The Evolution of Analytics: Have BI tools impacted the cost of providing relevant analytics?

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In the past decade or so, many life sciences companies have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars building commercial data warehouses –including determining complex ETL processes, designing detailed and aggregate tables, etc., all in an effort to get their arms around the enormous amount of syndicated and CRM data available to track sales and field force effectiveness. Overlaying this effort were typically custom designed reports or software to extract and report on the data. Managing this complexity took teams of people – either in house IT resources or expensive consultants – to discover the insights and get the reports delivered on time each week.

To design the “right report,” the Analytics team might take months surveying their constituents, determining relevant metrics, building mock-ups and reaching consensus. All of this effort took time, resources, and added workload to a team that would rather dedicate its efforts to more advanced, strategic analytics.

Today, the paradigm has shifted. Business Intelligence tools have entered the space with promises to quickly and easily allow your organization to design, build and deliver reports in a matter of days. The majority of these tools are industry agnostic and rely upon the user (i.e. “you”) to determine how the reports should be structured. With so many tools making similar promises, it’s worth asking: does the promise live up to the hype? Can an organization save money with one of these tools?

While every company’s experience is different, it can generally be said that BI tools have taken away a lot of the technical costs of designing and producing custom reports. Still, other costs remain and one should consider the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). In addition to the software licensing fees (which may increase yearly), time to deployment and report modifications need to be factored in.

In terms of deployment, people first need to be trained on how to actually use the tool. And, the issue still remains of analytical team’s time designing these reports in the first place. Someone still has to determine the appropriate KPIs, the right look and feel, the drill downs, the dashboards and the like – all with a varied user base from Sales to Marketing to Managed Markets. None of this pain has gone away and everyone still has an opinion that needs to be acknowledged. For the many companies that decide to build them in house, oftentimes the well-meaning IT department just doesn’t know what a rep in the field needs to manage his business or what a formulary status is; they are very removed from commercial business processes. Additionally, the IT Department may be deploying the tool enterprise-wide and taxed with varying demands on their time.

So, a series of business requirements, technical designs and mock-ups are passed back and forth between the Commercial team and IT until eventually a consensus is reached – all while learning how to use a new BI tool and its capabilities and shortcomings. All of this development time adds up and impacts the project’s TCO.

And, once the final, production version of the reports is released, what about the inevitable modifications? Somebody requests a new KPI. A competitor enters the market. You add a new sales team or change the territory alignment. Or perhaps, you are lucky enough to launch a new drug or device. Are you ready for all of these quick changes or new reports?

Suddenly, the process begins all over again. Oh, and the IT Department has now moved onto implementing the BI tool with another group within the enterprise. Once again, the TCO (and your timeline) is impacted.

So at the end of the day, did you realize the savings you expected? Certainly from a resource perspective, staff is just as involved as they were before. And, relying on in-house expertise to implement a generic tool may not allow you to reach the best-in-class analytics that you are seeking.

Working with an experienced vendor, focused on your industry, alleviates many of these issues. The data is known and reports are already designed to deliver the best analytical insights suited to your needs. And with a SaaS model, the time and pain of change management is resolved. Need something changed? Pick up the phone and it is quickly completed. All of this can be done at a reasonable cost, particularly when the costs of your internal resources – from Analytics to IT – are factored into the true TCO equation.