Memo to software vendors: Biotech wants smart pitches

IDG News Service |  On-demand Software

Those charged with hearing pitches from software vendors who want to sell wares to biotechnology companies don't like these words: "enterprise-wide solution." They don't want to hear the generic wonders of the "solution" being pitched, they don't want to hear marketing buzzwords or that the software will revolutionize the pharmaceutical business. They won't believe that kind of approach and they will show the software vendor the door, perhaps within minutes, without an invitation back.

So said James Golden, the business development manager at 454 Corp., which focuses on developing technologies for massive-scale genome analysis, during a panel discussion titled "How Do You Measure the ROI for Informatics?" as part of the 8th Annual Drug Discovery Technology conference Tuesday in Boston. Besides Golden, the panel included representatives of pharmaceutical companies.

Vendors need to understand the "domain" of the companies they pitch products to. "I need you to clearly demonstrate to me in the first five minutes of our meeting that you understand what I do," said Golden, whose company is based in Branford, Connecticut. "You'll get a second meeting if you can do that." And, he said, be specific in demonstrating knowledge about the potential customer company.

His suggestions were in response to a question about whether companies like his and the pharmaceutical vendors prefer to buy commercial software or build their own. Often, such companies have to build their own because they can't find commercial software that fits their needs, the panelists said. However, there is a preference for buying what is available when the tools are suitable.

Biotech companies tend to have the view that what they do is "totally unique compared to everyone else" and so software tools have to be developed in-house, he said, adding, "I'm not so sure that's entirely true."

Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc., with headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts, buys a lot of software, but much of it is "widgets," said Mark Murcko, the company's vice president and chief technology officer. "We're finding more and more we're buying widgets rather than systems," he said.

That's because commercial applications are generally not well tested in real-world scenarios, so score poor marks in both validation and applicability, Murcko said. For instance, a commercial search engine might take three minutes to scour the massive amount of data a pharmaceutical company has at its disposal, while a homegrown engine employs an algorithm that takes three minutes to go through the same data.

It's the old complexity issue, which isn't easy to deal with, said Richard Roberts, the worldwide head of research informatics at Pfizer Inc., which knows a thing or two about massive amounts of data.

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