As healthcare systems and regulatory landscapes evolve, pharmaceutical companies are facing greater challenges in getting their products to market. Market access professionals continue to play a critical role in navigating these complexities by ensuring timely regulatory approvals, cost-effectiveness evaluations, and securing favourable reimbursement and access agreements with healthcare providers and payers. As such, an increasing number of market access professionals are looking for digital solutions that bring efficiencies and allow them to make data-driven decisions.
However, as the demand for innovative digital strategies rises, a pivotal decision awaits these companies: Should they build an in-house digital application or buy pre-existing solutions from external vendors?
In this article, we delve into the complexities of this decision-making process and explore the key considerations that will empower market access teams to navigate the route towards the most optimal and cutting-edge digital solutions. Read on to discover the pros and cons of both options and why we believe buying reigns supreme, nearly every time.
When should you BUILD?
Developing custom internal systems can prove advantageous when you want to retain full control over your unique processes and workflows. It is especially advantageous for systems that give a competitive edge or involve sensitive intellectual property. Bespoke home-grown solutions are also a better choice if off-the-shelf solutions seem too generic in comparison, and do not meet your specific needs.
Key considerations for BUILD
Building bespoke internal applications is not straightforward and can be complicated even for well-resourced teams.
1. Are you clear on your requirements?
When it comes to creating a custom application, having well-defined and documented requirements is crucial. Often, IT teams lack expertise in the subject matter and rely on their colleagues from the business side to explain what’s necessary. This means that if the main users (for market access, which includes both global and country teams) don’t actively contribute to shaping the requirements, the final solution may not be optimal. This challenge can be even greater for pharmaceutical companies due to their intricate organisational structure, the involvement of affiliates, and complex reporting hierarchies.
2. Are all your key stakeholders and users ready to commit time?
Consequently, the primary responsibility lies with the core market access team leading the custom application development. They must invest time in defining the requirements, providing clarifications to the IT team during the development phase, and conducting thorough end-user testing before release. Given the typically demanding schedules of market access professionals, this becomes a crucial factor to consider.
3. Have you considered the total cost of ownership?
Building software in-house carries higher development costs, longer timeframes and a risk of errors and defects — which can delay the roll-out. It is never a one-time effort and a one-off cost. There will be a need to commit to an ongoing budget and resources to provide support and take care of enhancements.
4. Have you considered the time it will take before you can start using the application?
Any bespoke application development follows a certain cadence.
It has to start with a detailed requirements elaboration phase so that the high-level requirements are well understood and documented. Starting with designing the user experience which requires intense end-user workshops, development of the application and testing, coupled with tight project management means that the entire process may take 6-12 months to complete. Many times, key personnel involved in the project change, the requirements evolve, and the end application doesn’t get the uptake that was expected.
Plug and Play: Explore the Perks of Purchasing SaaS
Although building software in-house can be a fantastic solution when done correctly — the reality is that for most companies, it’s simply not a practical option as they don’t have the necessary time or resources.
Market access teams in many pharma companies are accelerating their digital transformation by purchasing third-party software, that is then integrated into their existing operations and processes. This is particularly true when purchasing solutions from companies that specialise in market access and have built tailor-made solutions that cater to their needs.
Some unique advantages that SaaS solutions offer include:
- Lower total cost of ownership: Purchasing a SaaS solution does not have an upfront cost, and it is much easier to end the contract if businesses decide they no longer need the application. They can also benefit from new features and upgrades, without having to pay for all of them.
- Faster roll-out: You start getting the value from day 1, as there is minimal set-up time involved in a SaaS solution.
- Customisation opportunities: Good SaaS platforms allow for many customisation opportunities to tailor to specific internal taxonomy and processes.
- Integrate to avoid duplication: Many SaaS platforms allow for integration with other internal and third-party applications. This eliminates duplication of efforts and increases adoption.
- Drive standardisation: Rolling out a SaaS solution already used by other leading pharma companies helps businesses stand a better chance of getting buy-in from the users. With an out-of-the-box system, pharmaceutical organisations are able to push through process standardisation and benchmark against some of the best in the industry.
- Try before you buy: Questions can be easily answered by gaining trial access, and simultaneously allay any concerns that the users may have.
- Long-term value and rate of adoption: Unlike a home-grown system that has been used by a handful of people, a SaaS solution benefits from years of evolution and feedback from clients — so a new client coming on board automatically benefits from having a robust, time-tested solution that already has the seal of approval by other businesses in the industry.
Building bespoke own solutions comes with risks, and adding to the complexity is the dearth of purpose-built SaaS solutions that cater to the digitisation needs of market access. So, it’s better for companies to avoid adopting generic or suboptimal applications. We have seen several market access teams try to build their own solutions and fail. This is particularly true for global launch activity tracking solutions that rely on affiliate teams to input lots of data into a system that isn’t easy to use. As a result, hardly anyone uses these applications, and it costs businesses a lot of money.