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PharmTech Europe speaks to Bhaskar Sambasivan from Cognizant to find out more about social media, mobility and cloud computing.
PTE: Many companies are seeking additional outsourcing work beyond traditional research and development and manufacturing. What additional capabilities are you being asked about by potential clients?
Sambasivan: In light of current industry challenges, such as the impact of patent expiries and increasingly stringent price control measures, many pharmaceutical companies have undertaken a complete review of their overall business and outsourcing strategy. Companies now expect their outsourcing partners to not only help drive efficiency in business and IT operations, but also to aid in large-scale, long-term transformation and innovation to enable business growth and agility. These factors are also becoming increasingly important as companies seek to move into emerging markets where price competition is higher, necessitating new business and pricing strategies that can quickly adapt to changing conditions. As a result, there is an expectation that partners bring end-to-end capabilities and services across business processes by bundling technology and platforms together (known as BPaaS or Business Process as a Service) in both clinical and commercial operations.
PTE: In what business areas of a pharmaceutical company’s operations do you think social, mobile and cloud technologies can most effectively be implemented?
Sambasivan: Social media has exposed pharmaceutical companies to a new risks and opportunities. Social media is primarily being used in the pharmaceutical industry to develop better connections with patients and physicians, recruit patients and track and report adverse events. However, the level of adoption and maturity in the implementation of social media is relatively low in the pharmaceutical industry because of various factors, particularly the challenging regulatory environment in which the industry operates. Despite the difficulties, several pharmaceutical companies are now broadening the way they use social media. For instance, as well as using platforms like Twitter and Facebook for distributing press releases and other company announcements, companies are also using them to promote awareness of health issues and diseases, manage corporate affairs, share corporate social responsibility initiatives and engage with customers in real-time. In sales and marketing, social media can be used to explore unmet medical needs, drive campaign effectiveness, facilitate brand management and brand reputation monitoring, and build customer loyalty through communities and portals.
Many pharmaceutical companies are also promoting crowd sourcing to drive innovation by asking patients, physicians, partners and other external organisations to come up with ideas to address business problems and issues through their websites and other social media channels. Readers can learn more about this at www.PharmTech.com/Sambasivan.
Mobility is currently at the top of business and IT initiatives because devices such as tablets and smart phones are seeing significant uptake. In addition, mobility is beginning to have a great impact in driving end-user productivity and agility, as adoption increases across the pharmaceutical value chain, particularly in sales, marketing, and in clinical and healthcare development functions. Some examples of the adoption of mobile devices, platforms and technologies include remote calibration of laboratory information management systems, clinical trial monitoring visit scheduling and reporting, multimedia e-detailing, mobile business intelligence, mobile customer relationship management, field rep self-education and patient health remote monitoring.
As pharmaceutical companies move towards the business model of a networked company, which comprises an ecosystem of partners, providers, payers, pharmacies and other external research organisations, the need to share information and collaborate becomes paramount. Cloud computing and related technologies play a huge role in provisioning scalable and flexible infrastructure and enable pharmaceutical companies to meet increasing demands, whilst adhering to cost pressures.
PTE: How are new technologies, such as social media, mobile technologies and cloud computing, being adapted into the offerings of outsourcing providers?
Sambasivan: The unique challenge with new technologies is the speed at which they are changing. What was new six months ago is no longer new now. Most outsourcing providers have dedicated technology centres where they prototype and incubate new technologies, solutions and innovation models through small teams, which examine specific business challenges and seek to design solutions that may potentially have a transformational impact. Once prototyped and tested, these solutions are piloted in the market and, if successful, are funded to become a business solution that can be scaled and adapted to meet customer requirements. The key, however, is to combine the power of these new technologies with the right business capabilities to create appropriate outsourcing solutions. As a result, many have instituted focused user groups, communities and customer advisory panels to obtain continuous feedback on relevance and applicability of these new technologies as they change, and as business environments change.
Pharmaceutical companies are taking a cautious approach towards adopting new technologies, including social media and other technologies such as mobility and cloud computing. Although the promise is there, companies are reluctant to make large-scale investments at the enterprise level due to many questions regarding security, privacy, regulations, scalability and return of investment. Many prefer to work with their outsourcing partners to pilot and scale slowly.
According to a recent survey of business and IT executives by Cognizant Business Consulting and Forbes Insights, most leading companies rely on their partners and expanding their external innovation networks and integrating them with their internal innovation teams, to foster and drive transformation across the enterprise (1). The report reveals that a majority of corporations are increasingly using social platforms, virtual communications, and collaboration tools to build new types of innovation ecosystems, which are used to gain insights, ideas and inspiration from both employees and external sources, including customers, partners and even competitors (1).
PTE: What interest are you seeing from pharmaceutical companies in the area of advanced analytics, such as the use of big data? How are pharmaceutical manufacturers seeking to leverage these data?
Sambasivan: One of the challenges the pharmaceutical industry faces is the huge volume of data coming from both internal and external sources that is not readily available or accessible. In the networked pharma model, data is fragmented across business partners, payers, providers, regulators, internal sources, social media and other public sources. Technologies that mine this “big data” are being piloted in many pharmaceutical companies to aid effective decision making and ensure safer adoption. Some examples of big data and analytics in the pharma industry include identifying patient population for targeted therapies, safety and adverse event mining and reporting from social media channels, and utilising social analytics on brands to decide on the most effective promotional strategies, to name a few. The biggest challenge with big data is in data curation, processing and reconciliation, as well as making the data available to relevant groups across the organisation. As such, enterprise information management and analytics are becoming a top priority for many business and IT leaders. Many large pharmaceutical companies have created strategic programmes that cater to big data across the value chain. Notable work is happening in particular in predictive sciences (using gene sequencing and bio informatics) to enable drug discovery. Progress is also being made using advanced analytics and algorithms to integrate data between the payer, customer and regulatory bodies, as well as electronic medical records and electronic health records.
PTE: In the coming years, are there other new areas of pharmaceutical outsourcing in which you expect to see increased or reduced interest?
Sambasivan: In the coming years, pharmaceutical outsourcing will continue to evolve with a greater focus on creating outsourcing partnerships that drive significant business transformation and innovation, yielding greater levels of business benefits. As a result, pharma companies may focus on creating fewer strategic outsourcing partnerships with an expectation that the partner will share a greater level of risk and investment. More emphasis will be placed on driving business outcomes, such as cycle time reduction, end user productivity and market share increase. We also expect newer areas to be outsourced that have traditionally been performed in-house, such as marketing management, digital marketing services, clinical study statistical analysis and regulatory submissions. In addition, as pharmaceutical companies place more focus on emerging markets, we expect a greater need to provide flexible, price competitive solutions and technologies to enable these markets.
1. Cognizant website, “Innovation Beyond the Four Walls: Breaking Down Innovation Barriers,” www.cognizant.com, accessed 19 Oct. 2012.