It’s obvious really. If you have any process and you need to speed things up, you need to switch consecutive process steps into concurrent steps. However we all know that it’s not quite that easy in the implementation.

Sarah York, Head of Medical Information, Sanofi-Aventis talked us through their implementation in 2006-7 of Zinc, an electronic copy approval system at the quality section of the PIPA 2009 conference. Like many departments they went from a paper-based (or Excel spreadsheet system) for tracking and managing the flow of job bags for approval to implementing an electronic system, Zinc.

When anyone implements a new database, it is always a great opportunity to rethink your normal business processes and look for improvements/quick wins/step elimination and to think how you can do things faster, better, cheaper.

Implementing Zinc was no exception. MI still had to be the first approvers in the process but the other approvers could view the items concurrently. In today’s world where people work from home, hotels or airport lounges (probably anywhere but the office!), it’s an absolute not a nice to have.

One other great advantage for Sanofi-Aventis was that they could also cope with an increased volume of promotional pieces.

Some facts and figures to chew over;

  • 2500 job bags p.a.
  • 10 promoted products generating job bags
  • 15-20 other products generating smaller volumes
  • mixture of electronic and physical items (like pens) to track
  • Between 1 – 10 approval cycles before final authorisation
  • need to have joint venture companies approving the same pieces

Just some of the problems they wanted to solve were;

  • lost job bags, buried under piles of papers on desks
  • Need to recreate lost job bags
  • continual chasing (nagging?) by marketeers to approve a job bag
  • increasing volume of paper purchased to create yet more job bags
  • lost/missing references in archived job bags (from keen recyclers!)
  • time intensive audits

Like any project, you plan as much as you can and anticipate problems that are mostly likely going to occur. But what of those setbacks that you just can’t predict?

Sarah described the issue of handling large pdf files, sharing data outside their own secure environment, keeping track of users (inside or outside the company – such as agency staff) and most importantly trying to hardwire the process so that people cannot bypass the approval system. Many of us will be familiar with our colleagues, asking favours of fellow brand team members to just check this one over without using the system!

So what was the outcome? A 43% reduction in turnaround time has got to be the most impressive statistic. Approval of electronic pieces went from an average of 14 days to 1.7 days (although I wondered what happened in the other 0.3 of a day). For a start, audit was so much easier to do. They could see all ongoing jobs at a glance, could see who said what about each piece, retrieve past job bags etc. Worldwide access could also be granted. Other benefits included easy deputisation when away on holiday or unplanned absence. One of the biggest benefits has to be using a common reference library. Only one electronic copy of a reference needed to be created. Specific parts could be highlighted according to the job bag content.

If they had to introduce a similar system again, Sarah said she would roll out the system even quicker after completing their pilot. Circulating top tips and learnings from pilot users is another good idea.

Was it perfect? – No
Was it worth it? – Yes!