This is the advice that I would give my younger self when I joined Novartis.
In 2008 I joined Novartis in Basel as a CI Manager. It was my first job working for a multinational organization and It was my first time having to manage CI vendors.
Shortly after joining, one of my internal stakeholders called me saying that he wanted to talk to me urgently. He sounded frustrated and I got worried.
The stakeholder was an executive managing a blockbuster brand (with revenues or potential revenues of more than one billion dollars). The executive had an upcoming meeting with Senior Management where they were going to make an investment decision worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
The executive was a man of few words. He told me to fix the project and to get rid of the CI agency. He told me that he needed answers to the KIQs (Key Intelligence Questions) prior to his meeting. His look told me that if I didn’t get the answers to the KIQs then my career at Novartis would be short lived.
The struggle was real. I had to put out my first major fire in the corporate world. I had no idea how to select a vendor for a complex project involving several topics and several geographic regions.
In the process of managing this project I discovered a few simple criteria (below) on selecting a CI agency. At the end, the above CI project was so successful that I was given the “Best New Hire” award for the franchise.
Here are my 5 criteria when selecting a CI Agency:
- The Agency must know it’s strengths and weaknesses: Over the last decade my team members or I have used more than 20 CI vendors. The projects that always failed were the ones when the CI Agency claimed they could do everything. For the most part agencies are very good at one part of the pharma value chain and not others. For example at Atacana we focus on commercial intelligence and we have turned down projects looking at medical devices development.
- The Agency CI manager must have experience gathering human intelligence: The most successful projects have always been when the CI manager on the vendor side has experience gathering human intelligence. This is because they can manage expectations better with the client, they can help the collectors brainstorm different ways to get the intelligence and when push comes to shove they can do the primary collection themselves.
- The Agency CI manager has experience and/or understands what it is like to be a CI manager on the client side: I believe the CI manager on the agency side should be an extension of the client’s CI team. Understanding how the intelligence is used internally and how it needs to be communicated is critical to ensure the deliverables are impactful.
- The Agency can create deliverables that required little or no extra effort to be shared with your internal stakeholders: Over the years one of the major complains that I have heard from my team members’ is the amount of work that certain deliverables require after the vendor sends them. Picking an agency that can distill the intelligence, analyze it and provide it in the right format will make your life easier.
- The Agency must have strong ethical standards and strong legal guidance for its researchers: This point is self explanatory but not all agencies are legal or ethical. It is important for CI managers to ask the vendors to see their legal and ethical guidelines.
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