The Sikich CRO consulting team finds that too many CROs hobble themselves with technology that doesn’t fully serve their purpose or is too difficult to manage and use. ERP systems and other software tools can be much more effective in supporting CROs if they’re purpose-built and integrated to enable productivity, simplicity, and transparency in managing clinical trials and business operations. In this article, we consider the state of CRO technology in too many organizations, propose an alternative, and highlight seven advantages of this approach that might be worth your consideration.
Don’t take this well-traveled road
Sikich has worked with CROs and life sciences companies for many years, providing technology solutions, managed services, and consulting. In our experience, the technology lifecycle of CROs often follows a certain pattern. We like to help clients travel a different, more productive route if we have the opportunity to do so.
- At their inception, many CROs adopt spreadsheets and other standard business productivity software tools. These coexist with systems used to manage and report on research studies, such as electronic Clinical Outcome Assessment (eCOA), Electronic Patient-Reported Outcome (ePRO), or laboratory information management system (LIMS) solutions.
- As CROs grow, their technology landscape tends to become more fragmented and unmanageable as they introduce additional software tools.
- Many CROs adopt a software system like QuickBooks to support their finance management, but employees usually continue using their spreadsheets and other software as well. However, real growth and change almost always surpasses expectations, and they find themselves outgrowing these software tools much sooner than anticipated.
- Project managers responsible for one or a small number of research studies may have a way of determining the cost, performance, and percentage to completion of the trials they oversee. But, over time, it becomes more difficult for executives and decision-makers to review the company’s data and get a true sense of its profitability, performance, and sponsor relationships.
- Eventually, it becomes obvious that disparate software tools and data sources make it difficult for a growing CRO to chart its course. The company deploys an all-in-one, top-tier ERP system like SAP or Oracle as its system of record and migrates data from other business software tools into it. The specialized industry solutions for managing research studies may to a degree be integrated with the ERP software.
A better technology roadmap for your business journey
In the lifecycle we described, startup CROs have the technology they need, but, given that they don’t remain static, it serves them well only for a very short time. Very large CROs deploying a complex, expensive ERP system may also find that this is what they truly need.
That leaves out the many midsized, growing CROs. They are underserved by ERP providers and technology consultancies. They may find it difficult to find a business management software platform that efficiently meets their needs. That technology gap, in turn, can make it almost impossible for them to ensure the visibility and reportability of their data and streamline their operations. As they grow, they may hire more staff to manage research studies and curate data for decision-makers, but that comes with its own costs and inefficiencies.
In our engagements with CROs, we take a two-pronged approach to help them run an efficient, fast-moving, profitable, compliant business that has the visibility to achieve growth. One, we work with them to facilitate the data flows that will make it possible to meet current and future analytics and business insight needs. Two, we assist them in deploying Sikich SuiteSuccess for CROs, an ERP solution based on NetSuite software and specifically designed for CRO companies.
The positive impact of ERP software designed for CROs
What tends to change for CROs when they work with the Sikich team and deploy SuiteSuccess for CROs? Here are seven hallmarks we see in many CRO engagements.
1. Aligning processes and technology with CRO goals
SuiteSuccess for CROs is being used by CROs which conduct clinical trials for sponsors developing pharmaceutical products and medical devices, as well as several academic institutions. Before we deploy the solution for clients, we learn all we can about their specific goals, growth path, expected equity events or other milestones, competitive challenges, analytics and insight requirements, and process optimization opportunities. We work with them to introduce obviously beneficial process improvements before the software deployment, so they don’t simply translate current inefficiencies into the new technology environment.
2. Short time-to-value in the cloud
SuiteSuccess for CROs is a cloud-based ERP solution with a reasonable startup cost and predictable, OpEx-based monthly fees. As a cloud solution, it can be available to executives, finance managers, clinical trial leaders, and other users wherever they are, on their preferred device. Over years of practice, we have streamlined the implementation to take three to four months for most CROs, as opposed to the several years it typically takes to deploy the very large ERP systems.
3. Best practice-fueled solutions tailored for the CRO model
NetSuite continues to invest in advancing the functionality, resilience, and security of the technology that powers SuiteSuccess for CROs. The Sikich team, in turn, builds on the experience of dozens of implementations to enhance and refine the solution’s capabilities. SuiteSuccess delivers a complete portfolio of preconfigured CRO processes to support estimating, pricing, and quoting; financial reporting; billing and contract management; resource management; and more. It enables highly efficient automations of routine processes, for instance in invoice approvals and collections.
4. Connected, simplified technology environment
Sikich configures SuiteSuccess for CROs to align with clients’ requirements for compliance, data protection, visibility, and analytics. We integrate the solution with LIMS and other specialized systems to minimize redundant data entry and lookup. For finance, that often means more timely and accurate invoicing. For executives and decision-makers, it makes it possible to gain an all-round, current view of events involving the organization’s research studies and sponsors.
In addition to integrating SuiteSuccess for CROs with industry-specific software, we often also connect it with business systems, including procurement solutions. Many CROs decide to use Salesforce to manage relationships with sponsors, clinics, vendors, and partners throughout their lifecycle. Some also choose Coupa to bring greater efficiency and simplicity to their procure-to-pay processes.
5. Accelerated momentum and greater visibility
When SuiteSuccess for CROs with its supporting integrations and data flows becomes available to a CRO’s technology users, the first difference they tend to notice is how much easier it has become to find information and assess business conditions. With better availability and easier sharing of information, frequent communications—for example, between finance and operations—almost immediately can be more efficient and productive. Soon after that, CROs may experiment with resource management and see how much faster they can set up research studies, including decentralized trials with their many moving parts. Then they also realize that they can accommodate sponsors’ change requests for clinical trials more rapidly and flexibly. At the same time, they can maintain their visibility and control.
6. More productive sponsor engagements
For sponsors, in turn, working with an organization that has adopted SuiteSuccess for CROs can improve the quality of the experience overall and bring greater confidence and trust to the collaboration. They may notice that their CRO partner can provide greater transparency regarding the progress of clinical trials and finds it easier to maintain schedule commitments. When project leaders and other roles on the CRO team experience turnover, standardized processes and automations in SuiteSuccess for CROs help avoid disruptions that could delay research studies. With these changes, the ERP system helps CROs address several of the frequently mentioned challenges in sponsor engagements.
7. For IT, less busywork and a greater ability to work strategically
For technology managers accustomed to supporting a fragmented environment with many different software systems for ERP, SuiteSuccess for CROs can greatly reduce administrative workloads and give them time to be proactive in using technology to drive the organization onward. With enterprise-level security built into the solution’s NetSuite foundation, they may also be less occupied with mitigating digital risks and achieving a desirable level of cybersecurity.
Here to help
The Sikich CRO team meets with many prospects and clients whose main regret is having acted late when it was time to simplify processes and improve data flows and client experiences. If your CRO uses multiple, disparate software tools, relies on a mix of QuickBooks and other systems, or implemented an ERP solution that is too unwieldy and complicated to deliver the benefits you hoped for—Sikich expertise and SuiteSuccess might be worth considering. When we work with you, we help you address today’s concerns and ready your organization for tomorrow’s challenges. Whether you anticipate generating much larger data volumes from decentralized trials, blending decentralized and traditional research studies, gaining more sponsors, or increasingly complex compliance requirements—we can help you get to where you want to be.
If you’re interested in exploring what SuiteSuccess for CROs and Sikich expertise could help you achieve: