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May 04, 2015
Sky’s the limit for life sciences companies using cloud—but there will be turbulence getting there
By: Andrea Brueckner

The life sciences industry isn’t typically known for being first movers when it comes to the latest technology—but the cloud is changing all that. Pharmaceutical companies have led the way with the adoption of cloud-based CRM systems to empower their field salesforces. As the industry selling model pivots toward the patient, capturing patients’ sensitive personal information in the cloud creates a whole new challenge.

Cloud takes regulations to a whole new level

Life sciences companies looking to extend cloud’s reach into the commercial space are encountering legitimate concerns with industry regulations regarding data protection, specifically what is collected and where it is stored. Cloud or not, these types of concerns have always been there, especially when we’re talking about sensitive patient information, but the cloud has certainly elevated the concern. Pharma companies are now starting to store data off premise and that’s where the situation becomes, well, cloudy. Simply encrypting data once won’t solve the issue. There are strict rules and regulations each time data leaves a country—a barrier that is especially a problem in Europe, where each country has its own set of guidelines.

Then there’s the issue of what data is deemed sensitive or not. For instance, when a drug company calls a doctor and records the conversation, the data is considered business related. However, when a drug company engages patients in conversations about their conditions, this data is considered highly sensitive, and additional regulations come into play. This is exactly what one medical device company is grappling with right now. The company has established a call center where patients can order replacement parts for their at-home medical devices. The problem lies in the type of data being stored. One can easily ascertain that a patient has a certain medical condition based simply on the fact that he or she is calling for specific replacement parts, and because of that, the data could be seen as sensitive in that it contains personal medical information.

Putting the cloud to work

For life sciences companies that can get past the stormy skies, there are big benefits in making cloud a core capability. In fact, cloud is helping many build the customer-centric, digitally-enabled commercial model of the future. One major pharma company improved its customer experience by quickly consolidating five disparate call centers into a single, integrated customer care center powered by cloud technology. In addition to an 11 percent reduction in operational costs, the solution increased agent productivity, decreased call-handling time and significantly improved customer care.[1] Social media on cloud-based platforms is also growing more important. Life sciences companies can use social media such as Salesforce.com’s Chatter to better collaborate with physicians, consumers and other members of the industry ecosystem. Such digital content is growing rapidly, and as the cloud matures, we will undoubtedly see more opportunities to distribute and reuse both structured and unstructured data.

From an intriguing idea to a core capability

As you can well imagine, encrypting and storing hardware in each country to meet different regulations can quickly blow your budget and ROI. To really benefit from the promises of cloud, life sciences companies will need to consider a number of key questions: How will they capture patients’ consent? How will they remove the data when it’s no longer needed? They may have received consent to capture the data, but have their patients given consent to use it? These are questions companies need to ask themselves often and early on when developing new strategies and channels for engaging patients. And then there are, of course, legitimate questions about how to implement the technology itself. Many companies are turning to cloud-based solutions, such as Veeva Commercial Cloud that are specifically designed for the life sciences industry for help.

Cloud-based technologies can eliminate geographic restrictions, allowing companies to collaborate in targeting patient populations, but as we’ve seen, there are strict regulations to comply with. Those that can fly through the turbulence will soon realize that the sky really can be the limit for the cloud in life sciences and its potential to create better patient outcomes.

Content contributor: Ian Talbot

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[1] Accenture Life Sciences Cloud for Commercial: http://www.accenture.com/SiteCollectionDocuments/PDF/Accenture-Life-Sciences-Cloud-for-Commercial-Services-Brochure.pdf

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