Winning with Wireless Solutions

August 1, 2002

Pharmaceutical Executive

Pharmaceutical Executive, Pharmaceutical Executive-08-02-2002,

Many industries today are looking to mobile and wireless solutions or handheld devices to improve business efficiencies, create more effective customer interactions, and deliver business value.

Many industries today are looking to mobile and wireless solutions or handheld devices to improve business efficiencies, create more effective customer interactions, and deliver business value.

Those benefits are especially clear in the pharmaceutical industry, where communications are complicated by fragmented sales forces, broad product lines, dispersed caregivers and patients, overloaded physicians, and changing information. Mobile communication tools can unify a company and bolster sales, marketing, and operational efforts. But there are pitfalls to success that companies may overlook until it's too late. Often, managers are quick to rush into a new technology to solve a minor obstacle without exploring the underlying business issues and processes that created the block. But in the excitement that attends new technology, red flags such as a weakly defined business problem or lack of target metrics can pass unnoticed. This article outlines five common pitfalls to avoid when implementing mobile technology.

Solving the Wrong Problem

Without a concrete strategy and a well-defined business problem, a mobile communication tool is irrelevant. That tool needs to be part of a larger approach. Too many companies deploy technology for nonessentials and find themselves wondering what went wrong. Failure to clearly delineate a business problem when it first emerges can lead to a variety of difficulties, such as a lack of project ownership, lengthy implementations, low user adoption, and wasted investments. So, it is critical to define the business strategy before investing in new tools to solve a problem.

With pharma sales forces, if the key issue is improving relationships and gaining mindshare with high-prescribing physicians, the corresponding mobile solution may involve providing sales reps with clinical knowledge, prescriber history, just-in-time product collateral, and call history-enhancing each detail and building credibility with doctors. If low productivity is an issue, then enabling reps to conduct administrative tasks electronically on their handheld devices during down time could be the most important part of the solution. Concisely defining a problem, such as workforce efficiency, asset productivity, cost control, or customer satisfaction will drive the design of an appropriate and effective mobile solution. Companies that do so will realize the greatest returns.

What Doctors Say

Success Tip: Business strategy leads mobile strategy.

Employee Behavior Doesn't Change

Assessing the impact of mobile technology on employees is critical. If improving information flow fails to motivate them, a mobile solution won't fix the problem. Eliminating paper-based processes or enabling better decisions can change user behavior and translate into real value. But simply facilitating information flow, without affecting employee behavior or field patterns, will never solve a specific business problem.

When automating sample management, for instance, pharma companies must ask if the technology will

  • eliminate data entry

  • improve compliance

  • enable sales reps to spend more time with doctors

  • provide management with a more complete view of sales data so they can recognize patterns quickly.

If so, a mobile solution will certainly drive employee action and would be a worthwhile information technology (IT) investment. If not, then other investments may bring a higher return.

Success Tip: Employee action creates value.

Lack of Metrics

In a competitive business environment, pharma companies can't spare resources for a mobile investment without a way to measure its value. Managers should clearly define benchmarks for improvement early, before they deploy the first handheld application.

But there is no such thing as a "mobile metric." The impact of mobile communications tools should be measured using the same criteria that are fundamental to the core business. If mobility fails to affect at least one of the company's top performance metrics, then a critical business problem is going unsolved. It is also important to think through, in advance, the timeline for expected benefits.

A mobile sales application that increases information flow and management insight to field activity will likely be measured initially by call reporting quality and frequency, then by sales rep productivity-calls per day and numbers of physician covered-and ultimately by improved rep–physician interactions such as call completion, call duration, call frequency, physician satisfaction, and market share. Establishing those types of clear metrics up front will help steer a project toward success over time.

Success Tip: Measurement drives learning.

Short-Term Decisions Equal Long-Term Pain

Getting lost in the "wow" factor of mobile technology is a dangerous, yet all-too-common, scenario. It is important to carefully consider information flow and an effective solution that will stand the test of time. By not considering the long-term implications, decision makers get into trouble investing in inappropriate mobile systems or devices because they are excited by the possibilities created by technology hype. Companies must ask:

  • What happens when platforms or networks change?

  • What happens when business processes change?

Managers who make significant mobile investments in response to the need for a quick fix may find those tools redundant or obsolete tomorrow. Consider team selling: If one sales force uses Pocket PCs and another has standardized its systems on Palm OS devices, what happens if an organization's team-selling approach involves both groups in the future? How will they communicate with each other and the back-end IT systems? Companies must factor in deployment, training, networking, and most important, the flexibility to maintain applications, support upgrades, and adapt to changes in business process and technology.

Finding the right mobile solution is much more important than getting on the latest bandwagon. Is instant wireless connectivity critical to the business? Will integrated PDA/phone combos drive productivity? Perhaps, but their effectiveness varies from vendor to vendor. The best approach initially is to set the technology aside and focus on understanding the users' workflow, the information they need, and the format that will best drive effectiveness and productivity. The next step is deciding which technologies will meet those requirements. Services such as wireless data access may be unnecessary if most critical information is static during the day. The only guarantee is that business processes and information flows will change over time, and any mobile solution must have the flexibility to change with them.

Success Tip: Roll out today with a plan for the future.

Forgotten Users

In employing a new technology, companies often ignore its effect on end users. That knowledge can have a great impact on the adoption of a new system. Nowhere is that more relevant than for a mobile solution, which, by its very nature, is critical to the daily workflow. Paying close attention to users' needs ensures that the mobile solution is practical and can be easily integrated into existing workflows.

User interfaces are particularly important. Well-designed ones will drive adoption and usage. Those that are poorly thought through-a common mistake is porting desktop applications to handheld devices-will result in disenchanted users who employ PDAs as costly paperweights. Most users won't master or accept extensive text entry on a handheld. Enabling drop-down menus and eliminating scrolling to allow full information entry in seconds are important factors in driving adoption.

Hospital management is a field rich in opportunities for automating and streamlining administrative processes. Prescribing medication can be more efficient through handheld devices, but doctors don't want to stand around tapping out the details. Instead, a well-designed mobile prescription application enables physicians to quickly check boxes or select from a drop-down menu to prescribe medications and manage rounds. But if using the mobile application takes longer than a doctor's existing process, it will be abandoned.

Understanding the end user is especially important with patient applications. Pharma companies that want to mobilize patient diaries to allow individuals to track medication compliance, side effects, or diet and lifestyle events, must understand how that information would otherwise be recorded. Chances are, patients are not sitting down at a computer to record the details each time they take a medication. More likely they are jotting down notes here and there, perhaps sticking a series of post-its on the refrigerator and undoubtedly losing a few details along the way. Successfully replacing that paper scenario requires understanding existing habits and making the user's transition to a mobile system easy and intuitive.

Success Tip: Mobile applications must be user-friendly.

Removing the Roadblocks

Corporate budgets have been hard hit recently, and the pharma and healthcare industries are no exception. Across the healthcare value chain from pharma sales and marketing to clinical trials, to patient care, to hospital operations, carefully planned and executed mobile solutions represent one of the most cost-effective investments they can make to enjoy a rapid return on investment and significant long-term benefits. But, as with any solution, the challenges can be complex and the companies that take a pragmatic, business-driven view will realize true value.

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