The word partnership is used so often to describe working with vendors that it’s real meaning has become diluted. How did this all come about? And what should partnership really mean?
By Anthony Szaro, Life Sciences, CSC
If we go back 8 to 10 years, economic uncertainty combined with falling pipelines and greater competition from generics were all starting to weigh on life sciences companies. The pressure was on to cut costs and do more with less. Each company started looking closely at where they could improve numbers, and the upshot was companies realized that outsourcing many of their non-strategic functions to expert vendors could create efficiencies and cut costs.
Understandably, most companies began these outsourcing ventures with a pilot approach to see if they validated what they were trying to achieve. Where benefits were realized, the amount of work that went to vendors of choice grew.
Let’s take as an example a larger pharmaceutical company where regulatory might be tasked with managing around 50 people on multiple shifts. Turning that over to a vendor lifts a lot of the burden of training, attrition, etc. So automatically there’s a win, and many have called this a partnership. But let’s face it – that’s what you expect of your vendor. They’re the experts in their field, they have – or they should have – the resources to manage those important but non-strategic activities. That’s not what I would describe as a partnership.
Picking up the Load
The move to partnership is an evolutionary one. It’s one that is based on mutual responsibility and mutual trust. A true vendor partnership is one in which you know your partner will flex to your needs. During a period of high demand for managing submissions, does your vendor respond as a partner, finding the resources, putting in the hours, and getting you to the finishing line accurately and on time – no matter how much overtime it might involve? The fact is, internal regulatory departments have strategic tasks they need and want to focus on, they don’t want to have to scramble to meet submission deadlines because their vendor can’t meet their requirements.
So a partner is one who lifts the burden, who you can trust to deliver high-quality work and who meets your deadlines as well as those set by the regulators. Think of it like landscaping: Sure, you might be able to care for your garden, but if it’s not your skill set or something you’re particularly interested in, you’ll have to devote a lot of time to learning how to do it as well as your landscaper – never mind the tools you’ll have to buy to achieve that outcome.
That’s just the start. Since your vendor is bound by service level agreements, it’s in both your interests that they not only meet the level of quality and efficiency you require, but that they overachieve.
Again, that’s not the full picture. The point where you know you’ve moved from “them and us” to “we” is when you’re both sharing insights and your vendor is becoming an integral part of the team.
A real partner should be able to provide you with input into how you can improve your internal processes. Over time as a vendor gets to know a client’s submission processes and documents really well, that vendor – if they’re doing their job well – can offer invaluable advice for the company on how they might gain more efficiencies. Whether that advice is welcome or unwelcome is what separates a vendor engagement from a partnership.
I joke that during a long-term engagement with one client, their team have started to look younger, healthier and better since we began partnering with them, while my colleagues and I are starting to look older, tireder and fatter. Of course that’s tongue in cheek. I know they’re working hard to drive greater innovation and improved outcomes. But they’re doing that knowing their partner is there for them 24/7, that they are working alongside a partner who has the resource pool required – including an additional 5% or 10% backup for larger projects – and the proven expertise to deliver exceptional results. That’s true partnership. That’s when you know you and your vendor have become “we.”