Developing tablet apps for pharmaceuticals reps turns out to be not so different from designing a consumer app. At the Tablet Strategy West conference, two Genentech directors talked about how to align the IT department with the needs of business units. The key, they said, is user experience.
Genentech (now part of Roche) has deployed more than 14,000 iPads and iPhones worldwide as part of its mobile strategy, which began in the early days of BlackBerrys. During a keynote presentation at TabTimes' first Tablet Strategy West in San Francisco, two Genentech officials said that today the company has more than 60 apps available via its internal Genentech app store. Many of those focus on business productivity, such as apps for CRM, filing expense reports or getting approvals.
Ben Lei, Director of Interactive Marketing at Genentech, said that changes in the healthcare industry make providing sales reps with timely information and tools is more critical than ever. Access to health care professionals is shrinking for the pharma sales rep; a sales call may last for only seven or eight minutes. Reps don't have time to shuffle through apps or sales aids to find the right information.
If reps need to find the right sales sheet quickly, marketers also have to be able to produce digital materials faster. In a word, content doesn’t stand alone, it needs to integrate with other services the rep provides.
The behavior of healthcare providers has changed; they have the same expectations about access to information that consumers do.
A consumer approach that solves business problems
For his part, Raj Harapanahalli, Director of North American Application Services at Genentech, said one of the biggest challenges for enterprise IT is that Genentech customers expect the same usability that they get at home with consumer services.
“Our mobility strategy is figuring out how to design the whole IT landscape in a way that lets employees consume information and applications that enrich the experience,” he said.
Harapanahalli said his approach is to take into account everything business is asking, plus trends he's seeing in information technology, and then to come up with a strategy that focuses on solving business problems.
Marketing needs the IT department to provide real-time collaboration and co-authoring tools, he added. Genentech has moved to an authoring platform that makes it easy to do quick updates and also provides more flexibility. IT also needs to support users on different devices. Some sales reps may be used to working with paper and not want to switch to digital media.
In eight months, Genentech created apps for 14 different brands that not only provide product information but also help the rep tell the story. For example, Herceptin is an important drug for treating a specific type of breast cancer. Pathologists can choose from two different biopsy methods, only one of which accurately diagnoses this cancer. So the app includes an interactive graphic of a tumor that illustrates the different results from these two biopsy methods. It lets reps show a physician why the entry point for a biopsy is important.
"We had a hard time telling the story on paper -- and physicians think they know the space," Lei said. "We have had physicians that would not have this conversation with a sales rep, but having something cool to play with that's interactive, they go back to the pathologist and say they prefer the more accurate test."
App development best practices
Over the course of this intense development of apps for tablets, Genentech has found best practices. First, reps need seamless remote access to fast networks -- but it's also important to provide the ability to work offline and synch up later, because you still can't count on connectivity.
Privacy and security also remain mportant. There are more than 12 different sales forces at Genentech that sell different product lines. Sales reps need to be able to get content they need, while not accessing other apps that might violate FDA or other regulations.
Harapanahalli said he's learned to build "snackable" apps that are simple and perform few functions well. A rule of thumb, he said, was to make sure users can do something in five clicks or less. His other piece of advice: "Ensure that the apps are fun."
The next Tablet Strategy conference is April 30 in New York.