PharmExec Blog

Data: Is Bigger Always Better?


Morten Hjelmsoe

One of the things that we’re hearing a lot about right now is big data. We’re told that we’re entering an era of big data that will come to transform business and government services alike. For data, so the thinking goes, the bigger the better. But, asks Agnitio‘s Morten Hjelmsoe,  is this always the case?

There’s no doubt that big data is very useful. As organizations create and store ever more digital data, they can use it to make informed decisions on everything from product inventories to employee morale. And, through the growing use of sensors embedded in products, it’s increasingly possible to offer novel after-sales services and even proactive maintenance. That way, customers may not even notice as preventative measures are taken before a failure occurs.

It’s also thought that big data will enable an ever-narrower segmentation of customers and therefore make possible more precisely tailored products or services. But it’s here that I take issue. While we certainly do want better segmentation, crunching vast data repositories might not be the best way to get it – particularly in the pharmaceutical industry.

Big data, old paradigm
The problem is that big data actually operates using an old-fashioned paradigm. This says that we need to deal with people in groups. So we start off with data about everyone and then look for patterns; effectively chopping the data down to size and creating some more manageable groups at whom we can target our communications.

If you think about it, this big data approach is actually a little odd. In effect, we are taking data from individuals, squashing it together into a big pie and then chopping it into slices. Why would we do this if individuals have already told us what they are interested in? The process makes it less individual and therefore less relevant. Why deal with groups at all?

Small is beautiful
The reason that companies need the big data is because they don’t have the “small” data. But pharma actually does!

Like no other business, we physically see our customers, if not every week but then at least several times a year in most markets. I know of no other B2B industry that has such frequent face-to-face interaction with its customers.

This customer contact is a tremendous resource but one that until recently we haven’t been able to tap; we loaded up our reps with information but they come home empty. That individual “small” data was lost. But not any longer.

New digital technology allows our sales force to understand each healthcare professional’s personal needs and interests, keep track of it, and respond. In effect, we now don’t need to force fit customers into any kind of group. This means we can give them highly relevant information. And that means higher value for the customer.

So get your reps into play. As an industry, we are in the best position to focus on the individual and we now have the tools to make it happen. When it comes to data and the pharmaceutical industry, my advice is to go small and think big.

Morten Hjelmsoe is founder of Agnitio.

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