is happening in our industry as well. Today, there are so many internal and external stakeholders that all of our solutions need to find a balance between being completely open and completely secure, which can be difficult to achieve at the same time.

Second, my entire career up until I started working at PepsiCo was very life-science centric, and I always assumed that each vertical had its own set of core challenges. However, my experience working in the food and beverage industry taught me that many of the scientific challenges are actually the same across disciplines (e.g., analytical data handling, experimental design, etc.). Now that I am back at ACD/Labs, we can benefit from that understanding and account for those commonalities when designing technology, which leads to a set of underlying solutions that apply to multiple industries.

On a similar note, another major influence from my time at PepsiCo is the idea of cross fertilization. I’ve learned that there are many great ideas that sit in isolation in one industry, and when applied to other industries, they can have a significant impact. For example, encapsulation technology is a huge challenge for food and beverage organizations. Without getting into the science, think of the coating that goes on a potato chip. When we struggled with this at PepsiCo we were forced to look elsewhere for a better solution. Eventually, we figured out that by looking at excipient formation aids from pharma and applying them to this process, we could lift and adapt that strategy and create a better technique. You may be asking yourself, how does this apply to the software industry? Well if you know anything about ACD/Labs we deal with multiple forms of analytical data and analytical techniques so there are a lot of topics that we can touch upon. By adapting strategies from other fields for our industry, we can avoid reinventing many of our existing processes and repurpose those core competencies for new challenges.

Tune in next week…

Like I mentioned at the beginning of the post, we’ll be publishing part two of my conversation with Andrew later this month. Make sure you check-in to learn about Andrew’s thoughts on ACD/Labs and its impact on the industry as well as his outlook for the future. Also, if you’re interested in pursuing a career in the informatics software industry, Andrew offers some sound advice.

Do you have any questions for Andrew? If so, leave them in the comments below. We would love to hear from you!


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