Microsoft Lync Pilot Aids AstraZeneca Sales Rep, Researcher Collaboration

Biopharmaceutical vendor AstraZeneca has launched a unified communications pilot using Microsoft Lync to improve collaboration among pharmaceutical sales reps, doctors and researchers.

Biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca has launched a unified communications (UC) pilot project using Microsoft Lync to enhance collaboration among sales team members, doctors and external drug researchers.

Lync allows workers to conduct voice-over-IP (VOIP) phone calls and keep track of contacts' availability, as well as participate in videoconferences, instant messaging and Web conferencing. Lync is available as a stand-alone product or as a component of the Office 365 productivity suite, for which Microsoft added privacy-protection measures such as incident reporting in December.

For its initial trial, AstraZeneca rolled out Lync to 4,300 users across the company. Although AstraZeneca isn't committed to a full implementation of Lync, the pilot has been a success, according to Angela Yochem, chief technology officer for AstraZeneca. "We're very pleased with what we learned," Yochem told eWEEK.

Of 1,000 pilot users, 78 percent were able to increase their productivity by using Lync, Microsoft reported.

AstraZeneca has 57,200 employees in the United States, Europe and Asia. The pilot spanned seven business units in 33 countries. Workers used Lync on the iPhone, iPad and Android, said Yochem.

The pilot showed that the pharmaceutical business lines at AstraZeneca could successfully interact with other areas of health care, according to Yochem.

"It was nice to see that our business lines could adapt to a highly collaborative structure that did not rely on face-to-face interaction," said Yochem. "Large pharmaceuticals are just one node in an ever-expanding network of entities that participate in the discovery and development of commercialization of medicine."

Lync enables sales teams to hold virtual meetings with doctors, and employees in R&D to conduct video conferences with drug researchers.

The tool enables AstraZeneca to discuss the development of new molecules and compounds, according to Microsoft.

Lync also allows sales teams to reduce their training time on new pharmaceutical brands by 75 percent, said Yochem. Despite the shorter training time, sales reps still get the same amount of actual training, Yochem explained. The workers are able to reduce time spent traveling and preparing materials.

"It's not that they get less training; it's just that we cut out all of the logistic issues," said Yochem. "We're left with the training itself, so that's been a productivity gain."

A key benefit of using UC tools such as Lync is the ability to externalize collaboration, said Yochem.

"One of the foundational capabilities we need to have in place as a large pharma is the ability to externalize, so that collaboration capability becomes increasingly important over time," said Yochem. "The folks in the research space have found they are more highly collaborative€”they're easily able to collaborate with external entities," said Yochem.

In addition, for some areas of AstraZeneca's supply chain, Lync improved turnaround time from days to minutes for some processes, she said.

Operations team members used Lync for basic tasks such as arranging meetings and conference calls, said Yochem.

"It allows instant access to individuals and to information, and that's where I think our supply chain guys see the most benefit in the construct of the pilot," she said.