Member spotlight: astrophysics meets life sciences at Graeme Hills

Graeme Hills, PhD

Graeme Hills, PhD

So, what do Astrophysics and Life Sciences have in common? On the surface you may not think very much, but there is more than you would imagine.  Bear with me.

Tell us about Graeme Hills. 

I am Graeme, the Managing Director of Graeme Hills Consultancy; a small data consultancy helping people to tame their operational data and automate their business processes.

So, how did you get into Life Sciences? 

Well, you may have already guessed that I am an astronomer by trade.  I have worked in many industries and for both small start-ups and gigantic corporate entities with tens of thousands of employees.  I have been a consultant for most of my career and have seen the good, the bad and the ugly of many organisations.  Recently I have employed some amazing people with PhD’s in Life Sciences, which has now drawn me into the BioTech arena.

Could you explain what you do and why?

Let me give you an example from very early in my career.  My first job was working for an insurance company in London during my university summer holidays.  One vivid memory I have was of a new policy.  No one could get a new Biro from the stock cupboard until they took back their old, fully used, Biro in exchange.  In some ways this made sense.  The stock cupboard was this Aladdin’s Cave of exciting and exotic stationary.  The bottles of Tippex, staplers and Sellotape were valuable and fiercely guarded against any poachers.

However, it was the epitome of false economy.  Bought in bulk, a ballpoint pen was a few pence.  How many seconds of your time would 10 pence buy? Not very many, I suspect!  The fallacy here is that salaries are a sunk or hidden cost, while stationary is an obvious expense.  The decision was based on the false conclusion that reducing the stationary bill would increase profitability.  Had they fully considered this “cost saving” from a holistic point of view, they would have seen that as people were their most valuable and expensive asset, any potential savings on stationary would have been massively outweighed by the negative impact on efficiency.

This is a somewhat trivial example, but costly mistakes are made every day by companies all around the world.  Either they lack the information to make a truly informed decision and so rely on “gut feel”, or more worryingly, they are acting on incorrect data.  Now, it is unlikely that enacting a strict policy on stationary is going to doom your organisation, but basing your five-year strategy on bad data could be disastrous.

If you have a large amount of operational, manufacturing, or scientific data, but don’t have embedded, trusted, and usable data processes, then you are using inaccurate and unreliable information to run your organisation and make your day-to-day decisions.

One of the reasons I am drawn to Life Sciences sector is that it is vibrant and exciting.  In a similar vein to launching a billion-pound satellite or sending a rover to Mars, there is a huge amount of high risk, high reward innovation.  NASA’s Apollo 11 mission to successfully land man on the moon, cost approximately $355 million in 1969.  It was extremely risky, not only in financial terms but also for the astronauts who basically strapped themselves to the top of a massive bomb.  It could easily have ended in catastrophe, but instead is arguably one of the greatest achievements in human history.

A BioTech company is in many ways like a multi-stage rocket launch.  It is an exhilarating, nail-biting ride for the founders, investors, and employees.  To successfully get the next stage of funding, it is imperative to hit your targets, woo investors and ensure that the cash does not run out.  Even world changing technology is subject to financial constraints.

How different would it be for your organisation if you had the holistic visibility of all your processes and could clearly see where the bottlenecks and wastage were?

If any of this resonates with you, Graeme Hills would love to hear about your experiences and challenges.


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