Cloud Migration: 10 Questions to Ask Your MES Vendor

  • Published:
    Jun 23, 2023
  • Category:
    Apprentice Top 10
  • Topic:

Executive Summary

Cloud technology has the potential to transform the pharmaceutical manufacturing landscape. Often the decision to go with an on-premise or a cloud solution only surfaces when selecting a new vendor.

But did you know that even if you aren’t planning to change vendors, you could still be faced with a decision to move to the cloud?

Many existing MES vendors are making the decision to migrate their software solutions from on-premise architecture to the cloud — forcing their existing deployed customers to move with them.

In this white paper, we'll help you navigate the complexities of MES vendor cloud migration, exploring essential considerations to be informed on how a migration might impact your manufacturing processes. With our expert insights and practical tips, you'll be armed with the tools to ask the right questions of your vendors and carefully evaluate your options.

So, let's get down to business and dive into the critical world of MES vendor cloud migration. It's time to make strategic, informed choices that will truly impact your bottom line.

Jump to…

Overview: The Rise of Cloud

The adoption of cloud technology has become a prominent trend in pharmaceutical manufacturing. This shift has significant implications for pharmaceutical manufacturers and their chosen Manufacturing Execution System (MES) vendors.

As the pharma industry evolves, some MES vendors are faced with the task of migrating their clients' deployments from their existing on-premise architecture to a new cloud-based architecture, while others have a distinct advantage of starting as cloud-native providers.

Within this context, it is crucial for pharmaceutical manufacturers to understand the intricacies of the cloud migration process and to be equipped with the right knowledge and questions when engaging with their MES vendors.

To navigate this landscape effectively, pharmaceutical manufacturers will need to pose the right questions to their MES vendors. Understanding which migration approach your vendor is taking will unearth the timeline, resources, efforts, and benefits you as a customer will receive.

This white paper presents ten essential questions that delve into crucial aspects of the MES cloud migration process. These questions cover the migration process, resource burden, system integrations, user training requirements, expertise in cloud architecture, and the vendor's capacity to provide support during the migration.

By actively engaging with these questions, pharmaceutical manufacturers can gain valuable insights into their MES vendors' capabilities, preparedness, and alignment with their specific needs. Armed with this knowledge, they can make informed decisions about undergoing migration with their current vendor — or considering alternate options to ensure they are both minimizing disruption to their operations and taking advantage of the latest technologies.

Part 1: Understanding the Costs

Understanding if and when your MES vendor is planning to migrate to the cloud, and the implications and risk it could introduce to your business, is critical.

To make informed decisions aligned with your business objectives, it's crucial to understand if, when, and how your existing MES vendor will be undertaking this cloud migration.

So let's dive into ten key questions that can help you better understand and prepare for this transition.

Question #1: What is the timeline for this cloud migration, for both you and your customers?

The timeline for your vendor’s cloud migration is a crucial aspect to consider.

It's important to ask your MES vendor about their migration plans, including when they will migrate their own infrastructure to the cloud and when they will start migrating customers to the new architecture.

Additionally, inquire about the timeline for the end-of-life of their existing on-premises systems. For example, many on-prem MES customers will be forced to migrate to their vendor’s new cloud architecture by 2028 (with standard support expiring as early as 2025), regardless of their preference for remaining on-prem.

Understanding the vendor's migration approach will provide insights into the timeline, required resources, efforts, and the benefits you can expect as a customer. This information will help you make informed decisions and align your own business plans accordingly.

Question #2: What will the cost be to me as a customer, and will you be shifting your pricing structure?

Another critical aspect to consider when evaluating a cloud migration is how the MES vendor will price their new offering.

It's essential to inquire about any potential shifts in their pricing structure, especially if they are transitioning from a traditional one-time capital expenditure (CapEx) model to a subscription-based operational expenditure (OpEx) structure.

Additionally, it's crucial to understand the specific costs that this migration process will incur. Be sure to ask about any potential additional services that might need to be purchased and the associated expenses. It's also important to factor in the time and effort required from your side. You may be surprised to learn that the time, effort, and cost to migrate to the cloud could be similar to your initial implementation effort of that software.

Being aware of these potential extra costs will enable you to make an informed decision and assess the financial impact on your organization.

Part 2: Understanding the Migration

Question #3: What approach will you be taking to complete this cloud migration?

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When your MES vendor is embarking on a cloud migration from legacy on-premise systems, the process entails several key aspects.

These include assessing the current infrastructure, defining the desired architecture, data migration strategies, testing procedures, and ensuring seamless integration with existing systems.

Understanding these elements will help you understand how your vendor will conduct the migration, the process involved, and the capabilities (or lack thereof) of their future architecture.

As Red Hat outlines in their cloud migration model, organizations have 3 options for transitioning to the cloud:

  • Lift and shift: Essentially rehosting existing on-prem applications on the cloud, this option’s appeal is also its downfall. While a lower time and resource cost up-front than refactoring, it does not harness the full power of cloud technology since it migrates the centralized, monolithic structure of its legacy system along with its data.
  • Augmenting: This intermediary step entails building new software around existing applications to expand their features and functionality. Though more pragmatic than lift and shift, this model is still hindered by its outdated on-prem architecture.
  • Refactoring: Also called rewriting, this means completely rebuilding an application for the cloud. While a steeper time and resource cost up-front, this gives architects the chance to streamline the build and eliminate inefficiencies and performance issues. It also frees organizations from dependencies on outdated processes and applications.

To understand your MES vendor’s cloud migration, you’ll need to learn which of these options they’re proceeding with.

While “lift and shift” might initially seem like an appealing option, remember that this is more of a quick fix than a long-term solution. There’s a good chance that vendors pursuing this option will need to go back and augment/refactor their systems later from hybrid to full cloud models, potentially resulting in multiple rounds of deployments and system updates for their clients.

Part 3: Managing Downtime and Resource Burden

Question #4: How will system downtime be managed during the migration or transition process?

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System downtime during migration or transition is a significant concern that requires careful management and planning.

It is important to be aware that downtime is likely to occur during this transition period, which can potentially impact your operations and productivity.

Collaborating closely with your chosen MES vendor becomes crucial in developing a robust strategy to mitigate the effects of downtime. This may involve implementing measures such as phased migration, failover systems, or temporary workarounds to minimize disruptions.

By anticipating potential disruptions and having contingency plans in place, you can better navigate system downtime and proactively prepare your teams to handle it when it arises.

Question #5: What level of resource burden will the migration or transition place on your organization and the vendor?

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Both your organization and the vendor share the responsibility of managing the resource burden during the migration or transition process. However, an ideal vendor will shoulder the majority of this burden and have plans in place to make the transition as seamless as possible on your end.

Assessing the resource requirements, such as IT staff availability, training needs, and potential impact on other projects, is crucial. Determining if you will need to hire additional resources or pay for services from the vendor or a third party will help you to formulate a potential budget needed for the migration project.

Open communication and clear delineation of responsibilities between your organization and the vendor foster effective resource management, ensuring a successful transition without overwhelming any party involved.

Part 4: Handling Integrations and Trainings

Question #6: How will the vendor handle system integrations to ensure connectivity with other systems and equipment?

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Navigating the complexities of system integrations during the cloud migration can be a daunting task.

It is crucial to carefully assess how the vendor plans to handle the cutover process and ensure seamless connectivity with other systems and equipment. Understanding the potential risks, such as equipment integration ability with the new cloud system, data mapping challenges and potential disruptions, is essential in preparing for the migration.

Evaluate the vendor's expertise in managing complex integrations to their new cloud system, inquire about their contingency plans, and seek reassurance that they have robust strategies in place to address any connectivity issues that may arise.

By approaching system and equipment integrations during the cloud migration with caution and asking the right questions, you can better evaluate your vendor’s ability to deliver on your company’s system integration requirements.

Question #7: What support will be provided for user training during the migration or transition?

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User training is a critical component of any successful migration or transition process. After all, what value can a system provide if it’s not able to be understood by those using it? A new cloud architecture of an existing system could potentially require a complete retraining on a new interface and new functionality.

A reputable MES vendor should offer robust training programs tailored to your specific needs. These programs may include hands-on workshops, documentation, online resources, and ongoing support.

By providing comprehensive user training, the vendor ensures that your workforce can adapt quickly to the new system, maximizing the benefits and minimizing disruption to your operations.

Part 5: Evaluating Vendor Support and Expertise

Question #8: What expertise does the vendor possess in cloud architecture or on-premise solutions?

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When contemplating the migration of your systems to the cloud or transitioning from on-premise solutions, it is crucial to assess the vendor's expertise in this specific area.

Migrating to the cloud or transitioning from on-premise can be a complex and challenging process. It requires a deep understanding of the intricacies involved, including data migration, infrastructure optimization, and application compatibility.

To ensure a successful migration, it is prudent to inquire about the vendor's experience in executing similar transitions, their methodologies, and their track record in minimizing disruptions and downtime during the process.

Considering the potential risks and challenges involved in cloud migration or transitioning from on-premise, choosing a cloud-native vendor with proven expertise in this domain will significantly mitigate the associated risks and ensure a smoother transition for your operations.

Additionally, the vendor will be supporting an entirely new, cloud-based architecture post-migration. Understanding how the vendor plans to transition its employee’s skill sets from experts in its previous on-premise system to its new cloud-based system will directly affect your experience of the new product. 

“Vendors undertaking this migration must also train their internal employees — everyone from backend engineers to customer-facing support. Knowing how and when their staff will be equipped to support you will be key to your success.”

— Marie Forshaw, Apprentice VP

Question #9: Considering the vendor's commitments and resources, how will they support your organization's migration or transition?

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Ensuring the vendor's commitment and support during your organization's migration or transition is paramount, especially when they are simultaneously managing multiple architectures and systems — theirs as well as their customers’ cloud environments.

It is crucial to have candid discussions with the vendor regarding their resource allocation and capacity to handle the demands of both the existing on-premise system and the new cloud architecture. Assessing their ability to dedicate sufficient time, expertise, and support personnel is essential to avoid resource constraints and potential disruptions.

Recognize that vendors undergoing cloud migration and supporting multiple architectures may face challenges in resource management. By carefully evaluating their capacity to provide dedicated support and mitigate potential resource constraints, you can make an informed decision that safeguards your operations during the migration process.

Question #10: How will your new cloud environment compare to a cloud-native MES?

When evaluating the transition to a new cloud environment, it is important to understand the differences between your vendor's new offering and a cloud-native Software as a Service (SaaS) solution.

While your vendor may be undergoing a cloud migration, it is essential to acknowledge that their expertise and capabilities might not match those of a dedicated cloud-native SaaS provider.

A cloud-native SaaS solution is purpose-built for the cloud, leveraging its inherent advantages and offering a seamless, fully optimized experience. In contrast, a vendor transitioning from on-premise to the cloud may face challenges in fully harnessing the benefits of cloud-native architecture.

By considering these differences, you can make an informed decision about the level of expertise and functionality you can expect from your vendor's cloud environment compared to a cloud-native SaaS offering.

Bear in mind that an MES vendor in this position will likely assure new product capabilities, minimal downtime, and ongoing support during their cloud migration. But no matter how you slice it, there will be a significant impact to both your and their operations. That’s why cloud-native vendors have a distinct advantage in this space.

Here at Apprentice, we’re proud to be a cloud-first and cloud-native organization.

Our Tempo Manufacturing Cloud gives top pharmaceutical manufacturing organizations:

  • Quick, easy deployment that allows a network of sites to be ‘turned-on’ in a matter of hours and get fully up and running, fast
  • Modern features and functionality that leverage all the capabilities of the cloud, such as collaborative authoring and real-time exception review 
  • Global data and collaboration for the customer’s internal and external manufacturing ecosystem

Want to find out more about our cloud-native approach to pharmaceutical manufacturing? Reach out to our team of passionate problem-solvers today.


Closing Thoughts

Think MES cloud migration is easy? Imagine having to do it more than once.

Uprooting an on-prem MES and migrating it to the cloud is a serious undertaking that requires significant time, resources, and expertise. At the very least, you should be assured that this migration is a one-and-done process and not an intermediary step requiring additional refactoring later on.

By thoroughly understanding your vendor's approach to cloud migration, downtime management, resource burden, integrations, user training, and support, you can make an informed decision that aligns with your business objectives.

“A vendor’s cloud migration is an opportunity to assess new technology and see what best serves your business — both now, and in the future.”

— Marie Forshaw, Apprentice VP

As the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry continues to evolve, the cloud migration journey presents both challenges and opportunities.

By staying informed, asking the right questions, and leveraging the expertise of cloud-native vendors, pharmaceutical manufacturers can navigate this transformative phase with confidence and set a strong foundation for future success.

Our Featured Thought Leader

Marie is passionate about cloud technology and its ability to revolutionize the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry. Read on to learn more about her background and industry insights.

Marie’s Background

Marie brings over 7 years of experience from Gainsight, the leading Customer Success Platform, where she played a pivotal role in building the market category through her work in Product Marketing.

At Gainsight, Marie led initiatives that enhanced the platform's value proposition and drove successful go-to-market strategies. She also has direct experience in software migration projects and helping customers navigate their own transformation from on-premise architecture to the cloud.

As VP of Marketing at Apprentice, Marie is responsible for the company's marketing strategy, branding, and communications. She is passionate about using data-driven insights and innovative techniques to develop and execute successful marketing campaigns that drive growth and customer engagement.

Marie is based in St. Louis, MO, where she lives with her husband and young daughter. In her free time, she loves exploring new places with her family and taking advantage of all the outdoor activities that the region has to offer.


Cloud-Native MES: Marie’s Point of View

"Selecting a cloud-native MES vendor eliminates the complexities and risks associated with retrofitting legacy on-premises systems to the cloud, allowing pharmaceutical manufacturers to leverage the full potential of cloud technology."

— Marie Forshaw, Apprentice VP


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