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Impact of Technology on Life Sciences Industry

Recently I was asked to provide inputs to an Article/White paper that looks ahead in terms of Technology and its impact on Life Sciences in medium to long-term. Here’s a list (in no particular order) that I thought would be the key trends to look out for from a short to medium term. I pulled this together based on some predictions by the industry analysts as well as thought leaders along with my personal experiences with some customers and their immediate to medium term requirements.

  1. Mobility: It is a universal fact that the adoption of mobile devices, be it smart phones or tablets, is increasing at a phenomenal rate. This will force the pharmaceutical organizations to adopt a “think mobile” strategy. This trend will mandate the IT and technology teams to adopt an enterprise mobile strategy. In the long run this could even result in applications developed 100% for mobile devices only.
  2. Solutions on Cloud: Adoption of SaaS and Cloud based solutions and services have been increasing over the last 2 to 3 years. Pharmaceutical industry being historically conservative, the rate of adoption is not the same as some of its peer industries. The Sales & Marketing departments within life science companies have been better at this. This will change soon and we will see cloud based solutions adopted in the R&D space as well.
  3. Multi-Device Applications: As the pharmaceutical industry is highly regulated, for obvious reasons, their IT organizations have been seeking higher control on the devices used to access information and data. With the advent of smart phones and tablets and rapid adoption, all new applications developed, by default, will target multiple devices.
  4. Source Data Integration and Business Insights: Life Sciences organizations are realizing the fact that they have been collecting tons of useful data but have not been able to analyze and make smarter decisions using this data. This is leading to more and more programs and initiatives around Master Data Management, Source System Data Integration, and Enterprise Data Warehouses etc. This trend will continue and will even lead to industry wide cooperation and collaboration for the greater good in terms of patient safety, efficacy and outcome based pricing.
  5. Personalized Medicine and Technology Requirements: As the healthcare costs keep rising in countries like US, the scrutiny on the money being spent on drugs, devices and treatments is increasing. Also, the outcomes from usage of the products are being considered as a measure to regulate the pricing of the products. This will lead to more personalized treatment and care for patients based on whether they would be the right candidate for the proposed treatment/intervention. This would drive IT and technology teams to develop solutions for being able to identify the target patients for the products from the patient population.
  6. Standards Based Systems and Integration: Organizations and people cannot exist in silos. They have to continuously communicate and coordinate to make things work. This is the case with IT systems. Most of the legacy systems existing in pharmaceutical industry have been designed and developed to suit the specific needs of customers. In this day and age of continuous information exchanges this poses a big challenge due to the proprietary nature of data. While there are existing standards (from groups like CDISC, HL7, DIA etc.) that have been adopted, there is still need for building systems from the ground up to support these standards. This trend will increase and drive the IT organizations within Pharma as well as vendors developing solutions for Pharma industry to adopt these standards and build them into the tools and applications being developed.
  7. Social Media and Data Complexity: This is another area that has seen tremendous growth in the last 3 to 4 years. However, in the life sciences industry there is lack of guidance and direction from a regulatory stand point. However, this has not stopped the marketing and other customer focused groups embrace this channel of outreach. While this has benefited some customers tremendously, few others got into trouble with the regulators. Organizations that have started collecting the data are sitting on a gold mine of unstructured data. In order to process this data and generate business insights, it requires investments in technology. We will see more and more organizations increasing the adoption of social media but also increasing investments in leveraging the data generated and make strategic business decisions based on the insights thus obtained.
  8. Technology adoption for Emerging Markets: The dynamics in terms of technology adoption in emerging markets is unique and different from developed markets. For example, the adoption of mobile phones is higher than desktops in India. This requires a change in strategy in technology investments for pharmaceutical organizations. Similarly as the global nature of clinical trials increase, the technology available at some of the emerging market study sites is very different from US or EMEA study sites. This will demand a new technology approach to developing and deploying solutions to these markets.
  9. Global Regulations and increasing system complexity: As pharmaceutical customers introduce more and more products in emerging markets, they have to be compliant in terms of process and systems to meet the local regulatory needs. While there would be country/market specific regulations, the systems deployed to manage these processes are usually global in nature. This will increase the need for building systems compliant with multiple market regulatory compliance. For example a New Drug Application (NDA) can be submitted electronically in US and few other countries where as in some emerging countries these are still being submitted in paper form. This requirement will demand a system capable of reusing documents and content for multiple markets by taking the local regulations into consideration.
  10. Self-Assist Devices and Remote Monitoring: As stated earlier, due to increasing healthcare costs patients are trying to avoid hospital or clinical visits to the maximum extent possible. Healthcare and Pharmaceutical organizations are working towards providing devices that can be used by customers without much technical assistance. These devices should be monitored remotely and also data thus collected need to be pushed onto database systems for further analysis. This will pose challenges in terms of not only building easy interfaces to these systems but also ensuring accuracy and security of data.
  11. Healthcare and Pharmaceutical Industry Convergence:  Healthcare organizations like Providers and Payers have gigabytes and petabytes of longitudinal data that can be mined to make more informed decisions about the target patients for certain treatments as well as outcomes of treatments. There are industry initiatives like the Sentinel project to leverage this data. These initiatives will drive industry wise collaboration and integration of systems to exchange information. This will demand existing and new systems to adopt standards for information exchange as well as develop and implement new systems to leverage the information gathered through this collaboration. We will see more and more systems that will cut across those two sectors and help in the convergence.

As always, your feedback and critique is most welcome.

Is Functional Knowledge for IT Teams Over Rated?

I have been in the IT Industry for over 13 years now. I started my career as a developer. At that time, all that I cared about was whether I remember the right syntax to ensure that all the programs I code, compile right and execute without crashing. After that it was time for me to build products and solutions that solve business problems, thus started my journey into verticals / LOBs.

While I understand the need for some functional knowledge for developers, testers and other members of an IT team that would eventually be responsible for successful development, testing and deployment of an IT solution for a specific functional requirement, I happened to think that the degree of knowledge required varies. In my career as a developer I have changed verticals at least 5 times in the span of  7 years. Even with in a vertical, as you can imagine, there would be multiple functional areas. So, for example if you are working as an IT consultant in Life Sciences industry, the functional areas covered would range from R&D to Manufacturing & Supply Chain to Sales & Marketing. So, even if you try to restrict or focus in a specific vertical, it would still be hard for IT staff to be able to know it all across multiple functional areas.

So, my point is, when it comes to the expectations of various stakeholders responsible for an IT project, ideally you would want all the members of your IT team understand the functional nuances extremely well. However, that would hardly be the case. Hence you should be prepared for some learning curve for these teams. In this world of multitasking, parallel processing and maximum reuse, while it is reasonable to expect an IT specialist to be also an expert in his or her chosen domain / vertical it would not e practical and just.

So, what should one expect?

In my opinion:

1)  You need Subject Matter Expert(s) (SME), be it a Business Analyst or a Product Manager, you need at least one person in the team that would act as a bridge between the business and IT teams.

2) You would also need at least one technology person with very good functional/domain knowledge. This person could be a Technical Architect / Lead or another role. He/She should be able to translate the functional requirements to technical specifications.

3) There should be an “on-boarding” process for the rest of the team, that would ensure appropriate functional training as per the training requirements identified as part of project planning.

So, in essence, while the stakeholders would long for IT teams with absolute knowledge of the functional areas, that is hardly the case. As long as there is reasonable planning and effort to ensure the teams are equipped with enough knowledge to build, test and deliver an IT system that meets the requirements of the business, AS A TEAM, one should be content with employing the services of teams that are more technology focused and either have the functional knowledge or imparted the knowledge as part of “on-boarding”.

As always, feedback and comments are welcome.

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