Harnessing the Power
There are other, more behind-the-scenes facets of the industry that could also benefit from cloud computing. For example,
getting drugs from the distribution centers to the pharmacies that need them is a time-consuming process full of complicated
paperwork ... until you leverage the cloud. Application service provider Legisym, for example, creates cloud-based solutions
for drug manufacturers and distributors to help facilitate the process of getting those drugs to the pharmacies and hospitals
without all the traditional headaches.
"When hundreds or thousands of pharmacies all over the nation are supplied by a single distributor, it's very difficult to
install software on all those client machines, all those desktops around the nation that communicate with your server. Instead,
allow the Internet to be the network, the backbone," explains David Kessler, chief business officer of Legisym. "In the past,
every time a pharmacy needed to purchase morphine, they would have to fill out a form and send it to their supplier. And their
supplier couldn't fill and ship that order until they received that hard copy form. Now they get to toss the paperwork out
and that order comes electronically."
That ability to work seamlessly—across borders—is something pharma should not underestimate. "As people in Asia end their
day, teams with whom they are collaborating in Europe can wake up, respond to requests, and continue the work; then, as they
end their day, teams in North America can take the baton and keep things progressing despite the fact that their Asian and
European colleagues may be asleep. As the Asia teams wake up, they will see answers to their questions, progress on tasks,
and pose new questions—all of which occurred in the cloud," says Linda Bowers, vice president of life sciences product marketing
for IntraLinks, which delivers technology solutions to clients across many industries, including life sciences. "This allows
pharma to move at a faster pace, have critical insight required to make important decisions, and to course-correct in a way
that simply isn't possible in a traditional, paper-based environment."
Other companies, such as Angel, use cloud technology to make customer service for their healthcare clients run more smoothly.
Angel uses a cloud platform for services like Interactive Voice Response (IVR) technology, which is the stuff automatic call
centers are made of. "If you're somebody like AstraZeneca or Pfizer with a large call center of agents, the Angel platform
helps you manage your calls and those agents and how customers interact with those agents," says Keane. AstraZeneca started
using Angel's cloud-based technology for its customer satisfaction surveys, and has since branched out, using cloud technology
for everything from call center management to branded discount and coupon codes.
Dave Tolliver of Angel explains: "When a brand has a savings card, which can be used to help get medication into the hands
of a consumer, it allows the patient to get a discount on their first prescription fill or a set of fills. They call in to
an Angel phone line and activate that savings card, walking through an automated system. It captures the patient's name and
other contact information and passes that to AstraZeneca, and the consumer can then use the card to have a prescription filled
with the discount."
Angel and AstraZeneca are both aware of sensitive patient privacy issues when it comes to collecting such information for
savings cards. The patient is asked for information including savings card number, date of birth, name, and address. If the
information is intended for use for any purposes other than the activation of that particular savings card, such as future
coupon offers, the patient is offered an opt-in option. The data is passed from Angel to AstraZeneca in an encrypted format
to ensure complete confidentiality and compliance to privacy regulations.
"By virtue of the cloud-based technologies and the platform that Angel has, pharma companies have expanded to other methods
of communication that they've never even had before, such as Click to Call, Click to Chat, e-mail notifications ... all these
multichannel modes of interacting with their consumers. And their goal is really to provide any channel for their consumers
to interact with them," says Tolliver.
Other uses for the cloud in healthcare include nonprofits tracking grant requests and applications, patient data management,
intranet communication websites, and video conferencing software. While these elements might not be as glamorous or as high
profile as R&D, these functions are still vital cogs that keep the healthcare machine running smoothly.
"Microsoft certainly has bet its future on the cloud," confesses Naimoli. "I think it's a hugely disruptive source of innovation,
and that's not bad. Disruptive technology is technology that allows you to do things differently and changes the fundamental
way in which things are done. It's really going to change things for the industry. The industry is under such pressure right
now that they're really looking for anything that can help give them the advantage they need."
Pharma Above and Beyond
Though pharma has been traditionally slow to adapt to new technologies, in large part because of the strict regulatory environment,
it seems that cloud computing is the way of the future for the industry. "I think that cloud computing will grow over the
next decade because it's going to allow a much more niche market—much more focused best-of-breed applications—to reach a much
bigger audience," says Kessler.
In fact, all the experts Pharm Exec spoke with agree that cloud computing will eventually become a vital part of the way industry does business. But some caution
that it is not going to be an overnight process. "Because this is relatively new, and we know how long it takes to go from
the test tube to the market, we're not going to really start seeing the benefits from this tool for a few years," predicts
Edgerton. "I think that pharmaceutical companies are less willing to take a chance until they see the mistakes that everyone
else in other industries make."
Fast or slow, first to adopt or last-minute knuckle-draggers, there's just no doubt that pharma is on its way to becoming
a cloud-based industry. "We're always a little bit behind when it comes to using the latest and greatest because we are such
a heavily regulated industry, and that makes a lot of sense—we have to be conservative," says Doyle. "But we're starting to
get to the point where cloud computing is really becoming the norm."
So, what is next for an industry typically behind the tech curve? "The future will offer us the opportunity to look at cloud
solutions in a different light," says Neeraj Singhal, vice president of product strategy and innovation, at Cegedim Relationship
Management, "beyond just being a higher ROI, a lower cost structure, or a faster time-to-value enabler, which is perhaps the
most common business case today to leverage the cloud. One likely scenario is that businesses will seek a more integrated
experience along a business process where components of the process operate in different or multiple types of cloud environments.
Cloud computing is here to stay and it will become as common as ice cream or apple pie."
And there will be plenty of spoons to go around.