SaaS Business Intelligence - it just makes sense

I spoke recently to the commercial leaders of a well-established pharma company who were relaying their frustrations with their current data and business intelligence environment. The complaints were ones I hear frequently – “it’s slow and inflexible,” “it doesn’t contain all of our data and we have quality issues,” “it’s inflexible, complex and expensive to maintain,” “the analytics are not relevant to the changing business.” This particular Sales Operations group was considering options for enhancing their analytic capabilities and was considering “rebuilding” portions of the company’s enterprise data warehouse to meet their needs. This was an undertaking that was projected to take almost two years to complete and would result in internal demand on technical and business resources that simply wasn’t there. In the meantime the organization would be stuck in the equivalent of the Dark Ages when it came to sales and customer analytics and intelligence. This didn’t make sense to those leaders who needed insights today, and it was difficult to rationalize business as usual when the current solution wasn’t meeting expectations.

When I asked if they had built their new CRM system from the ground up, the obvious answer was no. They had recently implemented a leading SaaS CRM solution that replaced a cumbersome in-house one and the same was true for their newly launched Closed Loop Marketing System. When I asked why they were only considering “building” their data and reporting system, their response was that they didn’t know other options existed.

There remains a deep-rooted belief in pharma that data and reporting systems need to be managed internally. It exists for a number of reasons, most of which don’t apply today.

  • Security – data was once believed to be sacred; to expose it to third parties or internet accessible systems could lead to a corporate breach.
  • Lack of solutions – SaaS-based business-focused commercially available data integration solutions have not been mainstream.
  • Expertise – the thought that only IT and engineering teams could build and manage such complex solutions.
  • Corporate hub – the idea that data could only exist in one place and serve the entire organization from the same physical system.

Security alone is not a reason to silo your data. Your organization is likely already hosting sensitive data outside of the four walls. If you deploy a SaaS-based CRM system such as Salesforce.com, your customer data is being managed in the cloud. Many HRS and ERP functions are internet-enabled and comply with the strictest data privacy laws. The security issue has largely been solved with SaaS solutions and is no longer a barrier to entry.

Traditional mainstream data and business intelligence solutions are big, cumbersome, and  difficult to maintain. Not only has there been a lack of pharma specific solutions, the ones that do exist require a monumental effort to design, customize and implement. Couple this with yearly upgrades, support teams, engineering and infrastructure, and you end up with a system that rarely meets Sales and Marketing needs. Better solutions exist today that are nimble and adaptive, pharma-centric, cost-effective and deliver more value than legacy systems. If the benefits of SaaS are appropriate for your CRM, the same is true for your commercial analytics solution.

Additionally, the SaaS era has brought with it the need for less IT expertise in your organization. All application and software upgrades and improvements are managed by the vendor, further reducing the burden on internal IT teams, and lessening the reliance on the engineering of the solution.  Complexity is removed with the productization of complex activities once thought only IT could handle. SaaS solutions remove the technology and engineering barrier and put the focus on the business and the opportunities the solution can provide. Pharma is in the business of developing and commercializing products that improve the health and wellbeing of their patients – not developing software.

While I’m a proponent of SaaS BI solutions, I’m not advocating against enterprise data warehouses (EDW); there is a time and a place for them. But I’ve seen the corporate chokehold of data cripple commercial teams in some of the most sophisticated organizations. Sales and marketing by virtue is a nimble and responsive organization that operates in real-time, competitive markets. Data and insights are the lifeblood of 1) decision making, 2) calling tactics and strategy, 3) understanding your customer and 4) determining performance cause and effect. Commercial teams require analytic solutions that can keep up and deliver real value through contextual and timely insight. The corporate EDW is rarely designed with these values in mind and hence rarely meets expectations.

The good news is that organizations are no longer bound to slow-moving legacy solutions that do not adapt to the ever-changing life sciences business. SaaS technology has brought remarkable improvements in the speed and agility in which pharma can process data and deliver insights. For an industry in need of flexible, intuitive, cost-effective BI solutions, it just makes sense.