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Feature

How pharma firms can make best use of their ‘big data’

Posted on: 28 May 12
How pharma firms can make best use of their ‘big data’

Summary

There has never been so much data in the world as there is now - how can pharmaceutical companies make sense of these increasing volumes of data, both for marketing and regulatory purposes? Stephen Dunnigan of business intelligence firm MicroStrategy looks at how technology can help unlock the potential of big data.

There has never been so much data in the world as there is now - how can pharmaceutical companies make sense of these increasing volumes of data, both for marketing and regulatory purposes? Stephen Dunnigan of business intelligence firm MicroStrategy looks at how technology can help unlock the potential of big data.

The pharmaceutical industry has always been one that creates large volumes of data. The leading companies are large, multi-national organisations with an on-going and critical requirement for information and data is generated from R&D, compliance issues, testing, clinical trials, doctor / patient information and much much more.

In 2012, there is so much information and data generated in business that it has been given its own name, ‘big data’. Not only is the sheer volume of data huge but it is the variety, complexity and depth that make it possible for pharma firms to drive levels of insight and understanding that have not been possible before.

“Managing and mining big data at scale brings a certain set of challenges and pharma firms must meet these head on to use data to make informed and intelligent business decisions.”

A deluge of pharma data
Business intelligence (BI) is by no means restricted to the pharmaceutical industry of course. Businesses of all types and sectors can benefit from the value and insight offered by BI, which has grown more and more sophisticated over the years to the point that to find any major business without a BI solution is extremely rare.

But perhaps pharmaceutical companies have a more pronounced need for BI. The cost involved in bringing a drug to market is incredibly high and it is imperative that risk is mitigated as much as possible, or the cost of non-compliance issues could take budgets to unacceptable levels.
Whether a business sells drugs or other pharmaceutical products, large volumes of information are involved. This information must be meaningful and impactful and to so must be integrated with data from all across the rest of the business. It must then be delivered in an easily-digestible format that allows executives to make informed business decisions swiftly and easily.

A typical scenario when bringing a drug to market will involve a large volume of patient and practitioner clinical trials and data will captured across geographies, in different formats and languages. One a drug has been thoroughly tested the business then must secure approval from the relevant regulatory bodies, again potentially across a number of territories.

Using this data to understanding trends and identify potential issues could mean the difference between a successful launch and a drug being late to market. So making sense of all this ‘Big Data’ is an important and significant challenge. The increasing sophistication and power of BI solutions is essential if pharma firms are going to navigate the mind-boggling volume of data that is now generated.

Addressing big data
So big data has untold potential for pharma businesses looking for insight and intelligence but what is the best way to make sense of it all? There is certainly a requirement for a change in thinking on the part of many individuals that work within data in an organisation. Traditional data warehousing for example, requires far too much ongoing configuration and resources to cope with the growing volume of data and the employing of swathes of database administrators is not sustainable. There must be new ways of loading data, storing it and reducing the cost and man-hours involved in analyzing and managing it.

This certainly isn’t the traditional database, which lack the power to analyse big data, so increasingly for businesses that means a data warehouse. These can be costly but are generally considered the most effective way to address the challenges posed by machine generated big data. “Big data is not just about size though – it also takes in variety, complexity and depth, all of which require the right BI tools.” So in addition to a data warehouse, to really understand big data and ensure that it provides the desired insight, an organisation must have the right BI solution. Not only must this integrate seamlessly with the data warehouse, it must also have the power to run analytical queries against massive amounts of data that help make informed decisions within seconds.

The future of BI and big data
So big data in pharmaceuticals is rich with potential and and pharma businesses must embrace big data and the technology required to maximise its potential. The insight it can provide is unparalleled and potentially places the pharma CIO in a new light. Technology has generally been a reactive discipline. But the provision and analysis of this data enables the CIO to take a much more dynamic and entrepreneurial role in the business, driving new revenue streams and initiating new innovations, all based on the insight provided by big data.

Stephen Dunnigan is UK Country Manager of MicroStrategy, the world’s largest pure-play BI vendor that works with firms such as Novartis Pharmaceuticals, Wyeth and AstraZeneca

Stephen Dunnigan

Last updated on: 28/05/2012 10:26:35

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