My career began in pure research. At the time, I felt that I was involved in important work but wondered what was on the other side of that effort. It caused me to ask how all the research and innovation could be brought to life.
This curiosity led me to accept a role at Harvard, where I collaborated with a start-up company. The experience excited me enough to want to learn more about business and business management.
To accomplish this I needed a dynamic environment with access to different companies and a variety of projects. I left Cambridge and upon returning to Germany joined the Boston Consulting Group (BCG). That decision afforded the experience to support a diverse set of companies in the pharmaceutical, chemistry, and biotech industries. Coincidentally, it was at this time that when I met ZAGENO Co-founder and CEO, Florian Wegener, who joined BCG at the same time.
The environment challenged me through a steep learning curve that was very different from my experience at Harvard but it broadened my industry perspective and evolved my professional skills. After two and a half years there I was approached by my former Ph.D. supervisor about a new opportunity. As part of the Max Planck Society, he had received funding for a start-up project and was seeking a group leader who could bring-together the same science and business expertise that I had been developing.
In the end, the research for that project was not ready for business so we ended the project but it led me to the first of two positions I held at Merck in Darmstadt, Germany. In a strategy and business transformation role at Merck, I began to think about the future of the life sciences industry. The key issue we were facing was how to deal with information via e-commerce, which had become a significant business driver.
During this time, between 2014-15, there was a clear view that digital commerce was the future. As such my timing at Merck was particularly advantageous because I was involved in the preparation of its Sigma-Aldrich acquisition, which stands today as one of the biggest such deals ever in the life sciences industry. The main drivers of this acquisition were Sigma-Aldrich’s supply chain expertise along with its understanding and capabilities in IT infrastructure and e-commerce.
This experience reminded of my time as a chemist, when the Merck brand was a go-to resource. In terms of compounds, they had everything a scientist needed including valuable information and resources about what they sold. Every lab had the Merck catalogue, which was useful both in purchasing but also to learn, for instance, about the boiling point of a compound.
That same customer-centric approach is how ZAGENO is building its reputation with scientists as more than just an e-commerce platform but also as a provider of valuable information.
That same customer-centric approach is how ZAGENO is building its reputation with scientists as more than just an e-commerce platform but also as a provider of valuable information. This idea goes back to Alfred Bader, the co-founder of Aldrich Chemical, which later merged with Sigma Chemical to form Sigma-Aldrich.
ZAGENO's benefits for suppliers
Over the past five years more and more suppliers have entered the life sciences market. From one perspective it is an exciting development but the growth has made engagement between sellers and buyers much more difficult.
At the center of this challenge is the importance of scientist’s time. Back when only a handful of key manufacturers defined the supplier landscape this was not a problem but as the number has grown a dilemma has emerged. Scientists simply don’t have the time to personally engage with supplier representatives the way they once did. Today, suppliers need to rely and compete on the quality of its products and services.
With ZAGENO, one channel combines all suppliers and products, which provides clear access to the scientist. This is a real value not only to scientists but also to suppliers who can now truly compete on the characteristics and quality of its products, instead of competing for user access.
In the end, every supplier, especially the big ones, develop products they feel are the best in the industry so each should feel confident that a platform like ZAGENO, which simplifies the life of a scientist, is an idea that they can fully support.
Ask a scientist, today, how they locate products. It’s not done through a catalog anymore. What you will learn is that they start with a Google search to get a baseline from which they will do their own comparisons. This change leads one to understand the inevitability of a marketplace model that is based on evidence that in the digital age our personal and professional lives are converging.
The inevitability of a marketplace model, is based on the fact that in the digital age our personal and professional lives are converging.
Since the life sciences industry began to realize the significant role e-commerce would play in its future, many things have changed.
- Today, there are many standalone websites from which scientists/customers can buy supplies.
- Today’s generation of scientists have grown up with digital commerce. It is a safe bet that the online marketplace is a default and even a preferred purchasing method for these users.
To the suppliers who accept the (digital commerce) momentum that's occurring, there is a choice to make. They can either choose to collaborate in partnership with a rising brand, where all the stakeholders shape the new industry, together or engage with a large e-commerce platform that would be less inclined to collaborate.
At ZAGENO, my focus is on the needs to scientists today and tomorrow. To accomplish this, the Scientific Content Team that I manage oversees a broad spectrum of complex and labor intensive tasks, which include:
- Gathering all product data from different suppliers, breaking down silos and bringing data into the ZAGENO database.
- Harmonizing and normalizing the data, making data comparable and actionable to our customers (e.g. identifying Alternative Products).
- Enriching the data with additional scientific information (e.g. from publications), which is particularly important in scoring the products (e.g. Scientific Score).
Ultimately, ZAGENO would like to automate the data gathering and normalization processes in order to focus more on the content enrichment side, which brings greater value to our customers.
As it stands today, the lab supply industry suffers from a lack of transparency where products cannot be easily compared. When I referred earlier to a key task of ZAGENO’s Scientific Content team being the “normalization” of data this is what I am referring to. Without doing this, product comparisons and suggested alternatives would not be possible. While this is of enormous value to the scientist, it is very complicated to address.
The uneasy relationship between scientists and procurement
In my experience, there has always been tension between scientists and procurement teams. Both seem to stereotype the other.
- Scientists will claim that procurement teams do not understand the product, but are instead fixated only on the product’s price and as a result buy the wrong products.
- On the other hand, procurement sees scientists as spendthrifts who don’t care about the bottom line.
The truth is somewhere in the middle, where neither is right or wrong. Instead, each is incentivized in different ways and has a unique view on the world.
ZAGENO has a real opportunity to address the tension that exists between these personas. One of our customers described the role we play by saying, “Because of ZAGENO’s marketplace, both scientists and procurement teams have the same experience when faced with the same product.”
Because of ZAGENO’s marketplace, both scientists and procurement teams have the same experience when faced with the same product.
Through simplifying the complexities of the supplies, ZAGENO helps procurement teams communicate more effectively with their scientist colleagues. From our alternative products feature, ZAGENO can make suggestions which address the cost concerns of procurement while respecting the exacting standards of the scientist. Leveraging ZAGENO, procurement can engage scientists with the informed suggestions that would not alter the integrity of the science.
As we look forward to priorities for 2020, we will transform ZAGENO’s scientific content team into a data team that leverages data science technologies. To do this we will need to automate our other processes to free up resources, so that we can leverage our in-depth data knowledge to create even more customer value.
The power of customer choice
ZAGENO offers alternatives to major supplier's product portfolios.
- ZAGENO's marketplace has alternatives for more than 4 million SKUs.
- Beyond different sources for a specific product, there are often better alternatives available from other brands.
- ZAGENO provides alternatives for approximately 80% of products from the industry's major suppliers.
Learn how ZAGENO can provide your lab greater choice, 80% of the time!
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About the Author
Christian Boehm is the VP of Scientific Content at ZAGENO. Prior to this, he spent more than 16 years in cross-functional roles in corporate and start-up environments ranging from Harvard University, Max Planck Society, Elsevier, The Boston Consulting Group and Merck Group.
Christian earned his Ph.D. in Biophysical Chemistry from Heidelberg University and is an alumnus of the German National Academic Foundation (Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes), a former fellow of the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, recipient of the Klaus-Tschira-Award for Achievements in Public Understanding of Science and various university awards for excellent and outstanding academic achievements. He is the author of more than 30 scientific publications with over 1,900 citations and co-inventor of one patent.
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