Publisher's Insight: Intellectual Q&A

One of the advantages of my position as Publisher of DM Review is that I have many opportunities to visit conferences, conventions, seminars and vendor sites. Consequently, I am keenly aware of enterprise requirements and the solutions vendors provide to meet those requirements. Occasionally, I encounter vendor solutions that I feel are very unique. My Publisher's Insight feature spotlights these exceptional products.

All DM Review readers realize the advantages of a data warehouse for decision making and competitive advantage within their enterprise. Intellect Q&A is a data warehouse developed by NDC Health Information Services. I have selected it for my Publisher's Insight this month because it successfully integrates data warehousing and Internet technology to provide pharmaceutical sales data on a subscription basis.

Ron Powell
Publisher DM Review


Fort Knox of the pharmaceutical industry--that's an apt description of a facility in Arizona containing terabytes of golden numbers detailing pharmaceutical sales data.

Now there is a better way to easily access this "gold" to gain maximum value from this precious resource of data. NDC Health Information Services, a major provider of business solutions for the health care industry, has created Intellect Q&A, the first Web-enabled data warehouse subscription service offering pharmaceutical data to businesses seeking detailed data regarding pharmaceutical sales.

Like many businesses today, the pharmaceutical industry has an abundance of information locked away in computers, not readily accessible to decision-makers. It is not uncommon for large pharmaceutical companies to spend millions of dollars to gather data, build a data warehouse, and publish and distribute hard copy reports. In fact, NDC estimates it would cost in excess of $12 million for a business to replicate and maintain the Intellect Q&A; data warehouse internally. Generally, analysts and managers have had to rely on their information systems experts to run the reports and then print and distribute reams of dated data. The next step in the process was for market researchers to reformat and analyze the data before passing it on to others. It was a tedious, costly process in which the data warehouse was purely a cost center.

In the fast pace of the pharmaceutical business, this approach is out of sync with the needs of decision-makers. To support today's enterprise with its flatter organization of knowledge workers, a business must make information available to a broad spectrum of workers simultaneously, not in a linear manner.

The Internet has changed the way businesses work. Because the Web provides users affordable, reliable and easy access to NDC's data warehouse, more small and medium businesses can have access to the same information as larger enterprises. Intellect Q&A; capitalizes on the economics and access of the Web, transforming the data warehouse from a cost center to a profit center. This same approach can be applied to other data warehouse opportunities.

Decision-makers have a shortcut to uncovering nuggets of timely information using the Internet and Intellect Q&A. The repository contains current information detailing drug sales based on more than 70 percent of prescriptions filled at retail pharmacies in the United States. Monthly sales data is available only 20 days after the close of the month; and, therefore, the information is far more timely than the traditional 45-60 day old data. Because data is refreshed on a monthly basis, decision-makers have a more current picture of pharmaceutical sales and can implement plans based on more timely information.

NDC's multi-terabyte data warehouse contains information based on over 2.3 billion prescriptions filled by retail pharmacies in the United States. On a monthly basis, there is an average of 130 to 150 million prescriptions. Subscribers can get details on 1.2 million prescribers, 220,000 drugs, 35,000 pharmacies and 1,200 managed care/provider organizations.

It is important to note that NO patient identification information is collected from the pharmacies, thereby insuring patient privacy and confidentiality. The database does not include patient names, social security numbers, age, address or phone number.

NDC has developed more than 60 standard reports which are categorized into six topic folders including market, payer, prescriber, prescription, geography and look-up analyses. Secondary sorts can be performed on the data to identify rankings, trend analysis, market share and exception reporting. Software from MicroStrategy gives Intellect Q&A users the ability to graph the results or export data to another application to perform additional analysis.

With simple on-line help commands and an intuitive user interface, even the computer novice can master Intellect Q&A, creating reports and reviewing data quickly. On-line report descriptions assist users in pinpointing the information they need.

Furthermore, because Intellect Q&A is accessible via the Internet, subscribers have the key to open the warehouse of pharmaceutical data at any time and from any place. For the peripatetic executive who needs the latest data on pharmaceutical sales during a business trip to Australia, it's no problem--just log onto the Internet and query Intellect Q&A.

Currently there are four pharmaceutical companies subscribing to Intellect Q&A. Because the power of the data in the hands of product managers and other pharmaceutical executives is strategic, the pharmaceutical companies are reluctant to divulge their names or how they are using the information.

However, it's no mystery. Envision a pharmaceutical company with a blockbuster asthma drug wanting to understand where its chief competitor has been most successful. Using Intellect Q&A, the product manager can determine which physicians are the major prescribers of product X, what geographic regions have the greatest number of prescribers and total sales for the competitive product. This data can be cross-matched with other information. For example, the product manager might target geographic areas with large populations of asthma patients and low penetration of the competitor's product.

Users of this warehouse of pharmaceutical data are not limited to pharmaceutical companies. Managed care organizations (MCOs) will find the data invaluable in helping them negotiate future contracts. For example, knowing the price its competitors are paying for any given drug will give the MCO critical information when negotiating new contracts with pharmaceutical companies and pharmacy benefits plans. In addition, a plan can quickly assess its physicians' prescribing patterns and compare and contrast the profiles with other physicians in and outside the plan. It may be easier and quicker, perhaps even less costly, for a decision-maker to analyze prescriber information through Intellect Q&A than through an in-house database.

Historically, only larger companies could afford to collect and maintain large databases and hire the required technical experts to analyze the data. While many users such as those mentioned earlier have always had access, at least at some level, to the type of data stored in the Phoenix data warehouse, it is the Internet that is equalizing or "democratizing" access to this data by opening the door to businesses with restricted research budgets. In the egalitarian spirit of the Internet, this information is now affordable to medium and small businesses such as ad agencies, market research firms, venture capital firms, physician group practices and academia. Subscription prices are based on the number of users, resource utilization and level of data accessed.

One early adopter of the Intellect Q&A service is an ad agency. What better way to analyze a client's successes than to measure their sales? An account executive can determine the market share of a competitive product prior to launching a promotional campaign for a client's new product and then analyze the sales post launch. To determine the impact of specific promotional investments, one can match sales results in geographies with print campaigns versus those without a marketing effort.

The Intellect Q&A subscription service has just been launched. Based on a limited number of beta users, it appears the functionality of the service should offer valuable information to users, such as those described.

Because the user base for this subscription service is business-oriented, not technically sophisticated, the service is designed with few technical requirements on the user's part. The computer configuration on the client side is minimal with no restrictions on the operating system; subscribers can use a Windows, Macintosh or Unix machine. A Web browser such as Netscape Navigator (3.0 or more recent version) or Microsoft's Internet Explorer (3.0 or more recent version), an Internet connection, and Intellect Q&A's subscription service are all a user needs.

All upgrades to the database are made on the server. Access to the database is through DSS Web, MicroStrategy's World Wide Web interface which facilitates the manipulation of the very large data warehouse. MicroStrategy's DSS Server, a ROLAP engine, processes user requests, prioritizes the queries and tracks system usage. Both DSS Web and DSS Server reside on the Phoenix-based server; therefore, the user does not have to be concerned about upgrading software on the client. MicroStrategy's DSS Administrator enables NDC to monitor use of the data warehouse and manage project implementation to tune Intellect Q&A for optimal performance. On the backend is a multi-terabyte Oracle 7.3 data repository running on a dual-quad Sequent NUMA-Q 2000 and an IBM 9672 CMOS mainframe enterprise data server.

Intellect Q&A unites MicroStrategy's state-of-the-art technology with NDC Health Information Services' wealth of information to help unlock the golden repository of pharmaceutical data for small to large businesses.

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