Wyeth's Prescription for Business Process Management Success

By putting business process ahead of technology, the drug giant laid the groundwork for BPM success.

By David F. Carr
Fri, May 30, 2008

CIO — For a pharmaceutical company like Wyeth, no function is more important than research and development—the process of finding the new drugs that will lead to patents and profits. And for the information systems group that supports R&D, business process management (BPM) is emerging as a key technology and management strategy to make that function more efficient.

In fact, R&D's early success at using this technology and methodology to cut software development time in half has sparked interest from other divisions of the company that are looking to start their own BPM projects. But for Wyeth, the real payoff lies in BPM's potential to help the company define business processes and unify its information systems to break down barriers between organizational and geographic divisions and to improve collaboration and innovation.

"The demand is very high for connecting what used to be stovepiped systems," says CIO Jeffrey E. Keisling.

That demand is driven in part by the global nature of the pharmaceutical industry, in which virtual teams from different business units around the world work together to develop new drugs and related innovations. "As we develop products, that development is happening on a worldwide scale," says Keisling.

For example, one current BPM project targets the process for developing medication labeling documents, which involves collaboration across many stakeholders and approvals that have to be obtained from regulators worldwide, Keisling says.

The process is almost as involved as the application for a new drug approval, he says. Wyeth has to detail the composition of the medicine with molecular diagrams, explain restrictions on its use and document known drug interactions—all to produce the folded piece of paper you find inside each package. The application, which is still under development, will need to reach across R&D, clinical trials, and legal and regulatory review.

The fact that Wyeth would trust such a critical, regulated process to BPM is a vote of confidence in the approach, says Keisling. (A Wyeth BPM project was selected to receive a 2008 CIO 100 award.) So far, Wyeth seems to have avoided the technology and governance pitfalls that have dogged some other implementations (see "Business Process Management: A Hot Area That's Still Immature.")

Keisling says the main governance issue he sees is connecting the BPM expertise emerging within the company with the projects that will deliver the greatest return on investment. "Right now, our biggest challenge is portfolio management," he says. BPM is definitely a to-do list item for companies today. But many CIOs and businesses have struggled to make it work. Wyeth's experience offers a window on what makes a successful BPM initiative.

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