Our team at Scimcon is made up of a talented group of interesting individuals – and our newest recruit Ben Poynter certainly does not disappoint!
Ben joined our Scimcon team in July 2022 as an associate consultant, and has been working with the lab informatics specialists to get up to speed on all things Scimcon. We spoke to Ben about his experience so far, his interests, background, and what he hopes to achieve during his career as an informatics consultant.
So, I studied Biomedical Science at Sheffield Hallam University, which was a four-year course and allowed me to specialise in neuroscience. During my time at university, I created abstracts that were presented in neuroscience conferences in America, which was a great opportunity for me to present what I was working on. My final year dissertation was on bioinformatics in neuroscience, as I was always interested in the informatics side of biomedical science as well.
Once COVID hit, I moved into code work, and worked in specimen processing, and then as a supervisor for PerkinElmer who were undertaking some of the virus research. When things started to die down, I began working for a group called Test and Travel (not the infamous Track and Trace initiative, but a similar idea!). I started there as a lab manager, training new staff on lab protocols for COVID-19, and then a month into that I started working more on the LIMS side – which is where I ended up staying. I wrote the UAT scripts for 3 different companies, I performed validation on the systems, I would process change controls. I then moved to Acacium as LIMS lead there, so over the course of my career I’ve worked with a number of LIMS and bioinformatics systems, including LabWare 7, LIMS X, Labcentre, WinPath Enterprise, and Nautilus (ThermoFisher Scientific).
In the early stages, I would have to say it was when Jon and Dave led my first interview, and Jon asked me a question I hadn’t been asked in an interview setting before. He asked me ‘who is Ben Poynter?’. The first time I answered, I discussed my degree, my professional experience with LIMS and other informatics systems, and how that would apply within Scimcon’s specialism in lab informatics consultancy. Then he asked me again and I realised he was really asking what my hobbies were, and how I enjoyed spending my free time. Since starting at Scimcon, I’ve been introduced to the full team and everyone is happy to sit and talk about your life both inside and outside of work, which makes for a really pleasant environment to work in. Also, it seems as though everyone has been here for decades – some of the team have even been here since Scimcon’s inception back in 2000, which shows that people enjoy their time enough to stay here.
I’ve been given a really warm welcome by everyone on the team, and it’s really nice to see that everyone not only enjoys their time here, but actively engages with every project that’s brought in. It’s all hands on deck!
So, my main hobbies and interests outside of work are game design, as well as gaming in general. I run a YouTube account with friends, and we enjoy gaming together after work and then recording the gameplay and uploading to YouTube. We are also working on a tower defence game at the moment, with the aim to move into more open world games using some of the new engines that are available for game development.
In addition to gaming and development, I also enjoy 3D printing. I have a 3D printer which allows me to design my own pieces and print them. It’s a bit noisy, so I can’t always have it running depending on what meetings I have booked in!
Technology is a real interest of mine, and I’m really fortunate to have a role where my personal interests cross-over into my career. The language I use for game design is similar to what I work with at Scimcon, and the language skills I’ve developed give me a fresh perspective on some of the coding we use.
At the moment, I’m working on configuration for some of the LIMS systems I’ll be working with at customer sites, which I really enjoy as it gives me the chance to work with the code and see what I can bring to the table with it. Other projects include forms for Sample Manager (ThermoFisher Scientific), making it look more interesting, moving between systems, and improving overall user experience. It’s really interesting being able to get to grips with the systems and make suggestions as to where improvements can be made.
My first week mainly consisted of shadowing other Scimcon lab informatics consultants to get me up to speed on things. I have been working with the team on the UK-EACL project, which has been going really well, and it’s been great to get that 1-2-1 experience with different members of the team, and I feel like we have a real rapport with each other. I’ve been motoring through my training plan quite quickly, so I’m really looking forward to seeing the different roles and projects I’ll be working on.
I’d really like to get to grips with the project management side of things, and also love to get to grips with the configuration side as well. It’s important to me that I can be an all-round consultant, who’s capable at both managing projects and configuration. No two projects are the same at Scimcon, so having the capability to support clients with all their needs, to be placed with a client and save them time and money, is something I’m keen to work towards.
For more information about Scimcon and how our dedicated teams can support on your lab informatics or other IS projects, contact us today.How to choose the right informatics consultant for your organisation?
With 20 years’ experience in the Biotech and Life Sciences industry, Micah Rimer’s success has been primarily due to his ability to read organisations, frame the problems and identify the best path to bring people together to achieve the desired goals. During Micah’s time working in Biotech and at big pharma he has successfully deployed consultancy groups within lab informatics and clinical projects.
Scimcon has supported Micah and his teams extensively on high profile projects in big pharma and Biotech. In this blog, Micah draws on his valuable experience to provide insight and tips on how to best to engage and work with consultancy groups.
Deciding on the right Informatics Consultant for your pharma or Biotech company is not a simple task, despite the various vendors available. Informatics in the Life Sciences industry covers a wide scope, so it is unlikely you will find an appropriate consultant through Google’s search algorithms. To find the best fit, you should consider what the key priorities are for your engagement, find a partner that you can trust and work well with and one that can bring a unique perspective to your collaboration.
Starting out with the key skills and contributions that are needed, as in any selection process, is the first step in identifying the right Informatics Consultant.
While technology is constantly advancing, I would encourage you to think hard if the tech skills are really the most important aspect for a successful collaboration. From my experience, while an understanding of the underlying technology and what it is capable of is important (be that LIMS, ELN, eCOA, eDiaries, PV software etc), what is of more importance is someone who can both communicate and partner with the organisation. A successful computerised system consists not just of the software, but also the people that will use it and the processes they will follow. All of those components must be balanced for a successful implementation, so while the technology piece may feel like the most obvious area to address, do not underestimate the work with the people and processes.
For example, there was a point in my career where I was asked to implement a Pharmacovigilance (PV) signal detection system for an organisation I was employed by. This had been a critical gap in the organisation for a long period of time, and there were several options on how to proceed, but no easily defined right answer. We could look to either evaluate and buy something off the shelf, hire a company to build a custom-designed tool, or alternately we could try to finalise a prototype that a programmer in the department had been playing around with for a while. (His tool had nice features, but still some technical gaps and no clear path forward to make it robust enough to use in such a highly regulated environment). In looking for external help, some may have favoured looking to recruit Informatics Consultants with a background in Pharmacovigilance, or perhaps with the technology skills to leverage the drug safety system platform. But in choosing Scimcon, I went with the partner I trusted to help evaluate the options and lead a successful implementation in that particular organisation. A fantastic off-the-shelf tool would never have been a success if people did not want to use it because they preferred the home grown highly customized (but invalidated) prototype.
With Scimcon on board, we were able to evaluate the pharma and drug safety landscape and determined that there could be a good path forward with the prototype that had already been developed. We were able to establish an effective team, drawing upon the Pharmacovigilance expertise in the department to address business process and usage questions. The programmer who built the prototype had the vision for how the software should work and what needed to be done from a technical perspective. Scimcon was able provide the knowledge and experience of how to move a prototype to a production system and validate a custom-defined tool that had been built by a programmer who does not have expertise in documentation. The output was widely recognised as a huge success.
It is important to keep in mind what gaps you are trying to close and what capabilities are needed to fill them: – Maybe you need the knowhow to get a project completed in a challenging environment; the technical skills to do the programming; the expertise with documentation; or you need to access people who have exceptional attention to detail to make sure a system is appropriately qualified and works as intended.
Whatever your challenge, you should ensure that the skillsets available from your informatics consultancy match the challenges you are facing.
As with many relationships, the more time you work together, the more trust you build up. This just proves that the importance of having established relationships and ways of working cannot be understated. No one is perfect, but the devil you know may indeed be a better fit than someone new to you. Always think about building up relationships for the future; it is a small world.
With this in mind, when looking for life science Informatics Consultants to partner with, one key consideration is to determine how they will be able to deal with adversity. What are they prepared to do if they see that a project is starting to go sideways? When speaking with them, ask them about projects that did not go according to plan or did not work out, and how did they manage that situation? What did they learn from that? Do they do anything differently from those lessons learned? Consultants, and Informatics Consultants especially, have all been thrown into projects where the requirements and expectations were not appropriately set in the beginning, which lead to problems later. Good consultants always learn from these situations and avoid repeating the mistakes that led them down that path.
Another key consideration for the interviewing and recruitment process is the quality of the questions the consultants ask and how well they listen.
Before you speak with them, think about what questions you would ask if you were in their shoes, and not having access to all the internal information you have: – Do they ask the right questions? Maybe they ask some questions you had not thought of? And how well are they able to play back what you have told them?
Often sales or account managers are very focused on telling you how easy it is for their teams to deliver, and how they will be able to deliver no matter what restrictions and conditions you add into the situation. Are there any conditions of the setup that would prevent the consultants from accepting the assignment? If there is nothing you can state that would cause them to be concerned, then maybe they are too good to be true! Look for their understanding that implementing systems is not usually a walk in the park. A truthful consultant is extraordinarily valuable.
Of course, it is always good to check the references as well. Does the life science informatics consultant have customers that have worked with them over a long period of time at different companies?
Bringing in consultants is typically not so easy, so numerous long-term engagements at different stops can itself also be a sign of delivering quality.
You should also look for feedback on the work the consultants delivered. There is a huge business out there for the larger agencies which spend time and resources selling at the executive level, but then use more junior resources to do the work. Having senior people presenting and being able to provide a concise message is important, but by and large you typically want to find people who are getting the work done. You must never lose sight of the goals to deliver projects on time and the overall drive for results.
Consider all of these aspects and listen to your instincts. Typically, these are not small or unimportant investments in the first place. Taking time to ensure you have the right fit is important. At the end of the day, you need to feel comfortable and confident that the people you choose can be counted on to deliver for you.
To me, one of the most valuable skills I look for with Informatics Consultants is the ability to bring a unique perspective. In a management training course I once took, the advisor summed it up this way: “Look, you are all smart people. If you come to a situation where you do not see a solution, it is probably because there is not just one solution. When you arrive at a situation like that you will have to find some way to balance and continually adjust, as there is likely no one right answer.” When I am bringing people in to support me on projects, I am looking for that ability to connect the dots and leverage previous experiences to help find the best solution.
One of the valuable parts of working as a consultant is that you get to see a variety of companies, all with different setups. While some people find that lifestyle stressful or challenging, there is an inherent value in being exposed to so many alternative organisational environments. If you can synthesize new information and learn rapidly, all these experiences add up to quite some knowledge. The more you can see things repeated with modified parameters, the easier you can find what works and what does not work, which is why we look to simulations to find some solutions. Informatics Consultants that have worked in different Biotech and big pharma settings with a wide exposure to different projects can help bring that knowledge to your organisation.
Finding consultants who have worked in various parts of life sciences or in other fields can also help to provide a more well-rounded view. At times, that enables seeing solutions in places you might not expect. They can also recognise patterns in the organisation you may be too close to see. The combination of being able to share these insights, as well having seen so many challenges and varying situations, can allow consultants to provide services to you that you simply are not able to manage internally.
Finding the right Informatics Consultant for your life sciences organisation is not an easy task; you need to make sure that you are bringing in the right skillset to match your situation.
The priority is to find people you can trust and who you feel confident can work in your environment. While the technology of course plays a role, do not overstate the importance of it and dismiss the (not insignificant) people and the processes aspect to our work. The system in itself will not be considered successful if people are not comfortably using it. Look for companies that can adjust to your needs and find solutions to your challenges as the landscape continues to change. In the end, that is what counts, finding a way to get the job done.
Scimcon is proud to offer its consultancy services to Biotech and big pharma companies around the world. To find out how we can help you achieve success in your implementation project, contact us.How to work effectively with informatics consultants in life sciences?
As a leader in a pharmaceutical or life sciences organisation, getting the most out of your team and resources is always a top priority. After making the decision to proceed with a critical investment in consulting services, there may even be more pressure to find the optimal use of these time-limited external resources. So, how can you make sure you are using these resources to their full potential? In this blog, our industry expert Micah Rimer will show you how.
During Micah’s 20 years’ working at big pharma & vaccines corporations, including Bayer, Chiron, Novartis and GSK, he has successfully deployed consultancy groups within lab informatics and clinical projects. Micah has worked with Scimcon to support his teams on high profile critical projects
As with any business situation, it is important that there is a common goal that everyone is aligned around.
It is essential that you do not waste valuable time revisiting the same conversations. Ask yourself: “Is it obvious what problem we are trying to solve?” Often, issues can arise when people are arguing about implementing a solution, whilst losing sight of the challenge at hand.
Take the example of Remote Clinical Monitoring: You might decide that it would be beneficial to have your Clinical Research Associates (CRAs) track and monitor the progress of a clinical study without traveling to clinical sites. That sounds like it could be very promising, but what is the problem that needs to be solved?
Without clear goals on what you want to accomplish with Remote Clinical Monitoring, it will be difficult to declare an implementation a success. In addition, if you and your organisation do not know what you are trying to achieve with a particular technical solution, it will be impossible to give your informatics consultants a clear set of deliverables.
So, first things first, agree on the problem statement!
One of the first times I hired Scimcon to support me with an informatics project, I had recently joined a pharma company and found myself in the middle of conflicting department objectives, with what seemed to be no clear path out of the mess I had inherited. The organisation had purchased an expensive new software system that had already become a failed implementation. After spending a year continuously configuring and programming it, it was no closer to meeting the business needs than when the project had started. There were two loud criticisms to address on that point:
This also highlighted a far wider range of issues, such as some people who felt their skills were not being properly utilised while problems went unsolved, and that the bioinformatics department might not have the right goals to begin with.
To solve this challenge, we sat down with Scimcon to identify all the different problems associated with the inherited project, and to clarify what we needed to do to turn it into a success. In taking time to review the situation and without too much effort, we were able to come up with four key areas to address:
With the help of Scimcon, we were able to define these problems and then focus on finding answers to each of the questions. In the end it turned out to be one of our most successful engagements together, award winning even. By just asking senior management what their biggest challenge was, we found their overriding priority was to have an overview of all the R&D projects going on. And while the new software was not particularly well suited for solving the bioinformatics problem that it had been acquired for, it could easily be used to map out the R&D process for portfolio tracking. Then, we turned our attention to the bioinformatics problem, which was easily solved by a bit of custom code from one of the bioinformatics programmers who felt that previously his skills were not being properly utilised.
Once we knew where we were, and where we wanted to get to, all we had to do was get there one challenge at a time.
Once you have identified and agreed on the problem that you want to solve, the next step is making sure the organisation is ready to work with your consultants. As with all relationships, business or otherwise, a crucial step is to make sure that everyone has the same expectations, and that all the relevant stakeholders are on the same page.
People have many different perspectives on why consultants are brought in.
As there can be so many different roles and perspectives on the use of consultants, you need to make sure that you address all the different stakeholder perspectives. It is important to establish a positive situation, as you want the consultants to be able to work with your teams without unnecessary tension.
When I was just starting out with my first LIMS implementation (Laboratory Information Management System), I remember being impressed that you could hire someone who had the specific experience and expertise to guide you on something they had done before but that was new to you. I wondered, “why was that not done all the time? Why do so many implementation projects fail when you can bring people in who had solved that particular problem before?” When I asked Russell Hall, a consultant at Scimcon for us on that first project, he said that not everyone is comfortable admitting they need help. As my career has progressed, I have come to value that feedback more and more. There are many people who are highly competent and effective in their jobs, but are not comfortable with the appearance that they are not sufficient on their own. It is always important to manage for those situations, rather than assuming that everyone will welcome external help.
Lastly, it is also critical to manage expectations, regarding the use of consultants. Your boss may need to defend the budget, or be prepared to stand behind recommendations or conclusions that are delivered from people outside of the organisation. It should also be considered that management might not readily accept something that might seem obvious to employees working at a different level. By liaising with senior leaders from the outset, you can make sure both parties are aligned how the consultants will interact with people in the company, and what their role will be. This is important both to achieve what you want internally and also to make sure the consultants have a proper expectation of how their efforts will be utilised.
While it can be very tempting to feel that you can leave the majority of the project to the experts, the reality is things rarely go as smoothly as planned. As the life science business and information management have advanced over the last few decades, the amount of complexity and details has grown tremendously. It is more and more difficult for a single person to maintain an overview of all the relevant facts. The only way to be successful is to communicate and make sure that the right people have the right information at the right time. Your consultants are no different.
Many organisations have challenges in terms of taking decisions and communicating them effectively. For your consultants who do not typically have all the same access and networks in the organisation that internal staff do, it is imperative that you make sure they are kept up to date. You want to avoid them spending valuable time on focusing on areas and deliverables that have shifted to being less important. Finding ways to keep consultants informed on all the latest developments is absolutely necessary for them to be able to deliver successfully. Figure out what makes sense by considering the organisation culture and the consulting engagement setup. Whether it is by use of frequent check-ins or online collaboration, be prepared to put in additional efforts to make sure that the information gets to where it needs to go.
As well as good communication, organisations have to be able to adjust as needed. Occasionally everything does work out according to plan, but that is more the exception than the rule when it comes to complex life science informatics projects. While timelines and commitments are critical, it is important to view any project as a collaboration. There will be unexpected software issues. There will be unplanned organisational changes and problems. People get sick, life happens. By having open and continuous dialogue, you can be best prepared to make the adjustments needed to find solutions together to unexpected problems.
Consultants can be hugely valuable to you and your organisation.
But you have to setup the right conditions for everything to work out well.
Working together, you can get to where you need to go.
If you’re interested in working with Scimcon on your upcoming informatics project, contact us today for a no-commitment chat about how we can help you succeed.