PDA's in Pharma SFA
The first significant use of PDA's as Pharmaceutical Sales Force Automation tools began in 1999. The Pharma industry was aware that the majority of Sales Reps were not carrying or using their laptop-based SFA tools during the day. The laptops were too cumbersome to carry and the long boot times made it too awkward to use throughout the day. The poor adoption rate of the laptops caused two concerns for Pharma Management. First was the concern for call quality. If Reps were not entering reports immediately after performing the call, they were entering them at home at night; or worse, at the end of the week. If this was happening, clearly the quality and detail of the call report would suffer. Secondly, not carrying the laptops with them required the Reps to perform all of their post call activities at the end of the day at home. This took time away from their family and generated quality of life concerns.
The PDA's, with their instant boot capability and portable form factor, offered the first solution to these issues. The Reps could comfortably carry the devices with them throughout the day, and could therefore view key customer data immediately prior to the call, contributing to better quality sales calls as well as more timely, detailed, and accurate call reports. In addition, performing these functions throughout the day allowed the Reps to have more quality time at home.
The year 2000 proved another growth year for PDA's in the Pharma space. With the new PDMA and CFR21 Part 11 sampling regulations looming, Pharmaceutical companies saw PDA's as a tool to aid them in complying with the new regulations. The devices offered the capability for electronic signature capture and more accurate call reporting.
Pharma companies were seeing many Reps purchasing their own PDA's to aid in managing their territories. The immediate Rep buy-in, in addition to the factors discussed above, assured strong adoption of the technology and by 2001, the PDA device became a standard requirement for most Pharma SFA projects.
The operating system platform option for PDA devices remains a two-horse race: Palm and Windows CE. Windows CE has emerged the clear leader for custom business applications. Palm has continued focus on the consumer market for contact and calendar management and appears interested in competing only in the zero footprint application market for business.
Palm currently offers a non-wireless line of devices, which are not suitable for custom application development due to the operating system limitations discussed earlier. Palm also builds the PalmVII line of wireless devices, which are suitable for zero-footprint applications. The wireless market will be discussed in more detail later in this paper.
Windows CE currently runs on two hardware platforms, the HPC or Handheld Pocket Computer, and the PocketPC. The HPC was the original form-factor introduced for CE. It is clamshell-style device with a full QWERTY keyboard, in addition to pen based functionality, allowing for easy enter of text data. The screen size is relatively large and allows for user-friendly application interfaces. However, products employing this form factor are not considered truly portable, as they don't easily fit into a coat pocket.
The PocketPC, introduced in 2000 to address the desired Palm form factor, is a pure pen based device. The Pocket PCs have smaller screen sizes and no keyboards, leading to less user-friendly application interfaces. In addition, the IPAQ does not have an easily changeable battery, so it relies on Reps to religiously recharge their devices. Nevertheless, their true portability renders them the preferred model of most end users.
2 Tier or 3
PDA's today can be deployed in two forms. The first, 3 Tier Companion, synchronizes and works in conjunction with a laptop based application. The other, 2 Tier Stand-Alone, communicates directly with the home office server. To date, a majority of the Pharma SFA deployments have been on 3 Tier Companion configurations. It seems a majority of Pharma still feels the need for deploying a laptop for performing data analysis and long term planning in conjunction with the PDA, which is typically used for day-to-day activities.
The 2 Tier Stand Alone configuration has grown considerably in the past year as it offers a cost-effective alternative for those Pharma companies looking to reduce their costs. The PDA functions as a standalone device providing all the required basic functions for the Rep. These devices also synchronize directly with the server (via land line or wireless) to share data and receive updates. The 2 Tier Stand Alone configuration is providing many smaller Pharma companies a cost-effective alternative to a full laptop SFA system that historically rendered SFA solutions cost-prohibitive.
A 2 Tier PDA can also be used in combination with a laptop (or even a desktop for cost effectiveness) This could be an alternative for companies who still feel the need for the laptop for long term planning but whose Reps travel extensively and typically carry their PDA's but not their laptops. This would allow them to synchronize and receive updates while in the field via their PDA. Training is important in this configuration to assure the user avoids data becoming out of sync. For example, they have been syncing their PDA all week but not their laptop, causing their laptop to be "behind" the PDA in data updates.
The only restriction is to avoid mixing 2 and 3 Tier configurations on one PDA device. Allowing a user to sync either with the server or PDA is technically feasible but not recommended due to referential integrity (data) problems.
To be or not to be Wireless seems to be the hot question in today's PDA world. The term wireless often means different things to different people. Wireless in itself refers to how you transfer data from the PDA to a central server database. Most, if not all, of today's PDA's and applications can easily be made to work via wireless modem with little or no effort, allowing the user to synchronize data without a land line.
Typically, however, when someone refers to a wireless application, they are not only referring to the wireless synchronization but also to a zero footprint application. A true zero footprint application means none of the application resides on the PDA. Rather, the application (which resides on the back office server) is accessed through a browser on the PDA. The application can be accessed through a wireless or land line connection. The traditional benefits of a wireless, zero footprint application focus around immediate data access and lower cost of ownership. The zero footprint application allows you to connect to your central data source anytime, anywhere (with a wireless connection) allowing you to immediately obtain critical and possibly changing data. Cost of ownership of zero footprint applications is lower because it obviates the need to install and maintain applications on remote devices.
The relevant question for the reader is, of course, what does this mean in the Pharmaceutical sector? Significantly, the pharmaceutical industry still has no major issues with the timeliness of data. The most important data, the sales data, is typically loaded on the central database on a weekly basis, at most, and is typically over a month old. That therefore eliminates the need for instant access to changing data on a PDA. Moreover, current PDA's allow a user to carry their entire customer base (typically up to 1000 customers), as well as 3 months of sales and call history data with them on the devices. This eliminates the need for immediate, remote access to data.
On the other hand, non-trivial cost of ownership savings could be achieved if a true zero footprint application were deployed. The problem, though, is wireless data access. The wireless networks still offer only incomplete coverage, and inconsistent and unreliable service at best. In addition, many sales Reps work in hospitals (most of which don't allow wireless devices) or office buildings where you cannot obtain a connection. A Pharma Sales Rep cannot be in a situation where they need to access a customer record for an e-signature and have their device not be able make a server connection. In addition, the cost or wireless connectivity remains significantly high enough to substantially work against the ROI argument. Lastly, Zero footprint applications on PDA's often have usability issues for the end user. The interfaces typically require a lot of scrolling and often difficult and slow navigation for the user.
The current industry trend to address these issues is to blend the technologies together. The first, for synchronization, is to blend the two methods together, creating a smart client, which can automatically detect the wireless connectivity, and provide a seamless and consistent end-user experience. This option would cache important data locally on the device so it could be accessed even if the device could not make a wireless connection. When a wireless connection was established, the device data would automatically be synchronized and available for live data exchange.
It seems that the issues of wireless coverage and cost as well as the lack of rapidly changing Pharma data, will continue to slow adoption of wireless and zero footprint applications for PDA's in the Pharma industry for the foreseeable future.
Voice Enablement functionality allows a user to speak into a device in order to navigate through an application or store verbal notes.. Application navigation allows a user to speak responses to voice activated commands in order to navigate through an application. This is used commonly today in call centers where the caller is asked to "Say 1 for Sales", "Say 2 for Service", and so on. Although it is interesting technology, it is most likely not value-added functionality for the PDA, as the pen-based navigation allows the user to efficiently move through the application.
Speaking into a PDA device, in order to store verbal notes, offers interesting functionality for PDA's. In the case of the Pharmaceutical Sales Rep, one of the most important parts of the call report is the free text notes or comments entered by the Sales Rep. Although use of a PDA in the field allows the Rep to enter the call report at the time of the call - assuring better accuracy of the report, the typing of free text call notes can be hampered due to difficulty of typing on the small keyboards (or in the case of the PocketPC, the screen based keyboard). Voice Enablement can offer the Rep the ability to enter a verbal call note using the voice recorder which is standard to the CE Operating System. The verbal call note can be stored as a voice file as part of the call report or manually transcribed later into a typed note. Ideally the functionality would allow the application to transcribe the verbal recorded note automatically into text format. Although Voice Recognition technology has advanced rapidly over the past few years, it still has technical issues, which would limit its ability to be used successfully in this application. We should keep watch in the near future for this technology to advance.
PDA's have a come a long way since their inception. For example, the battery life problems and data storage volume issues have been essentially resolved. Issues still remain, however.
For one, it continues to be difficult for Pharma to accept the limited subset of data and functionality that resides on the PDA. Although territories of up to 1000 customers and multiple months of sales and call history data can be stored on today's devices, many Pharma clients still demand more, particularly those in a 2 Tier, Stand alone configuration. It has been a difficult decision to decide which functionality is a necessity on the PDA to operate on a daily basis. This tends to lead to customer requirements, which push the technology capabilities to the limit. Clearly, this is less a device issue than it is a matter of controlling customer expectations.
The database also still creates problems. The traditional client server database vendors have been unsuccessful in creating a relational database, which can run quickly on the CE platform. This leaves application developers two options: (1) using third party relational databases which run slowly and can lead to user frustration, or (2) to use the native CE data store which has good performance but can lead to data integrity (data loss) problems if not managed well.
Although these are issues, which need to be addressed, they are certainly not slowing or preventing the use of the Devices.
PDA's certainly will have a prominent role in the Pharma SFA market for many years to come. They offer the portable information store, which can enable Reps to perform more effective sales calls. In addition, they can help in PDMA compliance via electronic signature capture and lot tracking.
The future will certainly include wireless capabilities and voice recognition, but how quickly this will happen depends heavily on technologies and infrastructure development outside the purview of SFA companies, or even the Pharma industry.Dendrite International, Inc.