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Optimizing the value of data in life sciences

This article appears in the issue March 2012 (100 Companies) [Vol 21, Issue 3]
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Pharmaceutical and life sciences companies and their partners are turning to knowledge management solutions to provide competitive intelligence, trace accounts payables and invoices, deliver critical information and confirm the effectiveness of drug treatments.

Due to the complexity of human reaction to pharmaceuticals, universities, medical professionals and others have been researching medicines for years, producing vast libraries of information. But for that biopharmaceutical research to be useful, there must be a way to cull through and turn it into actionable  business intelligence (BI), says Brigham Hyde, managing director of Relay Technology Management. The company has amassed data that it aggregates to provide competitive business intelligence to pharmaceutical companies.

The company had used SQL queries to extract appropriate knowledge for its software-as-a-service (SaaS) clients, but it was a cumbersome process, requiring the development of SQL queries. So Relay sought a solution that would enable it to provide the knowledge much more simply. The company chose the Active Intelligence Engine (AIE) from Attivio to develop a new SaaS system. With the Attivio solution, Relay developed its new offering, the Relay Innovation Engine, six months ahead of schedule, and has recently started offering it to clients.

"Through the integration of AIE with Relay's proprietary system architecture, ontologies and quantification platform, the Relay Innovation Engine streamlines the time and complexity involved in sifting through large data sets and aggregating complex sources," Hyde says. The Relay solution enables clients to pull together structured and unstructured, but related, knowledge from a wide variety of different research sources.

Tracking payment knowledge

AmerisourceBergen, a wholesale distributor of pharmaceutical products, has found that one of its most difficult challenges in terms of knowledge management is tracking and reconciling payments and credits for the more than 1.2 million invoices it sends out each month, according to Manoj Kumar, director of enterprise application development.

Hospitals, pharmacies and other distributors of pharmaceuticals to consumers don't buy the products from the manufacturer, but instead from wholesalers like AmerisourceBergen. Yet the pharmaceutical company, not the wholesale distributor, sets the price, provides discounts and so on. The manufacturer notifies AmerisourceBergen about the changes, leaving the distributor to update invoices to hospitals and other clients.

The company had a homebuilt system to track and manage payments and invoices, but it was too difficult to integrate with newer accounts payable applications, causing a lot of time to be lost physically updating and reconciling price changes and credits, Kumar explains.

"There was a lot of data to manage, a lot of data," he emphasizes. "We were looking for a better way to automate that knowledge. We wanted to be able to turn this process from a cost center to a profit center." Customers who knew they would get quicker reconciliation of their payments and credits would be more likely to choose AmerisourceBergen than a competitor, he adds.

Kumar chose a solution from Metastorm (which was acquired by OpenText last year), and rolled it out in stages over

the past two years. Rather than AmerisourceBergen personnel going between the homegrown reconciliation system and the accounts payable system, as they had in the past, the solution enables the credit and reconciliation knowledge to seamlessly pass from one system to the other for notification and resolution. That has saved the company plenty of time and expense, according to Kumar, though he would not say how much, citing competitive reasons.

"There's nothing like this in the market," he adds. "This helps us manage any disputes." The next step will be to open up the application to enable customers to see their bills online. The company has yet to establish a time frame for that feature, which will also be rolled out in stages.

Protecting human test subjects

The testing of new pharmaceuticals goes through several stages, from initial conception and lab scenarios through actual tests on human subjects, the health of whom is protected in part through independent review of pharmaceutical testing procedures by companies like Copernicus Group Independent Review Board (cgirb.com). Copernicus historically would issue its findings to customers via paper documents, which could be very detailed and several pages long depending on the complexity of the testing.

The sheer volume of paper was becoming unwieldy in terms of printing, postage and storage costs, so Copernicus started the process of going paperless several years ago. But even going paperless in the office didn't solve the issue of the documents it was sending out to its clients, says David Mitchell, Copernicus' assistant director of e-systems and product management.

In late 2010, the company implemented CGIRB Connexus, its secure online customer portal. By integrating Connexus with an existing Xerox DocuShare solution, CGIRB made the switch to electronic records and transformed itself from a company with millions of pages of documentation into a completely digital, paperless organization. Connexus and Xerox DocuShare enable Copernicus Group IRB customers to see any pertinent documents online, eliminating the need to print and deliver them. In 2011, the first full year of use of Connexus, CGIRB has been able to dramatically speed up retrieval of documents and has saved a significant amount of money annually in paper, shipping, storage and manual filing costs.

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