Watery Strings

I was involved in a customer demonstration today showing the regulatory affairs group of a small pharmaceutical company our new software offering to support the preparation of electronic submissions to regulatory agencies. There is a classic paradigm shift underway in this space – that’s a well worn cliché, but in this case quite true. In a future entry I’ll expound on this a bit, or even a lot, more. But the point here is that the staff of the potential customer neither understands what technology can do for them nor do they realize how much that technology will change the way they do things. And it’s not like they will have choice – the regulatory authorities are moving inexorably to require electronic submissions in a new format called the eCTD from the ICH that incorporates XML.
After a two hour web demo I felt like I’d been through a wringer. How do you sell something to someone who doesn’t even know enough to know what they don’t know, or to understand the issue and how they will have to address it at some time? Obviously the answer is you don’t. Clearly this company is not one of the early adopters ready to ‘cross the chasm’, they aren’t even a member of the mainstream – they are clearly a laggard – so onto the next prospect for me.
I felt like we were trying to, “Push water up a slope” or “Push on a string” as the sayings go.
Today’s experience leaves a number of half formed questions in my mind, mostly related to the ‘human factor’. At times I’ve watched how electronic systems have failed to yield the expected benefits because human behaviour works to confound them. As an example, in many companies it can take a month or two to collect the required signatures on a formal document such as a standard operating procedure (SOP). If you analyze the time involved, something like 30-40% of that time is taken by the process of moving the document around in internal mail. So you’d think that if the document was circulated electronically you could immediately get a 30-40% time saving; but no such luck. People notice that they get the document quicker so they feel a lower sense of urgency to sign it – they procrastinate. Or they have structured their work week to only sign procedures on Friday, so whether they get a document on Monday electronically, or on Wednesday by internal mail, there is no time saving by the time they sign.
Most people know that saving time will benefit their company, but in today’s experience, we couldn’t even talk about benefits when the people on the call didn’t understand the issue or the problems associated with it. One day they will, but not until I’ve moved onto another career – and I don’t have any current plans to do so…

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