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How Star Wars Led Me Back to ACD/Labs

by Andrew Anderson, Vice President of Innovation and Informatics Strategy, (ACD/Labs)

For those of you that know me, you may be wondering why I re-joined ACD/Labs; for those that don’t know me yet, let me give you some insight into my return. I can’t remember the number of times, in the last four years, that I’ve said, “ACD/Labs will always have a special place in my heart.” I’ve stayed in touch with many colleagues and friends that are current or former ACD/Labs employees, and many current users/customers. I ‘grew up’ at ACD/Labs. Two of my three daughters were born when I was here. My wife and I bought our first home when I was here. I visited many places for the first time with an ACD/Labs hat on. I think back on many happy firsts in my life, and I can’t not think about my career experience at the same time. 

Image001So when I began to think about a return to ACD/Labs, the first thing that came to my mind was, of all things, Star Wars and JJ Abrams. I read a story in Entertainment Weekly that talked about how LucasFilm President Kathleen Kennedy persuaded the (initially hesitant) director of the new Star Wars movie, Abrams, to take on the film. Of particular interest to me was the ‘tipping point’ question that Kathleen Kennedy asked JJ Abrams; I quote from the article:

The director, who had previously rebooted Star Trek for the big screen in 2009 and was in the midst of finishing his 2013 sequel Star Trek Into Darkness, simply said he preferred to turn to some original projects. Undeterred, Kennedy persuaded him to helm Star Wars: The Force Awakens by asking a simple question, one with the potential to upend our core beliefs about the galaxy far, far away. “In the context of talking about story and laying out what we were thinking, I said one thing to him,” Kennedy recalls. “Who is Luke Skywalker?”

This resonated with me. Deeply. So much so that I began to think about my experiences in scientific software, technology consulting, and my own hands-on experience in the lab. I wondered if there was a similar question that, if posed to me, would lead me back to ACD/Labs.

At the time, I was fortunate to be working for a large Fortune 50 company, involved in a variety of high-value innovation projects. My job there, in short, could be reduced to a fairly-straightforward workflow:

  1. Help internal teams assess their key technology needs
  2. Search/landscape for external partners
  3. Conduct thorough evaluations of prospective technology solutions
  4. Negotiate appropriate licensing to technologies
  5. Support a successful implementation

Time and again, I realized that whether our project was focused on developing a product, package, or process, there was a critical element of ‘molecular characterization.’

I then thought about all of the informatics projects that I have been on over the years. I realized that all of these systems, in one way or another, reduce or abstract this characterization into pictures, numbers, and text—usually encapsulated in a well-formatted document. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I thought about how, sometimes, it can be much easier to convey some of this information with ‘specialized language.’ Think about trying to describe a chemical process without chemical structures. Or, a physical process without engineering schematics.

As an analytical chemist, my thoughts went to the lack of capability in enterprise IT systems for ‘specialized language’ for Analytical or Measurement Sciences. And yet, organizations make decisions based on abstracted analytical results every day…big, expensive, risky decisions. My view is that across a variety of industries, organizations extend a lot of effort to rigorously characterize a variety of materials their customers use. However, their decisions are conformationally biased based upon either data abstraction, data reduction, or avoidance of data collection altogether.

So my so-called ‘Luke Skywalker Question,’ is: “how can companies 'speak in the language' of the Analytical Sciences?” I’ve returned to ACD/Labs on the promise of empowering organizations across industries to leverage specialized analytical science—‘IT collaboration assets.’ I think about the vast numbers of Analytical Scientists performing characterization experiments every day across the globe. I’d like to help their organizations implement systems that leverage those experiments to greater effect. I’m sure you’ll see more on this topic in the coming months.

This empowerment challenge is by no means solved today. We have plans to continue to develop our software solutions, platforms, and frameworks over the long term. But, we are not going to develop these capabilities alone. We’re already in active communication with our partners, customers, and IT thought leaders. This is an exciting time, and I look forward to the challenge. Would you like to be involved? I’d love to hear from you.

- Andrew Anderson

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