Pharma Focus Asia
KP - Sustainable Packaging Solutions

Business Intelligence

Transforming Pharma

Alan S Louie, Research Director IDC Health InsightsUSA

Access to accurate real-time information during every phase of development can significantly improve the effectiveness of strategic decision-making, increasing the likelihood of long-term success.

The pharmaceutical industry is in the midst of fundamental changes. The changes have been brought on by the increasing concerns over expiry of patents for major blockbuster drugs, weak product pipelines, heightened awareness of drug safety, globalisation, competition from generics and growing value considerations with regards to access to and reimbursement of new speciality therapeutics. These issues, and more, have forced top pharmaceutical companies to change their current course, in search of a stable and sustainable path that can help them maintain and improve their current profitability levels.

Near-term strategic efforts in the path towards sustainability include traditional business approaches that aspire to fully address shortcomings, but are more likely to only produce incremental improvements.

More tactical changes are also being implemented in hope of better leveraging of resources within the increasingly distributed, global pharmaceutical organisation. Key among the tactical changes that are being implemented are efforts in pursuit of information transparency. Looking significantly beyond consolidated data warehouses, pharmaceutical companies are working to bring all data (from initial laboratory e-Notebooks in discovery through to Phase IV clinical trial data reporting) into a broadly accessible and usable form that fully captures knowledge accumulated during the course of R&D. This includes supporting information (i.e. metadata) that provides procedural and analytical insights surrounding experimental data, related knowledge available from a wide variety of sources (both external and internal), analytical and visualisation tools to simplify knowledge extraction, and real-time tools to enhance collaboration across the organisation to more effectively exploit the collective brain trust.

To establish an effective information transparency infrastructure in the near-term, an organisation needs to improve its ability to rapidly and regularly extract real-time data that reflects the status of projects and processes ongoing within it. Access to accurate real-time information during every phase of development can significantly improve the effectiveness of strategic decision-making, increasing the likelihood of long-term success. It can help companies to better reach project milestones with regards to experimental progress, optimise utilisation of project resources and enable comparative analysis of specific projects undertaken by the different divisions of the company. Heavily validated in other industries, Business Intelligence (BI) is increasingly becoming an essential part of the pharmaceutical industry. Apart from establishing an effective information transparency infrastructure, BI directly enables both senior management and project line managers to make better decisions to help their companies move forward.


Based on telephone and in-person surveys across all aspects of the health industry, Health Industry Insights analysts assessed the industry’s use, expectations, and aspirations of adopting business intelligence solutions within their organisations. Discussions focussed on a number of specific factors, including top business reasons for investing in BI, anticipated benefits, and future plans expected over the next five years.

Moving beyond operational excellence With total US spending on BI in 2007 at US$ 168.7 million and a growth rate roughly double that of the overall IT spending (12.7 per cent versus 7.3 per cent, Source: Health Industry Insights, 2007), it is clear that leaders in the pharmaceutical industry have recognised the potential of BI and are speeding up the implementation of this approach across their organisations. While the opportunity for BI to pursue operational excellence is an obvious first step (e.g. more efficient utilisation of available resources and the elimination of redundant or unproductive efforts), it is interesting to note that BI is also being applied to the technical and scientific efforts within the organisation. Specifically, BI solutions are beginning to be used to improve research and clinical performance with the goal of both accelerating organisational growth as well as saving costs.

A Health Industry Insights' simplified definition of Business Intelligence:

Systems and solutions that improve organisational decision making through regular access to detailed quantitative organisational data.

Generally, BI solutions are implemented in different parts of the organisation under the common direction of the CIO. Having been successful in achieving operational excellence and improving the research / clinical performance of the companies, these solutions have been increasingly adopted, albeit at a varied pace, by pharmaceutical organisations. With many validated examples of successful implementations focussed on operational excellence from other industries (especially the financial, manufacturing, and retail industries), BI is finding a new prominent position within pharmaceutical organisations, including project resource management, sales force tracking, and regulatory compliance reporting. From a research / clinical performance perspective, however, there have been few cross-industry examples to leverage. This has led to BI solutions for pharmaceutical organisations being developed organically. Specific applications in this area include: better ability to access and use research data from across the organisation (through elimination of data silos), improved use of data analytics and visualisation tools to extract information, and more effective comparison of project and therapeutic areas on a common value scale.

While assessing industry sentiment regarding BI, some industry-wide goals were identified which benefited the organisations significantly beyond pilot project boundaries, often leading to opportunities for new BI applications. In general, three key goals for BI were identified:

  • Gather good data
  • Translate data into actionable information
  • Use information to effect organisational change.

Driving organisational change

All of the companies interviewed had access to one or more of the commercial BI software tools and services available in the market today. Major commercial BI solution vendors used in the industry include: Business Objects (now part of SAP), Cognos (now part of IBM), Hyperion (now part of Oracle) and SAS. However, the availability of commercial BI solutions plays a minor role in the implementation of an effective BI solution within these organisations. Successful implementation of BI in the pharmaceutical industry requires significant changes in organisational thinking across the organisation, impacting researchers at the bench, the CIO, and all levels in-between. Failure to recognise and adopt these philosophical changes significantly reduces the potential opportunity for BI and results in the wastage of valuable company resources.

Changes to both broad organisational mindset around data and supporting IT infrastructure are needed to enable BI to be successful. To gather good data on a regular basis, everyone in the organisation, from researchers to line management to senior leadership must recognise that accurate, quality data brings value to the organisation and that isolated silos of data significantly impair an organisation’s efforts to be successful. With quality data in hand, it then becomes necessary to have easy-to-use portals, analytical tools, and simple, but powerful report generators to begin to translate this data into actionable information. Finally, it must be clear and transparent to the organisation that the data and the information derived from the data, is actively being acted upon and used to drive the organisation forward. As BI implementations begin to regularly yield successful outcomes (efforts that should be highlighted regularly and often within the company), success should breed success spurring further adoption and support for new BI initiatives.

A number of collateral benefits become possible with the creation of a fluid information infrastructure. It becomes possible to benchmark key projects, processes, and programmes, laying the foundation for future process improvements which can be better quantified for effectiveness and value. Metrics supporting Return-on-Investment (ROI) become possible, even at early stages of adoption. Efficient and routine data collection can be expected to simplify ever growing regulatory compliance and reporting requirements. And with proper analytical efforts, it becomes easier to establish enterprise-wide standardised data definitions, which enable effective comparisons of projects and processes across the organisation, including the ability to effectively transcend geographical, divisional, and cultural boundaries.

Succeeding in a new global ecosystem

At the beginning of the discussion of BI adoption, interviewees were asked whether ROI was a prerequisite to initiate pilot efforts. In all cases, it was reported that an ROI justification was not required and that initial key decision makers (typically the CIO) recognised the greater opportunity and benefits that an effective BI and supporting IT infrastructure could enable. Despite this unconstrained commitment, it was often possible in many cases to produce a demonstrable ROI from pilot efforts.

A shift towards a transparent information ecosystem that effectively leverages data and information regardless of its source will be a key differentiator for pharmaceutical companies moving forward. To be successful, drug developers (and senior management) need to have timely access to key information (both internal proprietary and external data including academic discoveries, publicly available academic research, competitive clinical data etc.) in order to minimise development risk and to ensure that all critical factors have been fully taken into consideration before advancing specific projects forward. With the amount of available data continuing to grow at exponential rates, it is becoming increasingly impossible to manually keep up with progress. Harnessing the collective organisational brain trust in conjunction with evolving bioinformatics, BI, and content resources will be the key to success in this highly dynamic environment.

Author Bio

Alan S Louie

Alan S Louie, Research Director IDC Health Insights USA

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