Rapid Results for life Science Applications

October 1, 2005
Paul Attridge

Pharmaceutical Technology Europe

Pharmaceutical Technology Europe, Pharmaceutical Technology Europe-10-01-2005, Volume 17, Issue 10

Essentially, RAD is a set of tools…that allows for rapid prototyping and reiterative testing that enable faster development and implementation of new applications.

Life sciences companies are under extreme pressure from all directions, including increased competition, regulatory constraints, M&As and line of business. Frequently, with less staff and fewer financial resources, departments are being forced to achieve more in shorter timescales. Many of the issues are the result of fundamental changes in regulations, a takeover or merger, or problems such as a failure in the clinical trial process, requiring immediate resolution and alternative action.

The speed of change across life sciences operations has been astounding. Unfortunately, the internal tools and systems to meet these challenges have not kept pace. The result is an industry constantly fighting to keep up. Senior managers have responded with attempts to make wholesale changes to ageing systems even though the pain level can be high.

Keeping Pace

As life sciences companies struggle to keep up with these changes, some pharmaceutical players are finding that rapid application development (RAD) can help them keep pace with the market's latest demands. Instead of turning to one-size-fits-all enterprise management systems to replace legacy systems, they are turning to RAD because it provides more accurate and predictable results, given its highly customizable nature.

Essentially, RAD is a set of tools — such as CASE or object-oriented programming techniques — that allows for rapid prototyping and reiterative testing that enable faster development and implementation of new applications. In short, for an operational manager, RAD means workable applications in a fraction of the time. In the world of life sciences in particular, this has helped eliminate the all-too-common problem of unveiling a new application, only to find that it is no longer relevant.

The Challenge

Recently, FCG completed an enterprise solution using RAD techniques for a major UK pharmaceuticals company involving five international manufacturing sites. Recognizing that some of its critical business systems were costly to maintain and that applications were quickly becoming outdated, the company wanted to design a common infrastructure and application components that would allow for a more integrated organizational approach, in addition to streamlining system processes and cross-functional information gathering.

To achieve this, they set two main organizational goals for the implementation of a single enterprise content management solution:

  • implement a cross-function, pan-organizational lightweight document management system

  • deploy a state-of-the-art manufacturing site document management system to replace its outdated active compliance system.

The Solution

Unlike early RAD use in the 1990s, which drew criticism for the development of quick-fix applications that often led to dead ends, this solution was integrated into the enterprise system's design. This approach gives the application a long-term perspective, thus bringing immediate ROI, while continuing to serve users over the long-run.

As with any RAD initiative, strong collaboration between users and developers was key to the project's success. An intensive working relationship allowed for the careful definition of every aspect of each module under construction, reducing the time between design and prototyping and final delivery. Hybrid user/developer teams meant that early designs could be amended 'on-the-fly,' as users spotted shortcomings in the application.

Throughout the process, team managers acted as arbiters of 'suitability of function' or 'a luxury we cannot afford'. Consequently decisions were made at an operational level and not pushed up to the senior manager levels, as is often the case in traditional development models. This eliminated the 'project creep' so well known to all enterprise system developers.

In 6 weeks, a prototype system was developed mirroring the users' precise demands and offered the following benefits:

  • an increase of 20% in the number of documents managed

  • enhanced quality standards

  • standardized training

  • streamline processes

  • higher productivity with lower cost of ownership.

Paul Attridge is vice president of the European life sciences practice First Consulting Group, UK.

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