From Compliance to Strategic Asset


On April Fool’s Day in the United States, it’s important to have a good sense of humor about surprises. For life sciences companies in the U.S., however, there’s nothing humorous about surprises on the first day of April. That’s when pharmaceutical companies report aggregate spend data to the U.S. government in compliance with the Federal Sunshine Act. Because this data is publically available, any detail in these reports could become fodder for a story in The New York Times.

Sunshine Act requirements put pressure on pharmaceutical companies to ensure accurate reporting. Accurate reporting means more time managing spend data and greater attention to compliance in order to keep spending down.

Despite this regulatory pressure, a top-10 pharmaceutical company found an opportunity to go beyond track-and-report risk management and spend reporting to build something more agile and strategic. It took the right leader, the right partner and the right technology to make it happen.

The Problem

“There’s a big ocean of data,” the company’s associate director of business conduct says, referring to both public and private company data sources. “I had access to Excel reports and ad hoc reports, but they were all over the place.”

She knew that continuing a manual process was too time-consuming and error-prone. Her team members would spend all of their time tracking down data and performing quality control. Her team needed technology that would more accurately track, clean and report the data for them—with minimal manual intervention—so they could concentrate on more strategic efforts.

Since most of the data that business conduct needs is spend data, the team knew immediately that building a solution for both groups made sense. Taking the vision a step further, the team chose to create a reporting and analytics solution that could pull publicly available information in order to benchmark the company’s spending against others in the industry, providing key internal and competitive insights to senior leaders.

The company needed a system that was nimble enough to let them flag and act on problem areas in their spending and compliance reporting, create new rules as needed, and stay ahead of any issues that might develop. “We needed to quickly see trends. If one franchise was spending more than another, we needed to know why so we could investigate and make adjustments,” the associate director says. In short, the vision was to create a time-saving, accurate and more agile approach to risk management and spend reporting.

The Solution

Having worked with ZS in a previous commercial role, the associate director says that she was familiar with ZS’s strengths and capabilities. “I knew we’d share a mindset about what was possible to accomplish with the data we have,” she says.

Together, this company and ZS set out to build intuitive, easy-to-use dashboards for the business conduct and spend teams, with high-level and deep-dive views, and advanced filtering. This self-service, cloud-based solution built with Tableau, delivers:

  • Data tracking, cleaning , reporting and analytics from internal and public sources
  • Clear, visual comparisons between aggregated Sunshine Act submission data and more detailed in-house spend data
  • Industry benchmarking with at-a-glance and detailed views into competitor data
  • 360-degree views of compliance violations across multiple, preset dimensions
  • Flexible business rules that allow for new compliance guidelines so that the team can respond to issues as they arise

When the associate director shared the dashboard with her colleagues, they were surprised, she says. “The insights are incredible. I don’t think they knew what we could do with all of this data.”

The Impact

Reaction among the company’s senior leaders has been incredibly positive, with plans to expand the U.S. solution globally so that other regions can take advantage of: 

  • Internal and competitive insights drawn from analytics, that the company didn’t have before
  • Clean and accurate data that appears in the dashboards with no need for further quality control
  • Dramatic savings in time and effort that allow for nimble, strategic responses to compliance and spend issues as they arise
  • Surprise-free spend reporting
  • Future-proof and scalable technology

“You can lift a lot of rocks in compliance, or you can spend your time lifting the right ones,” the associate director says. “Now we can spend our time on what matters most because we see where the trends are in a very visual, clear way. That’s been key for me.”

She adds: “I think the big value ZS brings to the table is an understanding of the business of pharma and its problem sets. I had high expectations, and ZS met or exceeded those expectations.”