BPM in the Pharmaceutical Industry

Being an ex-pharma employee myself (no names here, but the company invented Prozac...), I was interested to read the CIO.com article about the use of BPM products in the pharmaceutical industry.

The article itself (by David Carr) applies to Wyeth Pharamaceuticals, but I know from experience that the concepts and issues identified would be applicable to any and all pharma companies.

The thing that makes this interesting is that the driver for the BPM work actually came from the R&D function. In my experience the R&D function is very freewheeling and one of the last parts of a Pharma company to promote adherence to standards. This is particularly true of technology, for example, where non-standard applications and systems are rife. However as the Wyeth CIO Jeffrey E. Keisling mentions, they were looking at results rather than technology adherence. The key result of this initial phase of work is that they were able to streamline the process for label creation (This is an extremely time consuming and fiddly process where data from diverse parts of the organisation has to be collated, analysed and presented in a manner which is acceptable to regulator authorities).

What is less surprising is the way in which BPM has ben embraced within the IT part of the orgaisation. One senior IT person is quoted as saying that with the use of the Metastorm BPM tool they have been able to reduce the cycle time for program development to a point where they are doing twice as many projects in a year as they had planned. Now don't misinterpet this to mean that they software helps them code programs twice as fast, my reading of the situation is that it doesn't completely eliminates the need for a software development effort on the projects. What happens is that a business analyst can do more of the up-front work of defining a business process, but there is still additional effort needed to integrate the systems that must work with the BPM software. However, overall the cycle time is lower.

As I mentioned above Wheth have done this using the Metastorm BPM tool. On of the problems they have found with this tool, though is that it is very IT-centric. To combat that they have started to implement the Provision modelling tool. This is a more user-focused tool that allows processes to be modelled intuitively then permitting them to be dropped into the BPM tool for coding up.

Feel free to read the complete article as it has some excellent points, but if you don't wish to wade through 5 screens worth of text I have extracted the following 'gems' from the article, which I think apply to process management in general

1) Do whatever is needed to get buy-in for this. Wyeth had stonrg push-back for purchasing the BPM tool as folks thought it replicated functionality they had in other existing tools. They were able to convince them of the business benefit of doing this

2) When you have the buy-in, build the competence. Wyeth are building a Centre of Excellence which is something they only do for strategic parts of the business. This has the dual benefit of creating a single organisation responsible for standards and metrics as well as providing resource to help build and improve the process management capability

3) Start small, go viral. Wyeth took the same approach I did with BPM in Pharma - they started small. Instead of rolling out a large project encompassing all areas of the business they identified a smaller, key project that would benefit, succesfully rolled this out and stood back. Other parts of the organisation saw the succes, decided they wanted that as well, and it went viral. This is, by far, the easiest way of implementing major change in an organisation.

4) Bust the silo's. For Wyeth, the decision to focus on BPM emerged from an analysis of where the research systems group was putting its energy. The tendency was to create systems from scratch each time and build them in-house. On top of that the focus on transactional systems was shifted more towards integration of systems rather than improving transactional systems. This meant identifying individual processes within a system and then tying these processes together across systems. This, effectively, meant busting the traditional silo mentality which resides in many large , well established companies.

This article corresponds very closely with my own experience implementing processes within the Pharma industry. The very tight governance and regulatory aspect makes every job more difficult and time consuming than with many other industries. This causes a great deal of inertia in companies in embracing change. But by following some of the tips here and emulating both Wyeth and my last company, it shows that this inertia can be overcome to great benefit.

Photo courtesy of Rodrigo Senna
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