Building A Better Spreadsheet

By Alison Lee Satake, posted Feb 4, 2011
Forward thinking: PPD CIO Mike Wilkinson looks for new technology.

In the world of contract research organizations, how best to deliverrelevant data to your customer in a timely manner is an on-going challenge.

Wilmington-based PPD has come up with a new solution to an old problem. Last October, it shifted away from the mind frame of creating new spreadsheets for clients. The new technology allows clients to access PPD’s computer system and data 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“I think in the next couple of years, we will be doing this with all of our clients in one form or another,” said Mike Wilkinson, PPD’s Chief Information Officer. “I think this is a trend we’re going to see in the next couple of years. As more and more customers know about it and hear about having 24/7 access to their own data, I think we’re going to get a lot of customers moving in this direction,” he said.

Within his first six months as PPD’s first CIO, Wilkinson turned the company’s internal information technology department into a group that interfaces externally with clients.

“The trick was being able to take that competence and quality and turn around and face the customer and have them deliver innovative, creative solutions for our customers,” he said. “We knew we had that capability. We knew that it was a hidden weapon almost. But we hadn’t deployed it.”

Because a doctor at an investigative site, a patient, the pharmaceutical company and clinical team will want to see different aspects of the data, Wilkinson and his team tackled the challenge of providing role-specific views of the data for each of the stakeholders.

“They all need data and they all want to have access in near-real time to make the best decisions possible,” he said.

Through individual log-ins, each party can access the view of the data that is most applicable to them.

While many CIOs will primarily run the IT department, Wilkinson also oversees the global training, process improvement and business analytics departments at PPD, a total of about 600 people worldwide.

“When I came into this role, the CEO made it very clear to me that we wanted to transform technology here into a strategic asset at PPD. That was his direction to me,” he said.

Part of that is developing strategic partnerships with other companies. Last summer, PPD entered into a partnership with Microsoft.

“It was one of those times when we were in one of those meetings where we kept digging at it and saying, ‘We need to come up with a strategic initiative, something that’s going to move both of our companies forward a little bit,’” he said.

The result was the idea of developing technology that could improve the efficiency of managing the FDA-mandated programs for certain marketed drugs that ensure the benefits of a product outweigh the risks for patients called Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS) programs. The idea evolved through several meetings.

The technology is still in the development stage with plans to launch within the first quarter. But within the first six weeks of its first announcement of this new endeavor, PPD received 12 business development leads from companies interested in PPD running their REMS program.

“We entered into a partnership with a company that had capabilities around technology that we didn’t have. We could have gotten it, we could have bought it, we could have built this here,” he said. “[But the two companies] partnered to go to the market together to create a much more powerful collaboration than either of us could have done alone.”

Also on PPD’s horizon is the company’s first iPhone and iPad application that will have a search function to find a clinical trial near you. The app is aimed at providing information to perspective investigators and perspective clinical trial patients. The application will be free through the iTunes store.

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