The rapid rise of the functional service provider model (FSP) over the past 20 years has changed the collaboration paradigm. In these models, the CRO partner employees represent both the service provider and the customer. This means that a CRO employee must be connected to both companies, which could serve to dilute the level of engagement these staff might have to one or the other company.
Our strategic embedded model relationships provide a strong foundation for us to recruit and develop the types of seasoned professionals our customers expect. Read on for a closer look at our embedded services process.
We view this connection as an opportunity to enhance engagement to both companies. We focus our teams not only on specific trials, but on the customer’s larger portfolio of sites, patients, and assets in development.
Many of our strategic embedded model relationships exceed 1000 resources and have been in place for over 15 years. These relationships provide a strong foundation for us to recruit and develop the types of seasoned professionals our customers expect. For a closer look at our embedded services process, we spoke with John Barry, SVP, Strategic Solutions Division.
Exactly how does the embedded model connect PRA employees to represent both the service provider and the customer?
Our customers have goals and objectives for their R&D portfolio. Their goals often connect to their rewards and recognition programs. Our staff working in embedded models directly impact the delivery of the customer’s goals.
First, we work with our customers to understand what their portfolio, priorities, and milestones are. Our staff then align themselves to the customer’s priorities and milestones, so our success becomes our customer’s success and vice versa.
As we're embedding into the customer's environment, the customer influences our staff. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean we lose our ability to influence them as well. At PRA, we look at both the phenotype and genotype of our people, often reflected in the differences between IQ and EQ.
IQ asks, “Does this person ‘look’ like they can do the job?” We need people who are smart enough, trained enough, and proficient enough to deliver on behalf of the customer. This can often be determined by looking at a candidates CV.
EQ asks an additional question, “Can this person actually do their job effectively?” It’s an important difference, particularly in roles that lean heavily on the strength of relationships where EQ competencies are a priority. The experience a customer or Investigator has with PRA staff reflects on both PRA and the customer. It’s important that our teams not only do a good job, but also do that job with good experience.
The culture of the team is paramount. We try to connect our teams to a customer’s larger priorities, like sustainability, diversity, and making sure that minority populations are well served in the clinical trial environment. PRA as a company is interested in those overarching goals as well, so we try to connect those corporate initiatives in our discussions with the customer.
How do you go about determining what value themes are shared between customers and PRA?
First, we review our own value themes. Then, we look at our customers’ value themes and decide which of them connect to ours. Most value themes are common across customers, but their order of priority changes. For example, one company might call out personnel and people development as a priority value. When we go on to build a customer unit for them, we would emphasize people and career development priorities in our management model.
Once that’s complete, we next look to bring in other elements of PRA’s offerings. For example, look at the recent decentralized CHIEF-HF study. The proportion of minority population patients that enrolled was higher than their usual clinical trial enrollment rate. The reason for that increase is because PRA’s mobile health platform allowed PRA to democratize the clinical trial, providing access to patient populations who might not have had access in a more traditional clinical trial.
In our conversations with our customers, we bring these successes to mind. It helps us avoid the “embed ‘em and forget ‘em” model that others in the industry might provide. As a company, we understand that success means understanding our customer priorities. It also means bringing their attention to offerings that we have.
Can you speak more about how you find the right people for the right position?
You can deliver every study on time, on budget, and hit every milestone, but the customer can still be unhappy. At the end of the day, customers often remember organizations based on how easy they are to work with.
In SSD, we make sure that our customer units work well together. We want our customers to want to answer the phone when we call, even when the call is about a problem or issue that needs to be discussed. While the problem may be difficult, the call itself should not be. This facilitates a more effective resolution and serves to strengthen the relationship. Unsolved problems often create opportunities for both companies to work closer.
Within these embedded models, our staff must be interested in and talented at engaging in this process repeatedly. Our staff are often in these models for multiple years, developing, growing, and representing the customer. We need to make sure they're not frustrated by that development and growth. We seek out talent and figure out where to deploy them in these operating models. Each customer’s expectations are different, but our staff consistently go above and beyond customer expectations.
We know that on the other side of our function and the customer’s portfolio are patients who depend on us to bring promising new medicines to market.
Part of this challenge is branding this capability as a standard practice. What parts of our embedded capabilities would you highlight?
There are a variety of functional models available in the industry today, including those that leverage the labor arbitrage available in a low-cost country. These models often depend on explicit knowledge and, in most cases, work can move to the people.
While we have these models at PRA, I think our strength is managing staff in functions that depend on tacit knowledge or knowledge that’s within the people. It’s these types of roles that build relationships with the external stakeholders we interact with. Also, we often see a distributed workforce where we need to move people to the work. However, this requires an even higher emphasis on staff engagement to ensure these staff feel connected from a distance. This includes roles like the CRAs, clinical team managers, study managers and higher-level statisticians, to name a few. I believe we manage this distributed workforce of strategic contributors in the clinical development process better than most others.
I’ve worked for and with many different suppliers. I can say that there's a big difference in how PRA approaches cultivating and nurturing our talent. We take seriously the importance of career and professional development, on both vertical and horizontal development of our people. We appreciate that we are securing our resources—not just for today, but for the long term as they develop their careers. Our strength lies with representing the customer on-site in front of their key stakeholders, enhancing their brand and awareness through the PRA team.
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