Our VP of Partnerships, Zak Pines, recently interviewed the President of Formstack partner Cloud Adoption Solutions, Dr. Shannon Gregg. Zak and Shannon discussed a range of topics, including how clinical research facilities have had to quickly adapt in a post-COVID era, the digital paradox, Health Cloud for Life Sciences and the future of work. Here is an abridged version of their discussion.
Introduction to Cloud Adoption Solutions
Zak Pines: Can you tell us about Cloud Adoption Solutions?
Dr. Shannon Gregg: Cloud Adoption Solutions is a Salesforce consultancy that is really focused on the end user experience. One of the things we found in our work with companies in heavily regulated environments like life sciences and wealth management is that end users really need to want to use Salesforce in order to use it really well. We’re focused on getting the best use of Salesforce for our clients.
Zak: How did health and life sciences become a focus for you and your team?
Shannon: I was working in life sciences and drug development on the e-clinical side, and one of the things that I found is that Salesforce use is so specialized in the health and life science industry. So we focus really heavily on helping end users understand things like how to capture progress and protocol information, or how to make sure we aren’t sending multiple bids to multiple places for the exact same trials.
The Struggles of Clinical Research and Trial Companies
Zak: What are some of the challenges or issues diagnostic, genetics, or clinical research organizations face?
Shannon: It’s juicy, Zak. Because on March 13, 2020, everybody had to hurry up and digitize in an industry notorious for being very careful and risk averse based on their requirements for the FDA or other similar regulatory agencies outside the U.S. We saw a really quick shift to decentralize clinical trials, which meant everybody had to get online and fast.
There’s also this pressure for personalization around the patient. No longer are we calling them subjects. We’re calling them patients and understanding that they too have a choice in clinical trials. The FDA and other agencies are really pushing DEI initiatives. So there is a seismic shift right now that says, “Hurry up, let’s get online. Let’s change the face and scope of trials, where our patients are, and how we can reach them.”
Zak: What does “getting online” entail?
Shannon: That’s such a big question, Zak. You have two sides of the house, which are the Salesforce and opportunity management side and the CTM (or clinical trial management) side. There are these two major forces that we’re seeing in organizations where people are saying “Where is our drug going to be developed? How are we going to find the people who are going to be involved in the trials? How are we selling that? How are we promoting that? How are we finding new trials for our company to work inside of?”
Then on the other side, you have the questions like “How do we make sure we’re recruiting, retaining, and rolling patients at the clip we need to so we can speed up the approval process?” There is, I think, a cataclysmic amount of opportunity here to really improve things using automation and technology.
Zak: For the trial itself, is it evolving to thinking about a database of patients more like a CRM, and engaging with them in a more consistent and intelligent way than they were before?
Shannon: Definitely right. We need to find patients in places where we haven’t looked before - away from the clinical research sites—while keeping in mind that DEI initiative. Until the 1990s, women weren’t even involved in clinical research, and even more recently, studies have shown we aren’t finding enough representation from people of color. So being able to use CRM systems to categorize and know we’re getting a population sample that is very similar to the entire use case of this drug is critical.
Handling Digital Data Collection in Every Step of a Trial
Zak: Is there an element of digital data collection supplying information throughout multiple interactions over the course of this trial?
Shannon: Yes, yes, and yes. There’s a lot from e-consent to collecting patient-reported outcomes like how the therapy is impacting the patient. That’s the data that the regulatory agencies really need to be able to see, understand, and prove to say whether or not a drug warrants coming to market.
Zak: That’s enlightening to see how Formstack and Salesforce work together to elevate the patient experience.
Shannon: Yes. You know, one of the things that we see when we’re looking at this digitization is the ability to think end to end as the patient moves throughout the trial. When we think about patient flow, we can understand questions like “Where does the patient enter the healthcare system?” “Once they’re out of the ER, where do they go?” And then “Do they go to after-care?” That’s pretty well understood in healthcare, so being able to track that through clinical trials, particularly in longitudinal studies, is really critical.
Zak: One of the things we at Formstack have been thinking about is the digital paradox, or the changing needs of digital teams in a time of few resources. Are you seeing that in this field?
Shannon: We’ve been seeing this new industrial revolution happen for a while, and I think the quarantine portion of the pandemic accelerated that. A lot of people said, “Let’s hurry up and get online, whatever it takes, as quickly as we can.” Then for the past year and a half, we’ve been seeing some optimization. So how do we clean up some of the processes we forced online so they make sense? How do we make sure that we can reduce the amount of manual entry or manual management that is in data? Automation.
After that, I think we are going to see the advent of machine learning and AI. It has been promised for a while, but I think there was an undercurrent of not even understanding how many people are doing things in a paper-based way. Now, we are looking at things like how to use ChatGPT or understanding what the next best actions are. In the past three to four years, it seems like we are finally starting to see the acceleration we have been waiting for.
Zak: You’re touching on another theme we’ve been discussing, which is accelerating work. How important is it to process steps or get things done quicker?
Shannon: That’s huge, Zak. I went to a venture fair a few weeks ago, and some of the most important things the private equity folks were talking about was the future of work. They are looking to invest in applications that are heavily involved in the future of work—how we change the workforce, how we allow people to do what they do faster—so that the human element is actually done by humans. Anything that can be done by machines is handled by machines. We are seeing a rapid evolution of the person who’s sitting in the chair, and that’s really being backed by private equity funding.
Cloud Adoption Services + Salesforce + Formstack= ‘Stretchy’ Processes
Zak: Do you recall how you discovered Formstack and how we started working together?
Shannon: One of the ways we started using Formstack ourselves internally was to collect addresses so we could send out holiday cards. That was an aspect of Formstack our wealth management clients really loved because they are so high touch. They want to send you a card for your birthday or your anniversary and recognize the big events in your life. So we started off by saying, “Formstack can help you take care of things that you are currently doing manually that are a drain on your team’s time and resources.”
Now we’re saying, “Formstack has such a beautiful way to be ‘stretchy’ to help change your processes.” Instead of helping you administer processes you already have, you get to enable people to do more of what is in their job description and less of the things that get in the way.
Zak: Can you speak to HLS use cases for Formstack—either ones you’ve done for customers or think a customer should be thinking about as we go forward? I’m particularly interested in this given that Salesforce has just announced their launch of Health Cloud for Life Sciences.
Shannon: The possibilities are endless. I think a lot about sales and marketing folks because the more we can enable them, the more they can expand their reach for their market and commercialization.
We are constantly asking if we’re ingesting the right data so we can act on it and make data-driven decisions. If I have a territory, and I know that I’m doing a marketing push like a whitepaper, I’m starting to collect the right data. That way, when we’re going to an event, I can narrow all the way down to folks who have expressed specific interest in our eco offering, who live in Pennsylvania, or who may want to go to a dinner that I’m hosting.
We are in this perfect storm right now where so many people and companies are virtual. That’s not going to be clawed back anytime soon or ever in the way we were used to. No longer can you send a package or a postcard to the company address and expect it’s going to reach its intended recipient. Personal data and an understanding of opportunity data are critical.
How do we get information from clinical trial protocols to say, “When are we expecting the first patient will be enrolled? How many countries, how many sites, or how many languages does this need to be translated into?” In the past, our partners or clinical research organizations might have given us all of the data in a clinical trial through an email. Now, all of this information can be put into Formstack, immediately placed in Salesforce, and acted upon more quickly. This is where the benefit lies: the more quickly you can respond to a request for a proposal, the better your chances are of winning that opportunity.
Zak: The opportunity, as you said here, is building your own first-party, opt-in database to then market to. I love that. In terms of how together we help customers accomplish that, can you share any feedback about Formstack as a partner, our approach working with consulting firms, or any observations you’ve noticed over the past few years?
Shannon: I will say frankly, Zak, if there is a consulting firm right now that is not a Formstack partner, they are missing out on a delightful experience. For us, not only does Formstack respond quickly when it comes to technical requests or introductions to potential customers, there’s also such a high-touch, personal element there that it constantly feels like we are your most important and critical partner. I think everyone tries to replicate that feeling, but not everybody does.
Case in point, several years back I decided to run a sticker campaign. It was just a cute way to reach out to the [Salesforce ecosystem], and within two days, I had a pile of stickers in my mailbox. It’s one of those things where it would have been easy for Fomstack to say, “Well, we’ve got really big fish to fry. This is a small thing.” We’ve talked about white glove service for wealth management firms—Formstack is the pinnacle of that. I don’t know anybody in the game who’s doing it as well as Formstack. So kudos to you! And to anybody who’s sitting on the fence wondering about becoming a Formstack partner, the answer is yes, five minutes ago.
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