Pfizer’s Prescription for a Healthy Supply Chain: VIT SeeChain Helps Improve Sales and Corporate Productivity

Portals have garnered more attention than virtually any other Internet technology over the past year, in no small part due to Wall Street’s mania with consumer-oriented portals, such as Yahoo!, Lycos, Infoseek and Excite. Some have gone so far as to call portals the "next generation of desktop computing," claiming that what railroads of the 18th century did to build an infrastructure for the industrial revolution, portal applications will do for global knowledge management.

But beyond the hype, there is evidence that portal-enabled business applications are moving out of the buzz word stage and to the top of today’s corporate priority list, due to their potential to deliver bottom line results. In fact, the GartnerGroup recently projected that by the year 2000, 80 percent of the U.S.’s top-tier companies will have implemented some type of portal application.

One organization at the forefront of portal applications and data warehousing technology is Pfizer Inc., whose high-profile drug products include Viagra, Norvasc (hypertension), Aricept (Alzheimer’s) and Zithromax (antibiotic). The global pharmaceutical company, like many large organizations with geographically dispersed operations, had been struggling with how to deliver relevant, up-to-date sales and marketing information to its sales managers and representatives.

Now, thanks to Palo Alto, California-based VIT – a provider of Web-centric portal and supply chain performance management applications – Pfizer’s French division has integrated a portal-enabled application as part of its intranet and data warehouse systems.

Science and Marketing Savvy

In the pharmaceutical industry, research is the lifeblood that enables drug companies to spin out new incremental advances to gain market share and protect high profit margins.

However, the other half of the equation for success is marketing. Even though scientists compose a high percentage of the drug development teams, sales and marketing plays a key role in championing the clinical trials, tracking sales performance, looking for new uses for existing drugs – and ultimately, winning over more doctors.

In this high-risk, high-reward industry, patent life drives the business. Every day you don’t get the new drug to market, you’re losing revenue, and decreasing the time you have to recoup development costs that typically run over $300 million per new drug. And since seven out of every 10 drugs that win FDA approval fail to earn what they cost, smart marketing vastly improves the odds.

"Intelligent use of information technology is crucial for all pharmaceutical companies, since they all have basically the same software packages for back office, finance and manufacturing," says Alain Lacroix, IT Director for Pfizer-France. "The real competitive edge is leveraging sales and marketing information to better focus your sales and marketing efforts, as well as to control costs."

Existing System Handicaps Flow of Sales and Marketing Information

Every day, Pfizer’s more than 500 sales representatives from all over France move a wide range of drug brands through its network of wholesalers, private doctors and hospitals. All sales-related information is captured through the normal order processing and billing systems at the French headquarters in Orsay, France.

About four years ago, while struggling with how to extract key marketing information from its back-office systems, Pfizer launched an intranet-based data warehousing initiative. As part of this effort, executive information systems (EIS), spreadsheets and other proprietary analysis tools were deployed by business, product and financial managers. These headquarters-based managers, in turn, distributed a wide range of sales reports and analyses to sales managers and reps in the branches on a weekly basis, via attached e-mail files, interoffice mail or fax.

The problems with this manual, time-consuming approach were numerous. The information was usually out-of-date by the time it arrived at the branches. High e-mail traffic bogged down networks. In addition, the sales force had to be trained and retrained on the analysis tools in order to access the analysis results. Not to mention the need to update the client software on each user’s machine every time a new version of the analysis software was released.

The Search for Therapy

Pfizer realized it needed a better way to give the sales force access to key information through a consistent information delivery mechanism. But finding an effective solution in this space would not be easy.

Fortunately, Pfizer, a long-time innovator in information technology, had invested in intranet and data warehousing systems. They recognized this investment could be leveraged with a portal solution for its sales and marketing information.

After exploring several potential vendors in the market, Pfizer learned about VIT from a well-known high-technology analyst firm. After an extensive review of VIT’s technology and products, Pfizer selected VIT’s SeeChain software products.

The Remedy

Several factors led Pfizer to select VIT’s SeeChain products. According to Lacroix, "VIT was the clear choice for us. Besides being a pure Web solution, the product is unique in the way it visually represents Pfizer’s products and channels simply and intuitively. For end users, access to information is as simple as launching their Web browsers and clicking on information they need to access."

VIT’s SeeChain Portal is a Web-centric enterprise information portal. It allows all levels of users – management, employees, customers and suppliers – to work with a standard Web browser to share and collaborate on a wide range of corporate information within a secure environment.

Lacroix adds, "SeeChain Portal required a minimal amount of training, so it’s been very easy to get users up to speed quickly. And because it’s browser-based, there are no software maintenance issues."

Pfizer-France implemented VIT’s SeeChain Portal in July 1999, initially working with more than 500 users at the Orsay headquarters location. The plan is to implement SeeChain Portal to connect the entire Pfizer-France sales force by the end of the year.

The VIT SeeChain Portal manages and distributes information (structured and unstructured) from a variety of decision-support sources, such as data marts, data warehouses, Web servers, ERP systems, operational databases and corporate legacy systems. For Pfizer, SeeChain Portal is integrated with an Oracle-based data warehouse system, which runs on Pfizer’s IBM RS/6000 systems.

VIT’s SeeChain products have provided Pfizer just what they needed – a consistent, universal view into all of their sales and marketing information.

As Lacroix explains, before implementing SeeChain Portal, when sales managers received EIS or Excel spreadsheet analyses via e-mail, they really could not be sure it was up-to-date or even accurate. In addition, the data was not always compared on a consistent basis. For example, sales on one accounting period may mistakenly be compared with another unrelated period.

"This inconsistency created a lack of confidence in the data and confusion about what was reality and what were merely opinions," explains Lacroix. The result: A lot of time and energy wasted in subsequent phone calls and e-mails back and forth, trying to figure out if the data was the most recent and reluctance to share and collaborate around the information.

With SeeChain Portal, the Web browser allows all levels of users, including sales, product, finance managers and sales representatives, to see the information, understand it and then take action on it in minutes, not days or weeks. That means users, hundreds of them, see accurate, up-to-the-minute sales and marketing information they rely on everyday.

Sales managers can create personalized views that will allow them to instantly see sales by branch, by division or by group. They can also drill down to see actual sales versus target, run rates, returned product information and even cost details – everything they need to gauge performance and better target sales efforts. For example, a sales manager may see that a particular region is consistently missing its sales quotas for a certain drug brand.

With the VIT application fully deployed, it will be easy to zero in on areas that need attention or that provide the greatest opportunity for improved revenue performance. It will also be easier to seize opportunities before competitors even see them.

Lacroix points out another capability that makes SeeChain Portal particularly effective. "The problem with most portal products is that users still have to be persuaded to visit the portal. With VIT, it’s delivered automatically at log-in or via e-mail alerts, which saves time and network traffic. Users can even access the SeeChain Portal when they are on the road, a key feature for mobile field sales representatives."

Just What the Doctor Ordered

While easy access to consistent, up-to-date sales and marketing information is vital to Pfizer, it’s only half the story. The other half is how the information is used and shared to make better business decisions and create a competitive advantage.

"In most large organizations, there is resistance to information sharing," says Lacroix. "This is why Pfizer confronted this cultural issue head-on as part of the intranet/portal implementation."

According to Lacroix, before implementing SeeChain Portal, publishing information was difficult because it was filtered through specific, pre-ordained, organizational channels. With SeeChain Portal, not only is information easily published, it can be distributed in context; in other words, linked with who created it, who is using it and how the information has been used to solve problems and make decisions.

"When you know who is using what information to make what decisions, the result is simply better decisions," explains Lacroix. "It also means decisions are not being compromised by faulty information. So, there is less reinventing of the wheel, and a more productive work environment."

In addition, SeeChain Portal allows users to make new discoveries by relating new-found sales and marketing information to information found on Pfizer’s intranet, such as new drug products, FDA procedures and clinical trial results. As a result, the user’s navigation experience becomes not only more engaging, but also more informative.

"Another interesting side benefit is an increased level of awareness in data validity," says Lacroix. "If any information looks out of line, it’s exposed instantly. As a result, the quality of sales and marketing information has improved, as has the performance of the sales force."

"VIT has helped us creates a knowledge management environment that is far more productive," says Lacroix. "The ability to publish and subscribe to sales and marketing information and have this available instantly to the entire Pfizer sales force is a real competitive edge."

Gabrielle Gache, business analyst for Pfizer-France, agrees that the new system improves the company’s online access to accurate information. After only "10 or 15 minutes of training on SeeChain," she now uses it to quickly and efficiently distribute such reports as sales by date, sales by product and major product group, and sales compared to budget.

"This is very helpful to the country manager and division directors, because it gives them accurate information online, on a weekly basis," Gache says. "The product managers also use the reports to know which packaging styles and products are selling best."

Prior to implementing the VIT application, she distributed the reports via large (nearly 3-megabyte) e-mail attachments, but she was unsure if the reports were reaching everyone who would find them useful. Since switching to the new system, she’s discovered several other users who access the reports to improve their own level of information.

Gache also expects that the system will improve the quality of the reports. "By collecting statistics about who is using them, I can alter the reports to meet the specific interests of those who access them."

Future Portals

Looking forward, Pfizer sees VIT continuing to play a key role in future information technology plans.

"The portal project started as a proof-of-concept in France," explains Lacroix. "Based on the success so far, we foresee expanding the SeeChain Portal user base throughout Pfizer."

According to Lacroix, the SeeChain Portal implementation provides another strategic advantage. It offers Pfizer the core foundation for implementing supply chain products, such as VIT’s family of SeeChain supply chain performance measurement applications, which "would provide a tremendous advantage to Pfizer’s manufacturing and distribution operations."

About the Author: Jonathan Richards is an independent technology writer based in San Jose, Calif. He can be reached at