How pharmaceutical companies can utilise big data strategies

4 November 2013

Robert Walmsley

Robert Walmsley

Global SAP Alliances Director

It has long been established that in order to utilise big data, it needs to be controlled.  An HP study found the world created 150 Exabytes of digital data in 2005, while in 2010, it created eight times more. The digital age, including the use of mobile and tablet devices, has seen data grow on a massive scale.

Given such levels of growth - which will only increase - the pharmaceutical industry has sought new ways in getting the Big Data juggernaut under control. The IP & Science business of Thomson Reuters released, Big Data and the Needs of the Pharma Industry, a whitepaper offering new strategies for managing Big Data by using an array of technologies to convert it into more meaningful, accessible little forms of data.

If achieved, the gleaning of intelligence from large volumes of industrial data and analysing can give a business a competitive advantage, while turning industrial trends and patterns from noise into action. This brave new world could prove lucrative for forward thinking companies with eyes open to the benefits. The fact it’d directly affect the decision-making process would naturally see a trickling down across an entire organisation’s processes. What was seen as an industry obstacle has now evolved into potentially one of its great hopes. A McKinsey report released last January said “stakeholders that are committed to innovation and to challenging convention will likely be the first to reap the rewards of big data.”

Here are some ideas decision-makers at pharmaceutical companies should consider in order to adopt a more effective big data strategy.

Smarter decisions

Applying big data strategies to the decision making process could generate millions in additional income to the pharmaceutical industry. A unified approach to data must take as broad an interpretation of relevant information as possible.

This means information needs to include traditional structured data such as genomics databases or from manufacturing, finance, and CRM systems. This broad usage of data grants decision-makers access to the critical data that influences choices.

Predictive models also have the potential to tackle critical decisions in drug development, such as whether a clinical trial will be successful or whether a licensing deal will eventually lead to a drug. Billions of pounds rest on these decisions, but it is rare that all available relevant data is systematically employed to predict the probability of success. With Forbes reporting 19 out of 20 medicines in experimental development fail, having any improvement in ability to predict results is immensely valuable for companies.

Collaboration and the cloud

One of the big industry stories of this year was big data pioneers SAS announcing a collaborative effort with drug giant GlaxoSmithKline aimed at the global pharmaceutical industry. SAS started sponsoring the ongoing support and management of a globally accessible private cloud, giving the pharmaceutical industry a way of securely collaborating around anonymised clinical trial information.

In an industry where data and information is particularly sensitive, a shift to the cloud represents one of the best opportunities of harnessing databases. The benefits could prove instantaneous when tackling problems that have dogged the industry; namely untangling data problems that pharmaceutical companies face in collaborations and working with external groups.

Increase mobility

Effective use of big data has become integral to the finance and retail industries. But despite its importance in areas of research, data analytics has the potential to do much more if applied across the pharmaceutical enterprise. One model the industry has invested heavily in is customer relationship management.

A recent study from Nucleus Research said in the US that $5.60 was returned for every dollar spent on CRM. The study also found that mobile access to CRM applications increased salespeople’s productivity by 15%, while access to social capabilities improved their productivity by 12%. But why was this?

One of the factors is cited as increased mobility through devices. This gives salespeople particularly the chance to focus on the customer by keeping them in the loop of potential clients nearby. Taking advantage of the devices explosion is something manufacturers should strongly consider.

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About the author

Robert Walmsley

Global SAP Alliances Director

SAP evangelist. Accountant and programme manager

After moving from IT programming into ERP systems, I qualified as a management accountant in order to understand what my clients were going through. I have ended up helping clients of all sizes and sectors by providing business-focused solutions based on SAP technology and I now spend my time working with Bluefin and SAP account teams to facilitate joint solutions that have the capability of adding real business value to our joint clients.

I recognise that it is often a challenge just to get sufficient headspace in today’s world to understand what value current and future SAP offerings could have for an organisation– so I focus on harnessing the innovation taking place within Bluefin and making it accessible for my clients. This is anything from Big Data, Mobility and Cloud, to deliverables like process efficiencies and reporting in areas such as margins, plans and forecasts.

Outside of work you’re likely to find me struggling to keep my house and garden in some kind of order, or supporting one of my children on the sidelines of a rugby, football or tennis match.

Bluefin and SAP S/4HANA - welcome to the one horse race

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