One of the more obscure—and intriguing—eclinical suites has just been sold by an Indian firm, Megasoft, to a U.S. computer consultancy. Trianz bought Afferenz, where Venkatesan Thangaraj has been president and one of the key strategists for some time. He's an ebullient, unusually cheerful executive.

Thangaraj notes that in a less than glorious economy, his sales have grown 50 percent this year. Seven firms do all their work with Afferenz, including Registrat, a contract research organization. Afferenz offers a variety of technologies: study build, electronic data capture, document management and image management.

Thangaraj estimates his costs are approximately a third cheaper than rivals. “Price helps us,” says Thangaraj. He adds that low prices alone do not impress sponsors. “We have been in the industry since 2000. We do have a track record of getting projects done. If you are unknown, you could offer it for free and people would not be interested.”

Big Projects

The post-marketing trials that Afferenz supports are large, with 30,000 or 40,000 patients in some cases. Some of the registry projects have modifications or unique forms to be completed in just one country, which is no problem for the firm’s technology.

“Country-specific customizations are being required of us,” Thangaraj says. “The ability to customize in a rapid manner based on client needs is a key strength. As clients approach more countries, the country manager needs to rethink the system. There’s usually a discussion on the existing implementation, and then on what that person needs for their country.”

But even as electronic projects grow, Thangaraj says that some clients still insist on paper, largely because of the startup time to get going with electronic data capture (EDC). Thangaraj is a technology guy to the core, but he concedes that paper makes sense for some clients. “We are still doing a lot of paper studies. EDC is, at the end, slightly more expensive,” he says. “The time lines for project management are not the same.”

2010 Sales Push

Global projects, he notes, can struggle to have EDC systems up and running all over the globe at the same moment. In some cases, it may make sense to bring a new country into a global project using paper, just to get things started.

He says the company can offer a level of service that retains customers. As an example, he cites a new version of the software, which has a user interface that was redesigned from scratch. “We have listened to what clients said about our old UI,” he notes. ”We have re-engineered the UI from ground zero, to make it more rich, more user-friendly, less objects on the screen, yet provide the same functionality as in the past.”

Thangaraj is hoping for a higher profile in the coming year. Trianz, he notes, is global but with a large presence on the west coast of the U.S., in Santa Clara, California. Thangaraj previously had a two person sales staff. At a recent sales meeting with his new colleagues, there were considerably more people in the room: 40.

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