3 Tips from a Pharma Start-up on Setting Up IT — Fast!

William Goure has learned a number of lessons on the IT front while helping to launch Acumen Pharmaceuticals Inc., a San Francisco-based research and development startup. Goure knew that Acumen would have to find an IT service provider that would help the company get up and running, but he had no idea how to go about finding one.


"It's literally overwhelming," said Goure, Acumen's vice president of business development and the company's director of chemistry. Acumen focuses on medicines, vaccines and diagnostics for treating Alzheimer's disease and memory loss. "It started with me just getting on the InternetÉ and then cold calling."


The difficulty lay in the sheer number of IT outsourcing options available. Goure could go big or small, local or international in choosing a vendor. Not only that, Goure also figured he would have to go through an RFP evaluation process — a daunting task for a small outfit like Acumen.


Tip #1. When you're shopping for a service provider, keep your eyes and ears open; you never know when a good suggestion will hit.


In March 2004, Goure got started on the process. He collected a list of potential vendors from his Internet searches — as well as numerous suggestions from friends and colleagues.


"There were several consultants that were recommended to us," Goure explained.


For example, one recommendation came from an executive who worked in the same building that Acumen was moving into. Another suggestion — one that proved fortuitous — came from the architect who was designing Acumen's offices. He recommended Silicon Valley-based IT outsourcing vendor Info Partners. Acumen's architect said that he had worked with Info Partners in the past and had found the firm effective and efficient.


Tip #2. Look for a service provider that shows interest in your needs, not just your checkbook.


Goure and his team began meeting with the potential vendors in March (he declined to name the vendors other than Info Partners). Goure decided not to issue an RFP (he wasn't entirely sure exactly what he needed anyway). Instead, he met with each prospective company to do a walk-through of Acumen's future offices. During the walk-through, Goure pointed out where the company's' servers, cabling and desks would be, and then explained what Acumen needed. It was a long list.


As an R&D company, Acumen wanted a wireless system that could collect data from the handheld scanners toted by the company's researchers. The data then had to be stored in one of the company's massive databases. Acumen also needed telephones and high-speed Internet connections, as well as a video-conferencing system. Acumen had recently scored a $48 million deal to work with pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. Inc., and one of Merck's requirements was video-conferencing capabilities.


Goure said he was not really satisfied with the discussions he had during the walk-throughs.


"We just couldn't sort out what they were telling us," Goure said.


Some vendors claimed that Acumen would need more hardware and services than they were asking for, while others made proposals that were overly complicated and technical. Goure knew what tasks he wanted his IT system to accomplish, but he wasn't sure if the vendors he had met with understood what those tasks were.


The difference came in Info Partners.


"They spent quite a bit of time listening to us," Goure said.


As Goure recalls, instead of doing a walk-through, Info Partners first sat down with the Acumen team and simply listened to what they had to say and needed to do. That, Goure said, immediately set Info Partners apart from the pack. Info Partners also participated in Acumen's office walk-through. The service provider's executives, including the company's president and chief executive officer Will Luden, visited with Goure and his team face to face.


Tip #3. There's a lot to be said about picking a service provider that makes the most sense — as in, you can understand what they're telling you.


"They put this together in an extremely well-laid-out bid," Goure said of Info Partners' proposal. "They showed us what we needed."


Goure said Info Partners' bid included a detailed plan for the company's wireless, telephony and overall IT needs. The bid also included information on all the necessary components of the system, including potential contracts with Internet and telephony carriers. Most importantly, the proposal was easy for Goure and his team to understand.


"That was what really made our decision," he said. "They came back very quickly with complete documentation."


The documentation even included a couple of simple schematics for Acumen's network infrastructure, including workstations, telephones, wireless laptops and other accessories. Info Partners' proposal covered everything up to and including the purchase of the operating system software for servers and notebooks.


In fact, Goure said he didn't feel the need to negotiate with Info Partners over the vendor's bid. The price — $65,000 in advance for the initial set-up, plus an undisclosed amount for the monthly upkeep — was below what Goure had expected.


Acumen first began researching its IT outsourcing situation in March 2004, when it secured the lease for its new offices. Construction on the company's offices was completed in May, and the company began operations June 1. Goure said the company had only a few minor IT glitches, which he said Info Partners took care of quickly. For example, Goure said the company needed a tutorial on its video-conferencing system, and Info Partners organized one in just 15 minutes.


The process has been so painless that Goure said he is sure he made the right choice.


"There's absolutely no way I would do [IT] in house," he said.


Useful Links:


Acumen Pharmaceuticals


Info Partners


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