As survey findings show, life sciences companies have many challenges when it comes to using ERP and other software systems to run their business. Many rely on legacy technology or solutions that provide them with functionality they don’t need while leaving important requirements unmet. The distance from legacy software to modern cloud systems can seem very far. However, there are proven approaches that life science companies can rely on to move to the cloud rapidly and run their business on an industry-optimized ERP platform. Robust, low-maintenance integrations between ERP and specialty software can ensure a free flow of data to enable all-round visibility of activities and events in a life sciences company.
Identifying technology gaps
Gathering information from life sciences companies in all stages of development, the Sikich and Pharmaceutical Executive survey found that the most common issues with existing software was difficulty of integrating with other systems, the fact the organizations were using old legacy systems, and poor ease-of-use. These evaluation criteria—integration and usability challenges, along with also mentioned problems with functionality and lack of scalability and flexibility—practically define what “legacy software” stands for.
Software Challenges When Not Using ERP System
A relatively high number of survey respondents, 16 percent, were not running an ERP system. The three frontrunners among the ERP-using organizations are Microsoft, SAP, and Oracle.
When life sciences businesses don’t use ERP, their software challenges are similar to those that do: outdated legacy technology, lack of scalability, limited functionality, and poor ease-of-use. But another prominent concern for these companies is that their software is too costly to maintain.
In our experience, when life sciences clients talk about legacy software, they often refer to software tools developed internally, not purchased solutions. However, we don’t hear about software tools created inhouse as much as we used to. The leading ERP and CRM software systems continue to improve and provide better support for life sciences organizations, and technology partners like Sikich know how to bridge functionality gaps and optimize the software tools for the industry. At the same time, we notice stronger awareness than in earlier times regarding the power of cloud ERP and what it can help businesses accomplish.
Software Challenges When Using ERP
While practically all ERP solutions used by life sciences companies present IT managers with challenges, it is encouraging to see how many companies, using all leading ERP solutions, reported no problems. It’s also a good sign that Salesforce and NetSuite, the platform for our SuiteSuccess for Life Sciences ERP solution, seem to cause very few problems. NetSuite, for instance, didn’t even register on the scale of issues when survey respondents mentioned concerns related to cybersecurity, maintenance costs, or vendors retiring applications. The survey didn’t reflect this, but most of the clients working with Sikich transition from QuickBooks to adopt SuiteSuccess for Life Sciences. In their ERP system, they expect similar ease-of-use and simplicity as they enjoyed in QuickBooks.
The technology portfolio of most ERP solutions includes the same, similar capabilities. What makes a critical difference for companies acquiring and using them is the industry and technical expertise of the implementation partner and the software vendor’s commitment to continuous innovation and improvement. Those two conditions can greatly boost the benefits and ROI companies experience during their years of use of a certain ERP solution. Especially given that IT is not at all or only minimally involved in many SuiteSuccess for Life Sciences deployments, it also helps that we deliver the production-ready solution and help business users familiarize themselves with it, without technical complications.
Fast roadmap to setting data free
When it comes to integration challenges, the survey results seem to confirm another observation by Sikich consultants: many of the most successful life sciences companies grow and evolve on their organizational journey very quickly. When they look for business software, they prefer the latest, most highly reviewed cloud product to address specific concerns. They don’t typically start by considering comprehensive, all-in-one software platforms like ERP. That’s why we find NetSuite ERP for operations and finance management, Coupa for procurement, Agiloft for contract management, and other category leaders in many life sciences firms. When too many standalone tools complicate the technology landscape, it becomes difficult to report on and analyze data assets them to glean intelligence.
When Sikich consultants work with life science companies’ disparate technology tools, we often help them in two ways.
Restore Visibility by Building Integrations
By using an integration-platform-as-a-service (iPaaS) tool, we can map fields and create integrations quickly. As a result, users can report and analyze information in just one software environment, like SuiteSuccess for Life Sciences. Sometimes, the need to comply with the Physician Payments Sunshine Act and ensuring efficient data capturing and expense reporting across a company’s technology landscape drives an initial integration. Once that’s accomplished, companies often find other opportunities for improving the flow and usefulness of data.
Develop Integration and Data Management Strategy
We work with life sciences clients to help them formulate an integration and data management strategy that helps them avoid data flow and process bottlenecks and maintain good visibility in the years to come. As life sciences organizations go through their lifecycle, they may need to rely on a growing variety of data sources. Having accompanied many life sciences clients along their business journey, we can anticipate how software tools and business relationships with CROs, CMOs, 3PL providers, and other partners can add complexity to the data landscape. Our consultants know how to forestall such challenges and help clients work within a coherent data environment, optimized for insight and analytics needs.
From legacy technology to the modern cloud
For companies using SAP software, integrations were the most common issue, followed by concerns about legacy technology and lacking flexibility or scalability. When Sikich consultants meet life sciences firms that use SAP, their comments tend to reflect the same challenges. Because “legacy” is often used vaguely, the term and won’t let you infer much about the nature of the technology or the state of the company using it, but it’s generally clear that they aren’t right for each other. Some of these businesses may have acquired SAP a long time ago and never quite managed to adjust it to their current needs. For others, SAP might have been too large and complex a technology at a stage in the life of the company that would have called for something more circumscribed.
When these organizations see a demo of SuiteSuccess, they often like the flexibility and administrative ease of the NetSuite-based solution. Today, NetSuite technology is more powerful and scalable than ever, and companies can run well on that platform for a very long time as they change and grow. Earlier, technology advisors might have recommended moving to a larger ERP solution when a life sciences company grew to about 500 employees, but that is no longer as meaningful a milestone as it once was. Sikich has helped much larger clients with complex operations do well with SuiteSuccess for Life Sciences.
To gain more insight and explore technology opportunities for your life sciences organization, you can:
- Download the complete survey report by Pharmaceutical Executive and Sikich.
- See how Sikich supports life sciences companies.
- Read the previous blog posts in this series.
- Contact Sikich.