Pharma BI: The Advantages of Being Vertically Focused

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I recently attended a conference on cloud based commercial support systems – covering all facets of customer facing functions, from SFA to Customer Service to BI. The giant vendor expo hall buzzed with dozens upon dozens of vendors all vying for my attention as they loudly pitched their products, offering the chance to win a car, take away a plush toy or stop by for a hot espresso. I jostled my way through the crowd, my head constantly pivoting from left to right, listening to each pitch. As someone with years of commercial analytics experience, particularly in pharmaceuticals, I was curious to see if there were any new trends this year and where the industry is heading.

I spotted one, newer vendor with a large, brightly colored booth who was offering a seminar on “Analytics for Pharma and Life Sciences”. Given my background, this immediately caught my eye and I planned to attend the session. The company touted how it’s BI platform is generic; it can be applied to any industry, is self-configurable, cloud-based and works with any data set of your choosing. While on the surface this flexibility sounds enticing (particularly to IT departments who want to maintain control), I was curious to see how this translated to specific pharmaceutical industry needs.

I settled in to watch the presentation. Immediately, I realized that it’s hard to be all things to all people. The presentation vernacular and demonstration weren’t geared to the audience. For example in pharma, we measure “calls” (or “details”) and track physician reach and frequency as a regular metric. In this demonstration, customers “visits” were measured instead, with no mention of reach. The presenter then went on to mention opportunities to cross-sell generic drugs – something a branded pharma company would never, ever do. Additionally, rep success was measured in physician sales dollars, while in the world of pharma we typically track Rx (both NRx and TRx). Finally, no mention was made of payer data, probably one of the most critical pieces of the puzzle in today’s powerful managed care landscape.

As I listened, I tried to put myself in the pharma sales rep’s shoes and realized that the solution wasn’t tailored to the role or process. Despite the pretty charts, it only gave a sliver of what was needed to properly prepare and plan for a call. Key information was spread out over multiple screens that required hunting and drilling to find answers.

Having spent over 10 years in pharmaceutical commercial operations, I am well aware of what it takes to provide quality analytics to the Field.  Getting to know the data, I realized that being vertically integrated has its advantages –  working with it every day to understand what pharmaceutical companies really need. In short, domain expertise and cross-client experience is a real advantage to delivering results, with minimal set-up time.  Unlike generic solutions, there is nothing to build or new lingo to learn, as industry knowledge is embedded in the solution.

So while being a generic platform may seem to offer the most flexibility, at the end of the day it’s about how useful it is to the user. Is it something he is going to use? Is it going to increase sales? Does it deliver familiar analytics that enable success? How much support does the solution require?

Finally, having domain expertise doesn’t necessarily mean giving up flexibility. In fact, having the basics already covered allows for strategically thinking about requirements and augmenting the solution to meet specific needs – in short, more flexibility.