Delivering successful international business intelligence

Jason Bryant reviews some of the latest challenges and new choices available when driving for success in international business intelligence solutions. He also discusses the approach of configuring a Pharma-specific BI Platform and SaaS solutions as well as touching on hosting choices.

“Can business intelligence really be successful when driven on an international scale? Undoubtedly yes”. Said Mike Askew of Data Intelligence earlier this year.

We now take a look at the changes and new decisions facing the Pharma industry when seeking to achieve success with international business intelligence solutions.

Against a backdrop of increasing globalisation, Pharma’s requirement to leverage common processes and infrastructure within the business support domain seems to be at an all-time high. Yet conversely to this, Pharma’s operating affiliates still need their local markets and environments to be accurately reflected in order to drive competitive advantage and manage decision support.

This article reflects on the apparent conundrum within the BI space and calls out some learnings I have gained during the course of 2013 which may help to understand the puzzle.

Observations of 2013…

We all know that offering a personalised and tailored approach is critical to a successful international business intelligence solution. I have observed a change in direction within Pharma during 2013. The traditional approach to BI has been to implement a centralised data warehouse and reporting front-end, where all affiliates report on corporate KPIs and share common definitions (e.g. markets).

I have witnessed a growing number of Pharma clients prepared to challenge this traditional approach, with a growing number taking the plunge and shifting toward a “global / local” model.

Of course, once the decision has been made to change the BI model, it isn’t as simple as implementing something “out of the box”. There now seems to be an increase in Pharma’s reluctance to pursue large multi-million dollar BI projects as they have done in the past. These projects are often not built with agility and change in mind, and do not accommodate ongoing and changing business operations.

Configuring a pharma specific BI platform versus customising generic off-the-shelf tools

The growing acceptance of taking a fundamentally different approach and configuring an already aligned Pharma-specific BI platform, rather than customising generic Off-the-Shelf BI tools, has been a key observation during 2013. Having a mature BI platform specifically designed for Pharma nuances and business patterns offers an attractive blend of lowering risk, speeding up the deployment itself, and facilitating the appropriate levels of input balanced between the Headquarters and Affiliates to achieve an accepted and relevant BI capability. Feedback from clients indicate that unless appropriate levels of ownership buy-in, top-down and bottom-up balance are mandated and then pursued throughout the project, there is then a higher risk of failure and lack of adoption exists.

“We all know that offering a personalised and tailored approach is critical to a successful international business intelligence solution.”

The right blend of a Pharma-specific BI platform solution coupled with an effective engagement and governance model has been observed as not only the most effective approach so far (to International BI) but also a positive shift in client’s perceptions and expectations.

Over time, the Pharma industry has become more accepting of the Software as a Service (SaaS) operating model during 2013. The success of CRM providers operating in this way has undoubtedly influenced Pharma’s opinion of providing other supporting services on a similar basis. BI as a service not only aligns with this shift in operating and financial models, it solves the problem of keeping the BI solution aligned to an ever changing business landscape.

Clients are now challenging their BI vendors to solve the problem of providing effective capabilities to affiliates with extremely limited resources, both within the sales structure and the home office. Imaginative approaches that leverage the “global / local” configuration of a platform solution have emerged. These include; grouping affiliates, providing a shared service solution, and grouping regions where their requirements (particularly KPI reporting) can be shared.

Communication has now become far more highly valued by Pharma companies. Effective communication is key to understanding the central and local requirements of each business. The ideal BI solution needs to combine both. Often the solution is centrally funded but there is a need to understand local needs. Without this, the BI solution and project itself can run into problems with buy-in and ongoing suitability for the affiliates. I believe that it is probably impossible to over-communicate during the configuration phases and once the BI capability is in operation. Without such effective communication, important considerations for example architecting the local aspects of the BI capability to reflect local regulatory requirements will be missed and risks introduced.

“Over time, the Pharma industry has become more accepting of the Software as a Service (SaaS) operating model during 2013”

Where to host your international BI solution?

The hosting debate has been a hot topic during 2013. There are many options providing varying benefits and challenges: –

• Host everything centrally in one place on internal infrastructure

• Host each country’s data locally on internal infrastructure in that country

• Host with a 3rd party provider on dedicated infrastructure

• Host in the cloud (Microsoft’s Azure platform for example)


How to decide?

Deciding on which solution is most appropriate comes down to a number of factors, including:

• Budget

• Availability of appropriate resources (both hardware/software and personnel with relevant expertise)

• Planned support/operational model for the BI solution

• Data privacy concerns*

*The European Data Protection Directive prohibits the transfer of personal data to countries outside the European Economic Area unless adequate protection is in place. This might mean, for example, that it is not possible to process European data in India.

The “cloud” hosting option has entered the market as a new and exciting addition to the hosting landscape. It potentially provides many benefits, but may face resistance from internal IT or existing company policies.

“I believe that it is probably impossible to over-communicate during the configuration phases and once the BI capability is in operation.”

There are many benefits from hosting in the cloud. Primarily these relate to flexibility and scalability – you don’t have to worry about hosting hardware and other infrastructure yourself, adding new hardware / storage is seamless, and depending on the cloud service selected it may be possible to locate hardware in any area of the world you choose (which can help with performance and data privacy issues).

Observed disadvantages (so far, and this is an emerging area), are that there can be a sense of loss of control of data (e.g. you don’t know precisely where your data is being held).

International BI remains a highly dynamic and exciting area, with many changes taking place in Pharma. Some are highlighted here and I will continue to observe as the landscape develops.




About the author:

Jason is responsible for developing Data Intelligence’s client base in commercial terms both at home and abroad. Jason’s background includes analytics consulting, most recently at Cognizant Europe (marketRx), business development and client-side business intelligence, data warehousing and CRM management. Prior to joining Cognizant Jason was responsible for building the pharmaceutical business for Binley’s coming to this from a range of BI roles at Sanofi Aventis. Jason enjoys the great outdoors, good food, traveling extensively and is an electronic engineer by education having studied at Canterbury, Kent.

Where do you host your international BI solution?