Pharma’s Challenge on the Digital Path

by Simon Chambers

· eyeforpharma,Digital,Pharma,Enterprise

I recently had the privilege of attending the eyeforpharma conference in Barcelona. I was there in a speaker capacity and handled the subject of ‘Maximising ROI from digital spend’. I thought the insights I gained from this session and the conference as a whole were worth sharing with the wider audience. So here goes.

Firstly, I must start by saying the event was extremely well run. The staff were all very helpful and very well informed on the subject matters being presented. In addition, engaging with the sessions was made all the easier by the clear layout, guides, and user-friendly mobile app, all combining to facilitate me being able to interact with numerous experts in the pharma, healthcare and IT space very easily. A big well done to the #eyeforpharma team for making this possible!

So, to the event.

Tech maturity seemed to be the hot-topic. In addition, there was a clear focus on startups in pharma, and how they help facilitate technical innovation in this area. I recommend Paul Simms’ article which discusses this shift and the associated challenges in more detail.

So why this increased emphasis on the closeness between pharma and tech?

Well to answer that we need to look at some of the key industry drivers currently (this btw is not exhaustive listing by any means and for those wishing to read more see my links at the bottom of the article):

  • Shift to more outcome-based digitally enabled "beyond the pill" solutions 
  • In an age of wearable devices and readily available data, patients are more digitally engaged/educated
  • Competitive pressures from technology companies such as Apple, Amazon, IBM etc.
  • Uptake of automated and self-assisted technologies to increase responsiveness
  • Prevalence of collaborative platforms to enhance patient and physician interaction
  • Advent of digital platforms to 'realise' data as a strategic asset

While pharma is not alone in its attempt to become more ‘digitised’, it certainly has its own unique drivers that need particular attention. Indeed, if I draw on my own observations at the conference there are a few things that jump out at me. Firstly, nearly all the exhibits had a digital or software offering of some sort and secondly, a key theme running through these digital assets was that of increasing collaboration between patient and HCPs.

a key theme running through these digital assets was that of increasing collaboration between patient and HCPs

While there is a clear need, what are the barriers to successfully delivering digital projects in pharma?

Talking with various delegates some common opinions emerged:

  • Data is siloed across the organisation (i.e. Product, Sales, Account etc.), and resides in different systems making it hard to perform a holistic data unification strategy across the organisation
  • Digital strategies require alignment and consolidation across multiple parts of the business and with different stakeholders
  • Lack of internal digital transformation skills
  • Integration of systems is very complex and involves involvement from many teams

It is worth pointing at this point that while these barriers are certainly not new in pharma, they have perhaps taken on new prominence given the increasing pressures the industry is facing.
Living in a digital data age the first point above is an important one; not having a performant data platform underpinning digital initiatives is to not fully exploit the power of the technology in question, it is like building a house without the foundation (data). The solution/s (tech) will simply crumble or at best be sub-optimal.

these barriers are certainly not new in pharma, they have perhaps taken on new prominence

If we look at AI, for example, and Machine learning (ML), an area that certainly is now well known; 60-80% of the time spent for successful ML implementation is spent with data preparation. This can be taken a metaphor indeed for all digital projects, as it is essential to have a consolidated data foundation underpinning any technical solution.
However, creating this data platform across an organisation when data is siloed across different systems and in different formats is very hard. What’s more, organisations are starting to realise the strategic value in bringing unstructured data (i.e. reports, articles, journals etc.) together with ‘traditional’ matrix-based data into a more unified approach. This again brings more challenges but also more opportunities.

organisations are starting to realise the strategic value in bringing unstructured data together with ‘traditional’ matrix-based data into a more unified approach

The trend, therefore, is to leverage data as a strategic asset whereby business decisions can be driven by data-driven insights, not assumptions, and opportunities can be realised from a unified data platform and not hampered by siloed data pockets.

leverage data as a strategic asset whereby business decisions can be driven by data-driven insights

Whether or not the above points are a consensus for all areas of the supply chain are of course debatable, but either way, one thing that came out of the discussions was that pharma has more significant and less quantifiable barriers to address than others, particularly in broader digital transformation initiatives. These barriers include:

  • Legislation and compliance
  • Culture changes (training, attitude, motivation etc.)
  • Policy and organisational change
  • Stakeholder agreement\adoption
  • Mindset changes 

These themes are common across many sectors, but a reoccurring opinion that I came across was that as an industry pharma has traditionally been relatively more introspective and risk-averse, making a strong case for collaborating with more nimble outfits.

as an industry pharma has traditionally been relatively more introspective and risk-averse, making a strong case for collaborating with more nimble outfits

About the Author

Before co-founding New Leaf Technology Solutions, Simon Chambers worked for a decade exclusively with the Pharmaceutical Industry, leading and delivering cutting edge business applications targeting the SFE market in areas such as Incentive Compensation, KAM, Coaching, Collaboration platforms and BI solutions.

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