Pfizer: Overcoming Challenges to Build an Integrated Lab

Efficient data management is a key issue for many working in lab informatics. Pfizer’s Arnaud Sartre, discusses how they are finding ways to assimilate integration and reuse as much  existing data as possible. He explains to Pharma IQ ahead of the 8th Annual SmartLab Exchange, taking place in Munich between the 26 – 27th of February 2013.

Pharma IQ: What are the main challenges that you are currently facing working with lab informatics at Pfizer?
A Sartre: The number one challenge is really around the data management piece and how to ensure that we generate data once and reuse it multiple times. In other words, how do we manage to integrate our various lab informatics solutions that we have from a local level, a laboratory level all the way up to enterprise level applications.
There are obviously other areas of challenge around maintenance and around global footprints of various applications. But one of the key hot topics at the moment is assimilating integration and finding ways to reuse as much existing data as possible, as opposed to making a lot of manual input in a variety of systems. 
Pharma IQ: How do you manage secure data, because 55% of our community said they were struggling with this?

A Sartre: One of our biggest challenges is about understanding our data standards.  What is our data quality framework? How do we use our various applications?  Are we actually using the same terminology across our various platforms? That sounds very simple, but, if you look at the various business processes when you work in a global environment, multiple departments, multiple divisions, different work streams; you realise very quickly that a lot of people are talking about the same thing in completely different ways.
Pharma IQ: How do you ensure a secure data flow between internal and external parties and, indeed, just internally at Pfizer as well?
A Sartre: In terms of the data flow between internal and external parties, we do have systems that may be open to some of our partners. This is done on a project by project basis and is very much controlled through some good levels of training and system access with a high level of internal oversight.
Internally, when looking at how data flows, we try to have a core set of applications that actually serves a variety of business lines and purposes. This is where we try and minimise the footprint to get the best of our existing footprint and, at the end of the day, deliver as much business value as possible for our customers.

Pharma IQ: From your own experience, could you share some ways of improving workflow automation levels in labs?
A Sartre: Workflow automation at a lab level starts from the ground up so we really need to have our key stakeholder and laboratory colleagues understand what we are trying to achieve.
From my own experience I have often seen very good systems and new processes being implemented to a variety of laboratories, without necessarily seeing an overarching definition and answer to the question of what's in it for me at the lab level.
Beyond, it is very much around defining what the end business goal is.  We can have a lot of systems; we can have a LIMS, ELN, SDMS, a CDS, at the end of the day all of these various systems actually allow us to do a lot of things. Various vendors provide a tremendous range of capabilities. The real question is around what are we actually achieving or trying to achieve?
I sometimes like to start from the end; what is the end business goal?  Is the business goal to just generate data? Is the business goal to generate knowledge?  Is it intermediate? Is it about generating information?  Or maybe it's a bit of all three.  It may be about generating data that leads you to information and, at the end of day, about knowledge and this is really where you have to start thinking around the overall lab informatics platform and how the various systems actually interface with each other in a very meaningful fashion.
Pharma IQ: Pfizer has an ELN and a LIMS system in place, how do you select the right vendors to work with and what factors are most important when making the decision of investing in technology? 
A Sartre: Cost is an element, but it's really  finding the right balance between meeting a business need with an informatics solution as well as working within a constrained budget.
Pharma IQ: Are you saying budgets really affect the overall decision-making or are there any other factors which become obstacles when moving forward with new technology?
A Sartre: I've not been directly involved in this decision in the recent past.  I would say that cost is one element; it is certainly not the only element. The other element is around how the system is really performing. What sort of business solutions has been provided to other customers and are we likely to benefit. Mainly, it's about understanding the best system that we can get to meet the business need and meet the internal constraints of cost, but also technical abilities and merits.
Pharma IQ: What changes do you expect to see within the next five years that will have an impact on lab informatics?
A Sartre: I have this vision of a fully integrated lab and I really think that we are on the brink of actually seeing this becoming a reality. Obviously the technology aspect is one element, but I'm also starting to see a lot of vendors moving into platforms that allow customers to perform a lot of things in a very similar fashion. I'm not going to get into the detail of which vendors, what solutions, but there is definitely some very good headway into that direction.
There are obviously a lot of questions pending these changes, but really it's about achieving a fully integrated lab. Do we need to re-evaluate our technology solution; the answer might be yes, the answer might be no, time will tell.  But I think ultimately the key point  is how to actually benefit from these new technologies, new platforms and systems and how well they integrate with one another using common standards.
And the platform is really the key. I think we are moving away from the system-specific to a more platform-like where the various lab informatics solutions actually become more modularised and the labs, in some ways, pick and mix different types of solutions that may have been presented before in various software suites.
Pharma IQ: What industries are you looking forward to hearing from at the SmartLab Exchange this year?
A Sartre: Primarily, from our peer group, the pharmaceutical industry. I'd personally welcome any other industry just to broaden the horizon and try and understand what other industries are actually doing because I'm sure there is a lot of very good work happening in different industries around very similar topics that the pharma world is interested in.
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