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Contract Research Organization (CRO) is playing a key role in the pharmaceutical industry, in the early and late stage of drug discovery service. IT industry is also evolving with more edge through technologies introduced recently, like: Cloud computing; Mobility; IoT; Computer learning capabilities etc.
All these mixed together brings lots of challenges as well as opportunities. The question of how to re-shape the IT services becomes critical, within the corporate IT boundary which also has an impact on the CRO business model. My role as CIO changed significantly in comparison to my previous experience in the Chemical Manufacturing industry with decent focusing on internal IT operation to more emphasize on business service re-design with IT solutions embedded.
In the CRO business model if we compare CRO service and IT service there are key commonalities which land on “Service”. A typical corporate IT service model is to make sure the key enterprise application portfolio and enterprise productivity solutions have capability to support the business initiatives and operation. Very seldom IT was considered as the key business value embedded to the service package for the end customers. In reality, with the CRO involved in drug discovery lifecycle and playing a significant role together with pharmaceutical R&D department, lots of the discovery work is carried on within the CRO organization. The interesting and challenging thing is, every pharmaceutical company has a quite different IT system managed within its company level standard structure. The CRO companies will have to adapt to misc systems during the discovery project lifecycle. This becomes a big challenge with huge impact on the delivery cycle time. Coming back to the pharmaceutical companies, to maintain a full complicated system doesn’t often justify its investment on the return.
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“The IT embedded CRO service is going to deliver a Cloud like total solution which will lead to drug discovery as a true pharmaceutical R&D one stop shopping”
IT solutions point of view over a common and standardized IT system portfolio which could be leveraged across different pharmaceutical customers will help tremendously to improve the efficiency; quality; collaboration and success. Cloud is in demand because of its successful landing in the IT infrastructure as a Service and Software as a Service. The IT embedded CRO service is going to deliver a Cloud like total solution and it will lead to drug discovery as a true pharmaceutical R&D one stop shopping.
When I am evaluating the IT embedded service model, there are several benefits:
• Significantly reduced duplicate IT Infrastructure capital investment across the board.
• Reduced Enterprise application portfolio complexity. The common used application like ELN doesn’t have any specialty among different pharmaceutical companies.
• Scale price breaks created by enterprise licensing agreements. The license spending is a huge investment but when evaluated the license utilization most of the time, one finds over procured license seat that generates zero value. The accumulative number across the board is quite big.
• Harmonization of core research data and driving for a “Big pharmaceutical” pool of data asset and improvement in research efficiency.
• Streamlining of core processes by using standard platform and IT core system.
• Shared operation cost is much less than the dedicated pool of resources and purchased services.
• Technical expertise and pharmaceutical specific IT knowledge base is a big intangible benefit Unfortunately the challenges could never be omitted. Some of the challenges will probably be the big constraints and major drawbacks:
• Data security and segregation between different CRO valued customers is obviously the biggest challenge. IP protection is the line of fire for the CRO. The major defensive reason for maintaining the in house IT service and setup is to have full control of the key data assets.
Eventually if the data security doesn’t have a good solution it will definitely be a key drawback.
• Comprehensive functionality needed by different pharmaceutical companies probably is not fully leveragable across the organizations. To meet all special requirements using a “One size fitting all” solution will be very challenging.
• Design a service consumption model is quite difficult. If using a simple model that common enterprise systems lead to smaller pharmaceutical companies having to pay for fully-loaded services that they don’t need.
• Change management in any of the project as well as change management in the service operation will become very hard and takes a long time to communicate; train ; stakeholder analysis etc.
• A large management overhead and increased need for managerial and consultative skills.
Ultimately this model’s true value will depend on different location with its maturity of CRO and IT services.
In the Asian countries it will probably be much easier to adopt because the local pharmaceutical industry is still developing and most of the companies don’t have legacy with their own systems. The one stop shop model with a mature embedded IT service into a CRO service will be more attractive.