Riding the IT technology wave: priorities, pitfalls and promise
To meet the next wave of challenges, players in the life sciences must develop new technological capabilities to support their commercial operations, says Neil Levinson.
New cloud-based business intelligence applications are providing opportunities for life sciences companies to provide valued services and tools. Amidst changing customer demands and an urgent need for efficiency, getting the most from new technologies will be a high priority as commercialisation approaches are revised. Applications that are healthcare-specific, cloud-based, integrated, secure and analytical will bring tremendous benefits to these companies, and therefore to patients and the health system. Successfully riding this technology wave will prove transformational for the industry and beneficial to all.
The past five years have brought mounting pressure to top line sales growth for life science companies, triggering restructuring and cost reduction programmes aimed at limiting the impact on bottom line profitability and margins.
New approaches will be needed to address these cost issues while optimising performance. A large number of tactics are being implemented across the life sciences sector, including insourcing and outsourcing, shifting of resources, and leveraging of technology-based solutions.
Application of Information Technology
As companies become more focused on developing new approaches designed to optimise commercial performance, management teams are turning to technology-based approaches that can support their aims through cloud-based platforms, applications, system integration, and analytic tools. Technology is being utilised as a critical means by which companies can gain insight to better align their activities across departments; take actions that are better tailored to customer needs; and provide better ability to adjust course and tactics.
Data storage and sharing
Although the growing use of cloud technologies is not a new trend, adoption by life sciences has been slower than in other industries.1,2 Data security has been a key concern, hindering the use of cloud storage where the infrastructure housing data and applications exist outside of their organisation.3 Cost pressures now make leveraging of cloud storage imperative for life sciences companies.
Compliant cloud-based Electronic Medical Record (EMR) data systems must be developed so that life sciences companies do not need to individually build large new data systems. Such solutions will also ultimately make the use of cloud storage more feasible for companies looking for secure and healthcare focused answers.
Internally focused applications
Until recently, available cloud-based business intelligence tools were not tailored for the life sciences industry and thus had limited utility. New, industry-specific, product releases are leading to a growing uptake of cloud applications focused in four critical areas:
• Multichannel marketing systems that use information in an advanced way to deliver more useful information to customers through preferred channels and reduce ineffective action
• Applications that process unstructured data such as social media, primary market research and free text included in EMRs, and collate them to create a complete understanding of the patient experience and physician treatment
• Commercial operations applications that are used within sales and marketing to improve customer engagement
• Master data management (MDM) systems available in the cloud to curate customer data and meet the needs of a changing healthcare marketplace
Implications of cloud-based applications
With these and other new cloud-based applications specifically designed for the life sciences space, a new level of competency will now be available to companies – regardless of their size. From a cost perspective, small companies will be able to avoid the up-front costs of on-premises infrastructure spending, and instead use the cloud to rapidly gain new applications and capabilities. Larger companies can shift legacy applications to cloud applications to avoid the cost of upgrades, or reduce the time that IT staff spend on application maintenance, and instead refocus their talents on strategic and value-added projects.
“The task is to eliminate data silos and to build systems that communicate across functions – to create system ‘interoperability”
Interoperability and cloud-based software suites
As companies are challenged to act with fewer resources, systems that can improve commercial effectiveness by synchronising action across the enterprise are critical. The task is to eliminate data silos and to build commercial systems that communicate seamlessly across functions – to create system ‘interoperability’.
Cloud-based ‘application suites’ are currently being developed that make progress toward this goal. Cloud providers like Microsoft Azure, force.com, IMS Health, Veeva, SAP and Oracle are all working towards such pre-integrated application suites. Life sciences application suites will also allow companies to obtain more value from their data by extending data use to additional parts of the organisation.
Data analytics are necessary for life sciences to make sense of the healthcare marketplace and to optimise action within it. Life sciences companies compete on the quality of their analytics and their ability to take action in the marketplace; and yet the analytic systems currently in place often fail to deliver value to end users. Only by building better technologies can life sciences companies reap the full benefits of the data and deliver these to the healthcare marketplace. New cloud-based analytic tools will help life sciences companies tackle the challenge of big data and gain more value from these sources.
Cohorts in the cloud
One of the great barriers to using EMR and other real world evidence data for commercial use is knowing how to query the data correctly. Analytic applications with cohort-building software tools have solved this challenge by translating expert-level knowledge of disease and treatment patterns into pre-built selections or groups.
“Life sciences firms should investigate cost savings through cloud technologies: storage, building platforms and applications.”
Getting the most from new technologies
For cloud technologies to be used more broadly in the life sciences, several factors must fall into place: improved security and compliance commitments from cloud providers; a greater availability of industry specific cloud solutions; and analytic systems with built-in intelligence. These changes are occurring rapidly and these developments mean life sciences companies should now be investigating ways to gain efficiencies and cost savings through cloud technologies, including storage, building platforms, and applications.
The current IT burden within life sciences is high due to the significant inefficiencies in legacy systems. Companies have attempted to address these, but have done so using horizontal platforms that are not tailored to the life sciences industry. Efforts to make these work for the life sciences industry have been similarly costly. Emerging cloud technologies that are life sciences-focused can provide a way forward. Supporting such efforts will require life sciences companies to recognise the transformation that new technologies can bring to their organisations.
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1. TATA Consultancy Services – TCS (2012). Differences in Cloud Adoption Across Global Industries. Retrieved from http://sites.tcs.com/cloudstudy/differences-in-cloud-adoption-across-global-industries
2. Bowman, Dan (2013). Cloud adoption slower in healthcare than in other industries. Retrieved from http://www.fiercehealthit.com/story/cloud-adoption-slower-healthcare-other-industries/2013-02-15#ixzz2tIVVVs7n
3. Basta, Nicholas (2011). Pharma IT is going to the clouds. Retrieved from http://pharmaceuticalcommerce.com/information_technology?articleid=2605
About the author:
Neil is a Principal consultant at IMS Health, leading the UK Commercial Effectiveness Services practice. Since joining IMS in 2005, he has been responsible for a number of critical projects across the UK, Europe and South Africa, including the full commercial restructuring of a major pharma company.
Have your say: What barriers still remain for greater uptake of cloud technology in life sciences?