Most recently, I’ve been working with a variety of small pharma/bio companies that need to purchase a QC (Quality Control) system for their laboratories. We could call it a LIMS but with the way acronyms abound, let’s just say that it will manage their samples, tests, results, workflows and reporting.

The problem is that they’re, well, small. They need systems that include features such as stability manager and might or might not need to run in the cloud (because they don’t all have their own IT departments). In addition, these system must be not just appropriate in cost for their size but must also have been implemented and validated by a larger company, because finding a system that has already been reviewed by other customers can seriously cut down the initial system cost.

With all that, they realize they can only afford to purchase a single system and start thinking about how they can offer some of this to the R&D (Research & Development) group and to manage batch records, as well. They need everything but can afford almost nothing.

As I watch the usual demos, I feel despondent, quite honestly.  Some of the companies will get so desperate that they will spend a crazy amount of money for one of the bigger systems, just out of frustration. Sure, everything looks good in the demos, but until you’ve actually done the implementation, you can’t really know what you’re going to run into with a system. Customers are leery of working with some of the smaller systems, even though these are priced more toward their budgets and more appropriate for the number of support people they’ll have.

As such, I have a suggestion: I suggest that the small companies create an alliance to work together to identify those software products that can be used effectively and relatively efficiently for their situation. They need to find systems they won’t quickly grow out of and have the features they need.

As a group, they’ll have to identify the most common requirements and agree to the fact that anyone that wants something additional has to pay separately for it. But, with their larger group banding together, they can possibly both get something of a group deal on the pricing AND can encourage those software vendors who offer systems that are merely close to what is needed to add the final bits to offer a full system. I would caution, though, to be careful with the negotiation portion because there are plenty of stories in the industry of customers who thought they been good deal-makers, gotten a great price, and eventually realized they didn’t – that something key was missing or severely limited.

The last bit of this is that someone might suggest that I start such a group. I have a long history of compulsively volunteering to do this sort of things. However, I’m serious about trying to avoid these things. Here are my reasons:

  1. I’m trying to give away less of my time. Time given away can’t be charged for. The day only has 24 hours in it and it’s not going to change. Like most people, I like to pay the mortgage and focus on saving for retirement, healthcare payments, and the like. As such, I promised myself I’m focus on the parts where I charge my time and stop doing the parts where I do things for free.
  2. People don’t trust consultants. I just too often run into the situation where people are so suspicious of consultants that they spend all their time questioning that I could be up to any good. Sure, I’m out there to promote my business like everyone else but I can honestly say that I haven’t been involved with any of the volunteer situations where I’ve made any money off them. In general, when I hear someone discussing needing consulting help, I don’t feel remotely apologetic about suggesting my services. However, many people do find this offensive and that’s why I would say that it’s better to find someone who is a bigshot in one of the member companies to pull this all together – someone who gets a salary, regardless, basically.

One More Thing
I’m not accepting any comments by software vendors mentioning their products with this post. It wasn’t meant as a way to begin the selection process, merely as food for thought for the small companies. Just think about it.

Gloria Metrick
GeoMetrick Enterprises

Do you agree? Disagree? Have something to Add? Here's your chance - make a comment!