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Three Questions

Three Questions: Sue Vestri, Greenphire

April 9, 2018

CWWeekly presents this feature as a spotlight on issues faced by executives in clinical research. This week we hear from Sue Vestri, CFO of Greenphire.

Question: How has the finance team’s role evolved over the years and why is it important to ensure that the finance team plays an integrated role in the clinical trial process?

Answer: Regardless of industry, the role of the finance department continues to evolve into a dynamic cross-functional component of the organization. Where it was once seen as the “bean counters” in the back office, the finance team is now a critical resource for data, insights and performance metrics. The finance team of today, and that of the future, will be required to be more analytical and strategic than ever before.

Within the clinical research industry, the finance team is a key partner to the Operations team, particularly around investigator grant payments. The finance team is expected to be responsive and the source of real-time information around the status of payments and invoices. The team’s ability to execute payments in a timely manner is essential to support site performance and satisfaction. Additionally, high performing finance teams need to be more involved with trial timelines to accurately and effectively support budgeting and forecasting for the business. As the clinical trial industry continues to automate various processes, it is important that the finance team be involved in these decisions so that the outputs continue to support their function and the systems deliver the ROI needed for optimization value. Automating one manual process may deliver an advantage for one team but create a host of inefficiencies for another. Implementing a solution that is proven to enhance end-to-end workflows is key.

Question: What impact does the finance team have on trial timelines and performance?

Answer: Strong, trusting, collaborative partnerships are the cornerstone to success in any business, and clinical research is no exception. Studies continue to show that delayed, inaccurate site payments have numerous negative impacts on a site’s performance and ability to deliver quality data. When a finance team can support monthly payments to their investigator sites with full visibility into the details and status of the payment, this burden is completely removed, and site performance is positively impacted. The finance team can optimize site payment processes by collaborating with clinical operations teams to identify the points of manual efforts that can be eliminated and optimized. More and more finance teams at both CROs and Sponsors are identifying the areas of invoicing, site inquiries, reconciliation and reporting as critical resource drains that are prime for optimization and automation.

Question: What role does process automation have in improving the workforce and how can you determine which processes should be automated?

Answer: Optimizing the finance role starts with understanding and constantly examining areas that can be automated or outsourced. Manual, error-prone processes that limit an employee’s growth and ability to be more strategic and analytical are the ideal processes to automate. It is critical to look at automation, rather than outsourcing opportunities, as the level of data that can be derived from the software available today is substantial. When processes are automated, speed improves, and finance teams become more empowered and reliable to their clinical operations teams.

If processes are simply outsourced without an automated advantage, there may be short term efficiencies gained, but the long-term cost is not scalable and quality issues will likely arise. Partnering with best-in-class providers that are committed to quality with a scalable solution designed to meet the evolving needs of clinical research will deliver both short-term efficiencies and long-term strategic business advantages across finance and clinical operations.