The emergence of the API economy threatens to disrupt incumbent companies across all verticals, from banking, to retail, to healthcare and life sciences.
Pfizer, one of the world’s three largest pharmaceutical firms, provides a striking example of how large, complex enterprises can build application networks to harness the power of the API economy.
Through API-led connectivity, Pfizer has enabled secure access to data and services from core systems and enabled them to be composed into a distinct set of business capabilities, which can then be re-used across the value chain to meet disparate business needs. Management of product inquiries from clinicians and patients, for example, has been redesigned into a platform capability that can support omnichannel engagement from distinct clinician engagement platforms across geographies without requiring point-topoint interfaces for each channel.
Product development, too, has been transformed, with APIs enabling secure data sharing of clinical trials data with investigators and the applications they use. This, in turn, has enabled the development of composite capabilities like the Global Clinical Supply API, which has been used to proactively provide alerts about temperature controlled drug shipments to reduce drug spoilage during clinical trials execution.
The application network serves as the organizing construct through which these capabilities are developed, consumed, extended, managed, and governed throughout the enterprise. As such, it serves as a foundational component for Pfizer’s digital platform.
In addition, by establishing a Center for Enablement (C4E), Pfizer has been able to realize the organizational change required to drive the production and consumption of these application network capabilities across the entire enterprise, not just central IT. In doing so, they have driven business innovation across all parts of the value chain, from the production of new drugs, to the process of bringing these drugs to market.
MuleSoft’s Anypoint Platform and outcome-based delivery model have served as the core enabler for this technological and organizational transformation. As a result of this transformation, MuleSoft’s value assessment model projects that Pfizer will drive a projected 69.40% decrease in project delivery and maintenance costs for new applications consuming from the application network, which will allow them to reinvest in accelerated innovation.
The need for an application network at Pfizer
As the world’s third largest manufacturer and distributor of pharmaceuticals, Pfizer, and its IT team, operate at a massive scale. The company drives over $50B in revenue across over 600 different product lines, and sells products in approximately 175 markets with over 60 manufacturing plants and countless R&D partner institutions. Today, IT plays an increasingly vital role in helping the business to manage the massive size and complexity of its business operations. Pfizer (and indeed all pharmaceutical companies), is not unlike manufacturing or consumer goods companies.
They face increasing pressure to digitize processes supporting product development, and to expand the use of digital channels to support how they bring these products to market. They must then bring these products to market across a variety of geographies and through a number of distribution channels. And in doing so, they must streamline internal operations in a way that combats downward price pressures. The unique product, go-to-market, and regulatory complexities that come part and parcel with the pharmaceutical industry compound these business requirements.
This complexity at the business process level has created a corresponding complexity for IT. As a result of these initiatives, Pfizer’s IT team had faced an explosion of IT initiatives — whether it be from a growing number of stakeholders and partners supporting a business process, or a growing number of applications, data, and devices which must be connected. As we will demonstrate below, integration emerged as a focus area that Pfizer depended on to bring new products to market faster and to meet evolving customer needs. Previously, the manner in which Pfizer developed applications in support of these initiatives was decentralized, with distinct “business technology” (BT) units supporting different parts of the value chain, including:
- Global product development: Responsible for supporting new product development
- Medicinal sciences: Responsible for supporting the distribution and tracking of clinical supplies
- Medical: Responsible for ensuring the safe and effective use of Pfizer’s medications
- Commercial: Responsible for supporting sales and marketing focused IT
- ERP: Responsible for supporting back office ERP systems anchoring core business processes
- Enterprise: Responsible for developing enabling capabilities supporting the other business technology groups
Within the enterprise team resided Pfizer’s Enterprise Application Service Integration team (EASi), responsible for enabling the rapid and secure sharing of data between business systems across the enterprise. The EASi team realized that across different business technology units, common capabilities were being redeveloped over and over again in support of similar, yet distinct business initiatives. Projects across these teams shared many of the same requirements, such as extracting data from the same core legacy systems, or surfacing data to a shared set of new cloud endpoints.
“Previously, integrations were largely application specific,” said Jeff LoVetere, Director of the EASi team, “and as a result, we were unable to go as fast as we wanted to meet emerging business needs.”
For example, the management of medical inquiries — scientific questions asked of Pfizer from healthcare professionals and consumers — previously required hardcoding between PRIMA, Pfizer’s internal medical inquiry management system, and the digital platform that healthcare professionals used to submit the inquiry. Under their old operating model, each platform that was onboarded required additional hardcoding to PRIMA. This rework represented wasted effort that had the potential to be channeled into a variety of netnew projects. If various business technology units were able to tap into a platform of shared IT enterprise resources, instead of simply rebuilding what they needed from scratch for each incremental project, Pfizer would be able to supercharge the speed and minimize the cost at which they could deliver innovation.
To address this challenge, LoVetere and the EASi team identified the need to pivot from a project-based approach, where they or other teams would address business integration needs on a one-off basis, to a platform-based one, where they would surface and orchestrate capabilities that could be accessed by different business units and their respective line-of-business IT teams. APIs would serve as the primary means through which the capabilities could be securely shared with line of business teams, who would in turn be able to extend core capabilities surfaced by the platform in a way that met their needs. Over time, exposing sets of common business capabilities through APIs would lead to the emergence of an application network, which would provide a framework for asset reuse that would allow them to meet the increasing demands imposed upon them by the business.