Sanofi is a global healthcare company, headquartered in Paris, France, with U.S. headquarters in New York City. Sanofi's primary focus is on ethical pharmaceuticals; other areas of business include animal health, diagnostics and beauty products. The company is regarded for its innovative research and development, carried out by its global research group. Sanofi is established in the U.S. as an innovator in the treatment of cardiovascular diseases. Communication is an essential factor in almost everything we do. In business, effective communication determines the success of any project. This is especially true of data warehousing projects.

A major challenge in implementing a data warehouse or data mart is the need to involve a significant number of stakeholders. Everyone from the IT staff, to the business unit, to outside vendors and senior management must be involved for a successful undertaking. However, as the number involved rises, communication problems can occur. In fact, poor communication is often to blame for spiraling costs and less-than-desired functionality. And it is also a major factor in projects where the end result differs substantially from original objectives.

Communication played a key role in the recent data mart implementation at Sanofi Pharmaceuticals, Inc., in conjunction with IMS HEALTH. Sanofi was about to launch two new products key to the company's strategic plan and needed a data mart up and running within six months to support the launch. IMS agreed to the time frame and took on the project. Since the aggressive time line allowed no room for error, the two partners clearly defined the role of all those involved and designed a strategy to prevent bottlenecks along the way.

Implementation began with a kick-off meeting. In this meeting, Sanofi's data mart project manager, David Silver, outlined exactly what he expected the data mart to do. It must enable him to answer three questions: who is our competition, which customers should we target and how can we get them to opt for Sanofi's products. Throughout the implementation, he took every opportunity to state and restate these simple, non-technical objectives to the entire Sanofi/IMS HEALTH project team. This three-question mantra enabled the project to stay on track with the objectives.

Instead of meeting separately, the Sanofi team (composed of business and IT personnel) and IMS HEALTH project team met weekly, even if there were no pressing matters to discuss. The IMS HEALTH team heard firsthand the particular functionality desired by Sanofi's business users. This assured that nothing was lost in the "translation" and no unpleasant surprises would occur down the line. Each week the project plan was reviewed with action items updated and revised copies distributed to team members. Regular meetings kept everyone on the same page and accountable for their role in the project.

Sanofi's IT personnel are encouraged to think and behave like business people. Our IT managers are intentionally selected to lead or participate in key non-IT initiatives ­ such as strategic planning, acquisitions and operational streamlining. They work side by side on these task forces and project teams with their business partners, including sales, marketing, HR, management and manufacturing. As a result, the line between business personnel and IT personnel at Sanofi is blurred, resulting in few barriers to effective communication and allowing the two groups to be in sync as one constituency when dealing with outside venders. In fact, IMS HEALTH stated it was often hard to distinguish between the business and IT personnel throughout the implementation.

Effective communication combined with Sanofi's business-thinking technical staff contributed to a successful data mart implementation that was on time, on budget and in line with initial objectives. We now get much more out of our market intelligence data. Sanofi's market research and sales managers not only make faster and better decisions ­ they're also able to ask better questions. And, of course, they're able to answer the three questions that we set out to answer from the beginning.

The communication on the Sanofi/IMS HEALTH project team was truly unique. The lessons learned through this partnership will serve both companies' project teams well in future implementations.

Sanofi's data mart implementation represents one of more than a dozen successful data mart implementations completed by IMS HEALTH, the world's leading provider of healthcare information and a leading supplier of business intelligence technology to the pharmaceutical industry.

Following are some of the communication elements often found in successful data mart projects. This list can serve as the base for an IT project's communication strategy.

1. Communicate clear and concrete objectives from the start. It is important to state what you expect to accomplish with the project in very non-technical terms. Involve team members (IT, business, vendor) in formulating these objectives as much as possible to build commitment from the outset. Obtain a clear understanding of user requirements (time line, costs, functionality, quality, etc.) and provide an explicit picture of the final deliverable. It is critical that you immediately discuss and resolve all conflicts involving priorities, resources and expectations. Establish objective criteria for measuring the results of the project upon delivery. Put everything in writing and get sign-off from all stakeholders prior to beginning the project. Include these objectives up front in the project plan and revisit them at regular intervals. Refine the objectives if necessary; but before agreeing to new or different courses of action, ask yourself, "Is this in line with our objectives?"

2. Identify roles and seek official buy-in. Allow team members to provide input on the project. This helps galvanize their support for, and commitment to, the project. Make sure that project team members both understand and accept their role, as people are more likely to deliver if they understand, accept and are committed to their role.

3. Develop relationships and discuss problems immediately. Take an active role in developing strong working relationships with customers. This breaks down a number of walls that could otherwise impede communication and scuttle the project. Not only do good relationships improve communication and the probability of the project succeeding, they are also personally rewarding. A good project manager's biggest supporters are often his or her customers.

4. Leverage these relationships by discussing problems immediately! Be proactive so problems such as scalability and staffing changes do not threaten the success of the project down the line.

5. Hold regular meetings. Hold regular meetings, even if there is nothing new to report with the project. This will go a long way in keeping the channels of communication open, and it will give the team a chance to discuss issues that may become obstacles down the line. It also improves team building and allows successes to be leveraged throughout the entire project.

6. Document everything. Aside from formal documents, such as the project plan, make sure that you document any changes in the project's scope, conceptual design, functional requirements or critical success factors. And you may want to document change management procedures, test plans and version controls, along with all weekly staff meetings and interactions with end users. Above all, be sure to document the assignments and deadlines for each member of the project team. Use e-mail to help you document pertinent items and disseminate the information to all that need it. This helps in bolstering accountability, while preventing misunderstandings before they occur.

Kevin O'Rourke, chief information officer, Sanofi Pharmaceuticals, Inc.

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