5 keys to going mobile in pharma

Mobile has gone mainstream in the biopharma industry, at least for those who work as tablet-toting sales reps or other jobs that take them away from the office. And mobile apps have grown in popularity in clinical trials and discovery shops too, as development teams and scientists seek ways to do their work on the go. With some years of experience in deploying apps, 5 industry experts shared during a FiercePharma webinar sponsored by Kony what they have learned. (Access a recording of the March 21 webinar here.)

Each speaker brought a unique perspective from the front lines of the biopharma industry. We heard from Glen de Vries, co-founder and president of Medidata Solutions ($MDSO), a $1.46 billion provider of clinical trials software; Ben Lei, director of eMarketing at Genentech, a unit of the No. 1 oncology drugmaker Roche ($RHHBY); lab software provider Dotmatics' application gurus Graeme Dennis and Tamsin Mansley; and Matt Brown, director of healthcare strategy at Kony.

Mobile cannot be ignored in the pharma industry as tablets and smartphones have become everyday computing platforms for life sciences workers, physicians and patients. And drugmakers need to engage all these stakeholders to be successful.

The webinar covered a lot of ground from some of the main areas of the pharma industry, including drug discovery, development and marketing. Those who want the full perspective should access the webinar, but here are 5 quick insights on mobile strategy from the expert speakers in no particular order.

  1. Consumer-grade wins

To hear some of the speakers, life science companies can't just take old legacy software and repackage them in a mobile format. "Everybody is using mobile apps, all the time," Medidata's de Vries said. This, of course, means that mobile users have expectations about the way apps of any kind look and function. "The experience you have to aim for, we like to call consumer-grade," de Vries noted. "People want to be more productive than they would have been without their mobile device."

  1. Make apps task-oriented

In mobile, companies and developers might want to avoid the Swiss Army knife of apps that performs multiple jobs or tasks. "Build snack-able apps that are simple and perform few functions," Genentech's Lei said. "The temptation was to build super large apps with all the information you could ever put in there. But we've learned that just becomes hard to use." Or think of Instagram as an example. "I go into apps to do very specific tasks, very quickly," de Vries said. Many successful consumer apps--Instagram, for example--fit this workflow by doing one thing very well and very fast. It is a different way of working for eClinical firms though. While in the past Medidata tried to bring everything together in a portal, in its apps it wants to be "super task-focused." 

  1. Easy does it

As field sales reps see their face time with docs shrink, they cannot afford any interruptions or delays during office visits. Genentech's Lei has used the on-the-ground experience of reps to inform the development and use of apps from the company. "We've had to make these apps really easy to use so that if you're talking to a customer you're not staring at your iPad," said Lei, whose company rolled out its first apps in 2008.  

  1. Security, security, security

Unlike many consumer app providers, pharma companies operate in highly regulated markets and areas where intellectual property is king. So securing data in the mobile world is an obvious must, and Dotmatics' Mansley talked about security in the context of her company's mobile chemistry sketching tool. The iPad is a modern alternative to the back of an envelope, she said. Researchers can sketch an idea "on the commuter rail, or in a meeting." The structure idea is then posted to a secure repository. Once back in the office the scientist can open the structure in their electronic lab notebook for further investigation.

  1. Position apps for future challenges

"Every single app running in your organization on desktops today will run on every device within three years," Kony's Brown said. Medidata's de Vries considered how mobile could change the clinical trials game. "Now we can connect to healthcare professionals all the time, including after they've worked on a clinical trial. And a huge area of innovation is how we're going to connect to patients to find subjects, how we're engaging subjects in clinical trials and how we're going to continue to engage those subjects after clinical trials. I think we're going to see a lot of exciting developments in those areas." -- Ryan McBride (email | Twitter)

-- Additional reporting contributed by Nick Taylor.