Tales of Terrabytes

March 1, 2007
Bonnie Rishell, Archie Anderson
Successful Product Manager's Handbook

BI systems help pharma execs make decisions.

Wal-Mart. eBay. Citibank. All are leading companies in their fields. And all use business intelligence (BI) to gain competitive advantage in the marketplace.

BI involves capturing and managing data in order to use it to make strategic, managerial, and operational decisions at all levels. Wal-Mart, for example, relies on a business intelligence system that houses 600 terabytes of sales and inventory data and tracks a mushrooming pool of information from around the world. By using their system's pattern-recognition capabilities, Wal-Mart analysts recognized that customers tended to purchase orange juice and facial tissue at the same time and were able to boost sales by putting both items in close proximity.

Similarly, eBay's data-management system fields more than 750,000 queries a day from sellers who want detailed information on customer behavior, including insights on how buyers navigate the site and what makes them stop and click for more information.

Although these companies and other industry leaders are masters in the use of BI applications, pharmaceutical marketers are now beginning to take advantage of BI solutions and their power.

Data, Data Everywhere...

For pharma marketers, the need to turn available information into meaningful data has resulted in industry-specific BI applications. These systems are designed to support access to critical information to help industry professionals achieve specific goals: launching a new product or indication, gaining or protecting market share within a given therapeutic niche, growing the market within a therapeutic sub-niche, and repositioning a product.

Of course, the foundation for success lies in having a highly collaborative environment. At any given time, a product management team may be simultaneously trying to gain market share, protect against competitor encroachment, and launch a new indication. At the same time, the sales team will be busy supporting marketing initiatives for that brand by carefully planning and executing their activities in the field. Constant input from regulatory affairs, the clinical research team, and medical affairs also goes into the mix. And while much of this collaboration will play out in corporate meeting rooms, through e-mail, or via conference call, all facets of success will depend on the use of data—both internal and external—that's captured, organized, integrated, and easily accessible.

Based on the sheer size of their data warehouses, many pharma companies are members of the "multiple-terabyte club," with databases that store mind-boggling amounts and types of data. The right system can combine data management, data integration, reporting systems, and operational parameters that drive the entire system, and turn it into a powerful business intelligence resource.

KOL Influence and Competitive Business Intelligence

Business intelligence is supposed to help pharma executives make decisions: how to allocate resources, which positioning strategy to use, which audience to target, which messaging strategies to employ, and so on. Effective systems incorporate information that drives decision-making, including product analysis, market analysis, and brand strategy evaluation. This information helps provide answers to specific questions about the size of therapeutic markets (Are we talking about statins or patient-specific biologics?); the character of the market (Is it highly genericized?); and the best pricing strategy. Ultimately, systematically organized data compiled from various sources can help answer all of these questions.

The Central Role of the Key Opinion Leader

Beyond having access to fundamental information about a particular therapeutic market, the pharmaceutical industry relies on a specific type of business intelligence: key opinion leader (KOL) identification and influence mapping.

Two real-life examples of how such information can benefit a pharma company: 1) A renowned coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG) specialist is also recognized as an expert in blood conservation. Because of his particular specialty, this KOL was identified as an ideal speaker for a meeting attended by physicians who had a special interest in blood conservation. Inviting this physician to speak at a regional meeting, for example, would be likely to draw a targeted audience of physicians. 2) A company marketing a cancer treatment that included radiation gained access to reports that listed the preferred treatment centers used by target oncologists. This allowed the company to target physicians from this center for clinical research, presenters, or authors.

Systematic Analysis Trumps First Impressions

The true power of an effective business intelligence system is often not appreciated until analysts using the system discover uses that are completely unexpected and counterintuitive. Certainly, analysts at Wal-Mart would never have thought they'd find a pattern of consumer behavior that connects orange juice and facial tissues. Likewise, systematic business-intelligence-based analytics have proven extremely valuable to pharmaceutical executives looking to gain advantage in the marketplace. Top-line analysis simply cannot yield the insight needed to formulate a targeted communications campaign.

For example, analysts have discovered that certain KOLs, while not high prescribers, may be early adopters and exercise influence over a substantial percentage of the market. During a top-line superficial analysis based only on prescribing habits, these KOLs might be discarded, when in reality they might be key to driving brand success.

One case, in particular, demonstrates the power of systematic KOL profiling and influence-mapping. While trying to understand the adoption dynamics within a specific therapeutic niche, analysts at one pharma company were surprised to discover high levels of influence among young "rising stars" within local areas—physicians who would not have been recognized based on national ranking. One young KOL in particular had a higher market influence than the top 30 highly recognized national leaders. Focusing on such rising stars can give pharmaceutical companies a leading edge in their future marketing initiatives.

The effect of having this level of insight is similar to viewing a detailed map, complete with landmarks, street names, and topographical information. It allows managers to make bold tactical moves by harnessing the power of the KOL networks. Seen in isolation, these findings might be considered just strokes of luck. However, when used systematically this type of intelligence can be integrated with other data and can profoundly alter decision-making.

The IT Solution

The ability to integrate various types of information from different sources in one place that everyone in the organization can access is a vital part of an effective BI system. What is more, the system must drive collaboration among business units. This means that people throughout the company (sales and marketing, clinical research, compliance, etc.) are looking at the same information and using it appropriately. So while sales reps are using the information to focus on sales, for example, product managers can be using it to track KOL influence.

Thus, a key component of any BI system is its technological platform. While the ability to collect, store, secure, harness, and integrate data is the first step in the BI process, a secure, easy-to-use portal that allows collective access is essential; without it, stored data is a waste of space. The most efficient platforms use Web-based portals that facilitate secure, enterprise-wide sharing of information and have the ability to custom-generate reports. Shared access is critical, because when everyone has access to the same information, each person can customize data output to answer a question that specifically relates to his or her organizational role.

Finally, a BI system must have a dashboard— an interface that allows individual executives to view all information on one screen. Much like a dashboard in a car, it visually organizes information and encourages interactivity, while making it easier to assess various types of information at a glance. A built-in dashboard, which is always password-restricted, gives users instant access to any type of customizable data simply by logging on.

The Power of Predictive Analysis

With a good BI system in place, product managers should be able to engage in predictive analysis. For example, product managers could start building their product strategy with a series of queries: "I would like to develop a new vaccine for a specific type of cancer. How many people are expected to have this type of cancer in five years? What are the current treatment modalities? What is the treatment culture like?

These questions would then be followed up by a request to their BI system for customized reports as follows: "Generate a report providing a list of researchers in the Northeast who have reliable trial patient inventory. Also, provide a list of KOLs in oncology who have traditionally accepted novel treatment modalities early. Provide a graphic illustration of their influence networks."

Finally, they might follow up by engaging in scenario-building: "What happens if the epidemiological trends for this specific type of cancer changes radically in the next decade? What types of developmental costs will we incur? Is there a potentially unseen upside?" These are the kinds of thought-building process that can be expanded and enhanced through a sound BI system.

To be effective, BI needs to be used across functions. The marketing team will be able to obtain a list of target KOLs and possibly work with them to develop positioning and messaging strategies. The sales force will get a list of early adopters, and the clinical development team will have a basis for recruiting willing investigators. Assuming that the vaccine is approved, the brand manager will continue to rely on the business intelligence system as the brand evolves and faces new challenges. For example, further into the brand's lifecycle, influence networks will play a critical role in ensuring dynamic conversion—that is getting non-users to try the vaccine by understanding influence-driven adoption patterns.

Analytical capacity is only as powerful as the underlying data management system and the willingness of company associates to use it creatively and effectively. BI systems are continually evolving, constantly becoming more nuanced, detailed, integrated, and dimensional. For companies who rely on these systems, that's good news, because a good business intelligence solution not only supports collaborative effort, but can literally change the working environment, making it practically impossible to not communicate and collaborate.

Currently, some of the most groundbreaking BI solutions address goals like these by taking an integrated approach to identifying and profiling key opinion leaders (KOLs); mapping and understanding KOL and institutional influence patterns; integrating influence data with other data sources; and housing all of this data into a portal that can be easily accessed from anywhere in the world and that allows users to download critical information, reports, and up-to-date data. In fact, a well-calibrated system helps improve efficiencies and accelerate product adoption by allowing all individuals within an organization to access the system and generate reports that are actionable. What is more, once a company gains a better understanding of the dynamics of influence networks, it can formulate tactical initiatives.

Bonnie Rishell is CEO of ProLink Services. She can be reached at bonnie.rishell@prolinkservices.com.

Archie Anderson is vice president and co-founder of ROI2. He can be reached at and archieanderson@roi2.com