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I was recently asked by a consulting client to explain the value of making site visits to suppliers of digital platforms. I believe in the value, but until I started spelling it out in more detail, I didn’t realize just how important I know it to be!

While it may be appropriate to make vendor decisions for smaller projects based on a proposal and a client-site presentation, that approach is probably inadequate for larger-scale (and long-term) digital platforms. Over the years, I’ve seen some sub-optimal digital learning/communication platform decisions. The results are not pretty.

I thought I’d share my reasoning with you, in case you’re thinking about adopting a major platform (especially for use with iPad deployment – many are now looking beyond individual apps to multi-functional systems for meetings, comms, training, etc.). Your comments and insights are most welcome in the comments:

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Evaluating digital solutions providers can be complex. Generally speaking, for a smaller-scale point solution (say, a specific app), it is not necessary to perform a site visit. However, for a large-scale solution that will be a strategic and growing communications platform, it is often worth a deeper look under the hood at the technology, and the solution provider (who will become a long-term partner).

Site visits: Better solution/company evaluation process

The four aspects of the platform that need to be analyzed more deeply are:

  1. Technology framework of the solution – specifically, how the underlying software is designed, and what interface capabilities it has (and will have) at the middleware and database level to work within a larger enterprise structure. This typically involves direct discussion with people in a software engineering role.
  2. Roadmap of the platform – it is vital to have a detailed discussion of how and why the solution evolved into its current state, and what the development plan is for the next 3-5 years. A snapshot of a solution at one moment in time is less revealing than a view of its developmental context. Digital provider and platform direction need to align with anticipated client needs.
  3. Current functionality – general group presentations often gloss over details of what actually works (and how it works). A more meticulous advance examination can reveal platform strengths and weaknesses. It’s also important to determine what is currently rolled-out to living clients, and what is still in an earlier development phase.
  4. User experience – many solutions seem great on static slides, or with brief, scripted demonstrations, but the overall user experience (for end users, administrators, and managers) needs to be carefully examined in-depth. The quality of the interface design will make or break the adoption of any system.

In addition, deeper interaction with multiple personnel at a potential supplier site can give a clearer sense of the corporate culture and talent pool, which often cannot be accurately detected at a client-site presentation with a few representatives. In most cases, this type of decision is just as much about the partner company as it is the specific technology solution.

Site visits: Better decision-making process

A visit on-site by an expert makes the entire platform evaluation process more efficient by allowing in-depth assessment with a range of technical and strategic personnel – many of whom cannot be uprooted to be part of a client sales presentation. Also, potential suppliers that don’t make the cut can be eliminated in advance instead of creating a waste of client (& supplier) time and money going through an entire sales presentation/proposal cycle, only to be found unsuitable later. In addition, client-site presentations can be made much more efficient as a variety of detailed questions can be pre-answered through the prior provider-site visit.

Site visits: Summary

PROs

-More in-depth look at the “guts” of select platforms

-More complete evaluation of user experience

-Deeper assessment of leading potential provider partners

-Potential elimination (or escalation) of particular providers earlier in the process

-More efficient use of client and provider personnel resources during process

CONs

-Up-front time/travel investment (1 person) for site visits

What do you think? Does your company do site visits for these larger-scale platform decisions? And do you employ consulting expertise in the process?

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Impactiviti is the Pharmaceutical Connection Agency. As the eHarmony of sales/training/marketing, we help our pharma/biotech clients find optimal outsource vendors through our unique trusted referral network. Need something? Ask Steve.

Learn more about us here.

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I’ll be attending two pharma-focused conferences during the autumn months of 2012 (both in Philadelphia) – hope to see many of you there!

ePatient Connections has become one of my favorite annual events. I love the mix of speakers, and the emphasis on healthcare from the patient (not merely industry) perspective. Great lineup of presenters as usual, including Mark Bard, Kevin Kruse, Arnie Friede, Carly Kuper, Kerri Sparling, and many others. More information can be found here.

Digital Pharma East is a wonderful gathering of everything tech/digital/mobile in the pharma and healthcare world. I really like the fact that there is a dedicated mobile day on the 18th. This is a great event for learning and networking! More information here.

Both of these events are put on by the fine folks at exl Pharma.

ALSO – on November 8th, I’ll be presenting (in conjunction with the Society of Pharmaceutical and Biotech Trainers) a one-day Successful Vendor Management workshop, in Florham Park, NJ. If there’s one area that seems to be consistently left out of on-boarding training for managers (training, marketing, & communications), it’s how to spec out and manage a project, and how to select and manage outsource vendors. We’ll be covering all of that in a practical and actionable manner during this well-received workshop – please join us! More information and registration here.

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Impactiviti is the Pharmaceutical Connection Agency. As the eHarmony of sales/training/marketing, we help our pharma/biotech clients find optimal outsource vendors through our unique trusted referral network. Need something? Ask Steve.

Learn more about us here.

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Over the past couple of decades, we’ve seen the slow, incremental incursion of computers (and the web) into the daily lives & workflows of both patients and healthcare providers. And drug companies. And everyone else.

Computers (and the Internet) are now ubiquitous. Just try to imagine life, and work, without them.

Watching the evolution of processor speed, interface design, enterprise apps, web technology, wireless access, and ever-shrinking form factors has been fascinating, perhaps even painful at times. Then the iPad showed up.

Two and a half years ago, when the first-generation iPad showed up, I predicted it would be a game-changer for healthcare; but frankly, the rapid adoption rate by doctors, patients, and provider companies (including pharma) has taken even me by surprise. The uptake, even in regulated industries, has been phenomenal.

Which means we now need to step back and ask a very important question: Is the mobile computing device destined to be the new (inter)face of healthcare?

My answer is a resounding “Yes” for one simple reason: smartphones and tablets are rapidly becoming the new interface of life and business. Period. End of story.

Within 2 years, portable devices will take on the mantle of “first-screen” status – that is, more people will be accessing digital-everything through mobile devices rather than through desktops. And that trend is accelerating, not slowing down. Already, about 62% of U.S. physicians are using tablets (mostly iPads, currently).

Quibble with me if you wish (you do have every right to be incorrect, after all!), but let’s grant, for the sake of argument, that personalized mobile computing devices will be the interface of life, business, and (therefore) healthcare.

If that is so – and I’m now turning to address my friends in pharma/biotech/med device companies – who is redesigning your entire business infrastructure and customer experience to reflect this inevitability? Anyone?

The “face” of your company to patients and doctors has traditionally been a human face (sales reps, for instance) – but we know where the field sales model is heading. The digital noise of broadcast TV and websites and banner ads – these models are all based on non-mobile computing approaches. The new channel is in the pockets of our customers – all of our customers.

This transcends being merely a training, or sales, or marketing, or technology issue. This is much bigger. It is fundamentally an interface issue. The entire healthcare information and delivery cycle will become “mobilized.” For the smart life sciences companies, that means at least one sure-bet avenue for competitive advantage – get ahead of this trend. Even if you have to take a go-slow approach to social media, the mobile interface is not going to be optional or off-label. It’ll be first-line.

And don’t get hung up on Apple vs Android, etc., etc. Flavors and versions are secondary. The inexorable mobile trend is primary.

Person-to-person contact will never lose its importance in healthcare (or life, or business). But when you look at how patients and doctors and administrators and caregivers and news outlets and everyone else is interfacing with information and with each other, the writing is on the wall. Or, more accurately, on the tablet. And the new “writing” is digital, multimedia, personalized, real-time, geographically aware, and mobile. It’s the new normal. Today.

As the great hockey player Wayne Gretzky put it, you need to “go to where the puck is going to be.” That place is in customers’ pockets. If you’re not in the process of thoroughly mobilizing your business, you’re already behind.

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Impactiviti is the Pharmaceutical Connection Agency. As the eHarmony of sales/training/marketing, we help our pharma/biotech clients find optimal outsource vendors through our unique trusted referral network. Need something? Ask Steve.

Learn more about us here.

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I’m a big fan of assessment tools – anything that helps us get a better grasp of who we are, how we function, and what we do best SHOULD (all other things being equal) lead to better work outcomes.

It won’t change a wobbling company, or a bad manager, but a solid self-awareness should help professionals improve performance and make better decisions.

Recently, I took the SDI (Strength Deployment Inventory) and it was eye-opening. Years ago, I went through the StrengthsFinder exercise and I have to say, it was life-changing. Finally, many of my drives, abilities, and weaknesses came into focus. It helped propel my journey into realizing that I was more a consultant than a salesperson.

I just finished reading a book on my iPad for the first time (always have favored real paper, but the e-book was actually quite a pleasant experience) – the folks that put out the SDI (Personal Strengths Publishing) just published a book called Have A Nice Conflict, which is about our motivation styles (in general, and then in conflict – interesting thesis). They are now an Impactiviti partner, so if you’d like to find out more, let me know.

What assessments have you found helpful, for you and for your sales/management teams? Everyone uses DISC, it seems (I have partners who can help with this, too, by the way!). Has your department used assessments in such as a way as to drive significant change in training, and behaviors? What approaches seem to work best?

If you have any particular program or provider you would most highly recommend, what/who would it be? Let me know in the comments or in a private e-mail (stevew at impactiviti dot com) – I’d love to get feedback on your experiences.

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Impactiviti is the Pharmaceutical Connection Agency. As the eHarmony of sales/training/marketing, we help our pharma/biotech clients find optimal outsource vendors for training, eMarketing, social media, and more.

Learn more about us here.

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Last week, I had the privilege of once again attending the Digital Pharma East conference (put on by my friends at ExL Pharma). I have attended most or all of these annual events in past years, and have enjoyed watching it grow and morph. Grow it has – this time there were about 600 attendees, and a very full exhibit hall! Kudos to the team (Bryon Main, Jason Youner, Jayson Mercado) and  the two co-chairs (Marc Monseau and Shwen Gwee) for an exceptional job organizing and running the show.

When covering these events, I tend to give immediate, real-time impressions and factoids via my @Impactiviti twitter account, then after a few days reflection, write up a blog post giving higher-level observations and thoughts. This post is that!

1. The Mobile Bandwagon – The exhibit hall was filled with companies showing off mobile tech, and one entire extra conference day was dedicated to mobile. As well it should be – mobile is rapidly becoming the new normal. Frighteningly, we saw plenty of statistics showing how woefully behind the 8-ball many pharma (and other) companies are in having even their basic web sites mobile-optimized – let alone having a well-thought out mobile strategy. The awareness that mobile devices (smartphones and tablets) are rapidly moving into first-screen status simply has not sunk into the place where practical implementation is being done. That will change!! (note to pharma clients and vendors – this is the lowest-hanging fruit imaginable).

2. Mobile is huge – The adoption rate of mobile devices among doctors (especially iPhones and iPads) is breathtaking. These devices are being integrated increasingly into the healthcare delivery chain. Pharma companies are (or should be) looking for ways to add value and provide service outside of merely peddling drugs. Get some innovative thinkers working on mobile approaches – not mere e-detailing or e-signature apps, but whole new ways of providing information and connectivity among patients, healthcare professionals, and industry. This will happen and is happening via mobile – be part of it or be left out of the equation (hint: you don’t want to do that).

3. Compliance and mobile – Not only is mobile-optimization a far easier task to tackle than thorny culture-shift issues like social media, but it may even become a regulatory issue. Did you know that information optimized for a standard website may not show up properly on a mobile device? It’s not hard to foresee a time in the near future when digital information presentation has to be vetted for fair balance, accuracy, etc. across platforms.

4. Sales forces are going to go mobile. And, most exciting to me, I’ve been in contact with a company that reached out to me after I wrote this post in August about having an intelligent “middle layer” engine to make sense of iPad apps/deployments in pharma. They showed me last week what they’ve developed, and I am very encouraged…if you’re looking at deploying iPads to the field, we should talk! Maybe we can keep you from the iPad “freaking mess” I described in that post…

OK, have I made my point? MOBILE IS HUGE! Now, we did discuss many other digital initiatives at the conference, including social media and the like, but I really want to highlight the lowest-hanging fruit that will have the most near-term impact. And that’s mobile. Mobile is not simply “another channel.” It’s the new normal.

Now, onto two other observations – categorize these under “soapbox ramblings”:

- A lot of folks still don’t effectively engage the audience when presenting. We really need to improve. Please read this post and apply as needed. I know we can do better. Some of the presenters, however, were outstanding (including Olivier Zitoun, Aaron Blackledge, and Seth Perlman – I’m sure there were others but I couldn’t be in every track!)

- As these conferences get larger, it’s increasingly difficult to foster an environment of open sharing and discussion. I did lead one “unconference” session, which was quite lively (and could have gone on for much longer – we were just getting warmed up!). Over the past 18 months, I fear that we’re starting to slip back in our more cutting-edge pharma events into the old default mode of up-front presenter and passive audience. We’ve got to pro-actively design sessions to maximize engagement way beyond the old, “I think we have 5 minutes left for questions…” mode.

Oh, and for those who care about such things: Shwen Gwee and I finally found our Texas-style BBQ “home” in Philly. It’s called Percy Street BBQ. Highly recommended!

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Impactiviti is the Pharmaceutical Connection Agency. As the eHarmony of sales/training/marketing, we help our pharma/biotech clients find optimal outsource vendors for training, eMarketing, social media, and more.

Learn more about us here.

_________

Sign up for the Impactiviti Connection weekly e-newsletter (see sample), chock full of news and resources for pharmaceutical professionals

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Way, way back when Apple’s iPad was first announced – you know, a year and a half ago – I predicted openly on this blog that it would be a game-changer for eHealth. Which goes to show that even someone as crystal-ball-challenged as me can get it right – sometimes!

At least 6-8 pharma companies (so far) have already committed to deploying the iPad to their sales forces, and I predict that it will become the new standard for delivering marketing messages, implementing eLearning and eCommunications, and facilitating territory management. In short, the iPad will displace the laptop.

And this means that an awful lot of applications will be re-designed for the new platform.

So here’s my new prediction for the rest of 2011-2012 – it’s going to be one freaking mess. Fun, because it’s the iPad, but a big tangled digital mess nonetheless.

Why? Because each company is going to have to “piecemeal” over a bunch of legacy functions and apps, from a variety of vendors, plus each department in the pharma company that communicates electronically with the field force will be throwing their stuff into the electronic stew.

Let’s say the iPad initiative starts with a major brand, or a therapeutic area. And the initial focus is on eDetailing. Do you realize how quickly, and how chaotically, everything else will start jumping on board once the initial commitment is made to go iPad? You’d like to think there was a master plan somewhere, right? Someone thought through all the ramifications and made a big-picture blueprint? Yeah, right.

The mess is already happening to the first wave, because this is how the transition will go initially:

As I was saying to one of my clients a few weeks ago during our brainstorming lunch, it’s just going to be the wild west for a year or two, and much of the true potential of the iPad will not be realized because we’ll be too busy moving the used furniture into the new house while still putting up the drywall.

The solution to this will come from the vendor side, and it will take the form of an “engine” underneath to

  1. handle the data flow,
  2. consolidate content management, and
  3. provide a common UX (User eXperience) interface to multiple applications.

It will allow much easier “plug-in” capability for new apps and give an integration layer that all the onesie-twosie apps we’ll see in the first wave won’t have. The user experience will be the starting point, not the afterthought. I’m guessing that one or more of the eDetailing and eTerritory providers are already working on this. I would be surprised to see this come out of the eLearning camp.

It’ll be a bit rocky getting there. But of all the vendors peddling apps and solutions for the iPad, keep your ears tuned for someone taking this approach (and having more than vaporware to show). That’s where the big win will be.

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It’s that time again – a quick collection of links of interest for pharma marketers who are tracking the eMarketing and Social Media space. Here we go:

What’s the Point of Health 2.0? (Path of the Blue Eye project), in which Fard Johnmar expands on Susannah Fox‘s thoughts. Also, for the same blog – What Good is Social Media Transparency?

The Seven (soon to be Nine) Uses of Social Media in Business. From the thoughtful and prolific Jon Richman.

New web 2.0 site from Hungary: ScienceRoll

Social Media Forums and the Pharma Industry, from eyeforpharma.

Fascinating data from Silja Chouquet on Pharma Twittersphere – who’s following you? (Part 1 and Part 2). WhyDot Pharma blog.

The Pixels and Pills folks have rolled out a neat tool called The Health Tweeder. Here’s a review from Andrew Spong. Pixels and Pills, by the way, will be sponsoring a Tweetup in Philly this coming Monday evening in conjunction with the ePharmaSummit.

My take – Apple’s iPad and eHealth – game changer? You can see a variety of other perspectives over on KevinMD‘s blog. Plus, from Shwen Gwee: Neurosurgeons without papers, but with an iPod Touch

Internet 2009 in Numbers. Great, up-to-date usage stats.

Holistic Common Sense and Social Networking. After all, it is about business growth…

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