A conversation with Beth Beghou, Beghou Consulting

Dealing with pharma’s commercial data deluge


Beth BeghouBeghou Consulting was founded in 1993 by Beth Beghou, following a stint at ZS. The company now operates out of five U.S. offices and an office in Hyderabad, India. The life sciences consulting firm develops commercial strategies for emerging and established companies. It has provided strategic counsel to the top pharmaceutical companies in the world, supporting some since their infancy.

1. Beghou has been in operation since 1993. Can you tell us its origin story—what unmet need you started out to fulfill? How has it evolved since then?
Today, Beghou Consulting is over 150 consultants strong with offices from coast to coast. But, in 1993, the company didn’t extend beyond the four walls of my home office.

After six years at ZS, I knew the industry was headed into a future full of large amounts of complex data. And I felt that if I doubled down on analytics as the centerpiece of commercial improvement, I could help life sciences companies in significant ways.

I had early success advising clients on the then-new physician-based databases in the industry. For example, I helped increase field productivity through better targeting and created sales alignments for both established and emerging pharma companies. Over the next ten years, talented industry leaders and former colleagues joined me. Together, we continued to grow the firm and expand our capabilities, recruiting from major universities across the country at all levels and hiring outside talent, as needed.

A key driver in our success has been our strategic, long-term partnerships with clients. We have counseled dozens of emerging pharma companies that produce everything from lifestyle drugs to oncology immunotherapies – and supported from infancy several of today’s top pharmaceutical companies. Analytics continues to be at the core of all the work we do, and we’re always seeking new ways to boost our knowledge and deploy advanced analytics in creative ways for clients. We’re deep into advanced techniques like machine learning, for instance. And we’ve developed a suite of proprietary technology that helps companies manage everything from customer lists to sales reporting to data warehousing. Further, we recently launched a marketing research practice to help us provide clients with a holistic quantitative and qualitative view into their markets.

2. Let’s talk about data and data management specifically now. How has the biopharma industry evolved in its data-management practices? What are the hot button issues today?
Pharmaceutical companies have access to more data than ever before, which presents great opportunities and challenges for commercial teams. Companies must upgrade their data management processes and technology to effectively harness all this data and pull insights from it. Additionally, companies must increasingly deploy advanced analytical techniques like machine learning to develop predictive insights that can help them establish more effective commercial tactics.

As the amount of data has exploded, so has the number of technology solutions on the market. We counsel clients to start with a focus on data management processes and goals before selecting and deploying technology.

We frequently work with new data sources that require more effort to organize and clean, such as specialty pharmacy data. Our clients rely on us to cleanse the data and accommodate missing information. As we continue to use data sources to inform commercial decisions, we need to ensure we comply with HIPAA regulations surrounding de-identified patient data and protected health information (PHI).

We’ve also noticed an increased focus on patients – more specifically, the patient journey. Thanks to electronic health records and claims data, commercial teams can uncover common physician treatment decisions and better target marketing efforts. We expect patient-level data and the patient journey to continue to play an even larger role in understanding physician behavior to inform commercial decisions.

Digital therapeutics – the use of software programs to prevent, manage or treat a medical disorder – and other areas of the digital health landscape will be interesting to follow as we learn more about their impact on health outcomes. A smartphone health app may complement a treatment program – such as apps to monitor blood-glucose levels – or be used on its own, without a traditional drug therapy.

Mobile health, or mHealth, has also piqued our interest. Apple, Google, Amazon and Microsoft are working together to provide consumers easier access to their medical information. We’re most interested in how more convenient access may affect their behavior – whether we’ll see more patients following their physicians’ orders, an increase in on-time prescription refills or healthier lifestyle choices overall.

3. Does Beghou offer its own technology and software? If so, how does it position itself competitively against pure software-development firms?
Yes, we have a suite of technologies that help companies manage and access data, report on sales results and field activity, analyze data, align territories, organize sales teams, and more. We have an advantage in that we are the developers and integrators of these technology solutions. Our technology solutions are grounded in our decades of consulting experience. As a result, we are able to customize the solutions for each client to ensure the technologies work for the various users at these organizations. These technology solutions can be implemented in as few as two weeks, compared to an average of four months or longer for other software providers. Two of our solutions appear below:

• Mainsail™ enables companies to efficiently collect, organize and deliver commercial data. The configurable software as a service solution offers sales teams the ability to input, organize and analyze key information, such as customer profiles, sales data and strategy plans. Commercial operations teams can use Mainsail to execute a wide mix of activities, including customer and affiliations management, customer targeting, sales and incentive compensation reporting, customer relationship management, and roster management.

• ARMADA™ – Adaptable, Resilient Multiprocessing Architecture for Data Analytics – enables companies to process, manage and analyze vast volumes of data on an intuitive centralized platform. Commercial teams can leverage robust, scalable processing power and gain maximum visibility into all their data operations. ARMADA can also deploy advanced analytics techniques like machine learning to uncover insights that can drive meaningful commercial gains.

Beth Beghou quote4. In general, biopharma is moving toward cloud-based offerings as its preferred platform. Do you find any resistance, anymore, to cloud-based services? And, having said that, are there preferred platforms for cloud-based computing services, or is it a commodity?
The cloud is ubiquitous today, and the industry eagerly welcomes cloud-based technology solutions. That said, companies sometimes prefer to house their data on-premises for security or compliance reasons. However, with major players like Microsoft and Amazon all-in on the cloud, security concerns are less pronounced than they were in the early days of the cloud.

5. IT vendors serving biopharma always complain about or worry about data quality and data cleansing. Is this something Beghou advises clients about?
As computing power and the ability to analyze quickly enormous amounts of data have increased, so have the risks associated with “garbage in, garbage out.” That’s why it’s crucial to continuously organize and clean data and make it accessible to users across various commercial functions. Such data handling is central to the service Beghou offers its clients.

Beghou’s obsession with clean, properly managed data stems from our company beginnings, when we drew metrics from raw data to inform commercial operations, including a company’s forecast, alignment or sales force sizing. And it still rings true in our approach today. We continue to create key additional metrics from the lowest levels of data, which has been extremely effective and beneficial for our clients. As you can imagine, these incremental or value-added metrics require a higher, more experienced skill level than simply loading the data into a warehouse. This process can range from creating simple summary time periods to managing more complicated metrics, such as patient duration-related fields, patient dose modifications and interruptions, delays between patient prescription authorization and actual dispense, and dispense counts by patients.

Data today comes in a mix of formats from a variety of sources – and with varying degrees of reliability. Prescriber addresses from The American Medical Association, for example, may be more accurate and complete than addresses captured in a company’s own physician reimbursement support site. That’s why we cleanse each source, remove duplicates and standardize formats. If possible, we fix some data irregularities; if not, we return the data to the provider for further investigation.

We also work with companies to develop business rules to determine the “best of breed” address for each prescriber. This may include steps related to automated processing, as well as manual “fuzzy match” reviews and resolutions of conflicting data.

6. You’re a woman-founded business, starting well before that became a “thing.” How has the journey been for you personally, and do you see a better environment for women in business today?
When I began working in the pharmaceutical industry in 1980s, it was a bit unsettling to see women absent from leadership and management. More women hold these positions today – such as Jackie Fouse at Agios Pharmaceuticals and Emma Walmsley at GlaxoSmithKline – but the industry should continue to work to provide more opportunities for talented women. The increasing number of female graduates in life sciences is also promising.

In business, I’ve always tried to follow the Golden Rule: To treat others as I would like to be treated. This concept applies across all relationships and conversations – including everyday interactions with customers and colleagues. It helps us build loyal and motivated employees who continue to meet and exceed our customers’ expectations. I consider the Golden Rule a key contributing factor to our long-term success and sustainable growth.

I also consider our firm “gender-blind.” Women should feel empowered and lean into their strengths with confidence to position themselves for success. For us, the most important determinant of success is to truly understand our clients’ needs and help them address commercial challenges. Fair treatment across all employees has many positive outcomes: a diverse class of new hires, cohesive teams and deserving promotions, all of which result in attracting and retaining talent.