Thursday, May 06, 2010


Two weeks ago I participated in a roundtable sponsored by the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council (MassTLC) titled "R&D IT Best Practices for Growing Small/Mid-Sized Biopharmas". It was a nice intimate gathering -- about a half dozen panelists, a few dozen audience members and NO SLIDES! A chance for some real discussion -- moderator Joseph Cerro would throw topics out or take them from the audience and the panel would address them as they saw fit. Nice and free-flowing.

I expected this event to be attended by a lot of biotech executives, and while there were more than a few a large fraction of the audience were actually in software sales. One of them expressed their interest in the topic quite succinctly: "Why aren't you guys buying from us?" In his view, his company offered excellent products that met his potential customer's needs, yet too rarely they bought.

One aspect of course -- or perhaps THE aspect, is that we don't have infinite budgets. In my current role, I can spend money on a variety of things -- I can buy software, order consulting or have a CRO generate data for me. I'll confess: my tastes tend to run towards data generation; I tend to lean towards the latter.

One reality which anyone trying to sell me software or databases must face is that it is guaranteed that their software (a) solves some of my problems (b) fails to solve some others and (c) overlaps with other solutions I have already or am strongly considering. When I brought this up one sales guy accused us of not having an overall software vision. That's a tricky subject -- part of me agreed and part wanted to yell "them's fighting words!". I have often had software visions; I have also often given up on them in despair. The truth is that any grand vision would require far too much custom work to be practical or to ever get done. Grand visions don't go well with compromises, and any off-the-shelf solution will involve compromises.

But, one does try to have an overall plan to how things will fit together. Again, one challenge is figuring out what constellation of imperfect yet overlapping pieces to assemble. At a more detailed level, it is deciding what desired features are critical and which are dispensable. Plus, generally you aren't starting with a tabula rasa but rather there is already a set of tools already in place or that are too near-and-dear to someone important to be ignored.

I'm sure trying to sell to me is exasperating. I want detailed technical information on a moment's notice. I'm routinely throwing out projects or configuations to be priced, with few if any actually going forward. At Codon I did exactly that part of the sales game, it was a lot of work and very frustrating to see so little ever come of it. I'm also a pain on software products and databases in insisting on hands-one trials. One database vendor never understood this, which is why I won't bother ever talking to that company again. Perhaps my only virtue is that I attempt to be unfailingly polite through the whole process. I suppose that counts for something.

1 comment:

Cloud said...

This is so very, very true.

I'm usually just a lurker here, but have to comment to agree with this. I run IT/informatics at a small biotech (much smaller than yours) and dealing with the disconnect between what my users want/need, what vendors have to offer, and what my budget will allow is painful.

My husband is a software developer for one of the big players in scientific informatics, and I wish I could afford to buy some of the stuff he and his colleagues put out. It is good stuff, that would solve some problems for me. But I can't afford the price tag, and in discussions with people more on the sales side of that organization, it is clear to me that they don't go after the small biotechs at all anymore, because we're not worth enough money.

So I am left cobbling together my solutions from the off the shelf stuff I can afford and some custom stuff, and far more Excel than I'm really comfortable with.