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June 27, 2016
Going digital? What are the implications for R&D teams?
By: Nicole Faust Cohen

In my previous post, I shared the key findings from our recent survey of R&D executives that aimed to identify what R&D teams are doing to make the shift from a product focus to patient outcome focus.

To recap, the four key findings were:

  1. Improving patient outcomes ranked as the #1 priority of R&D.

  2. Digital is recognized as the dominant driver of becoming more focused on patient outcomes.

  3. Adoption of digital is fragmented; half of respondents are “all in” while others are exploring and a few remain in “wait and see” mode.

  4. Companies taking advantage of digital report stronger performance in other R&D capabilities.

Taken together, these findings suggest that life sciences companies and the R&D organizations within them are at a crossroads on their journey toward a more patient outcome oriented model. While some organizations are moving quickly in a more digitally-enabled direction, others are not.

What accounts for the significant difference in digital adoption? And what consequences does it have for the companies that are not yet embracing digital? Our hypothesis is that many executives find it hard to measure the benefits of digital to the patient, stakeholders and internally because much of the digital activities today are small-scale proofs-of-concept. Yet, without the scale to move bottom-line or top-line numbers, many of these promising solutions will remain in perpetual proof-of-concept mode.

An equally important explanation is that companies may define or view digitization differently. Rather than seeing digital as a way to transform their business models and/ or interactions externally, some companies use digital purely as a way to enhance current processes. They partially digitize by refining manual or semi-automated processes, and evolve them to be electronic or online processes.

The differing approaches, and speed and scope of digital adoption, carry over to the size of impact digital can have. While partial digitization of traditional processes can generate cost efficiencies, it can only take companies so far. True reinvention or re-imagination of processes, or an approach to patient or provider engagement, require more time but also can deliver significantly more value over time.

Using a narrower lens to view digital also can lead to fragmentation of effort, and prevent companies from seizing opportunities for a bigger impact. For example, in our research nearly all respondents stated that R&D should focus on patient outcomes, and that digital can support that goal. Yet, respondents also ranked many patient-related activities—that could be completed more effectively if digitally-enabled—fairly low.

But the companies either dabbling without strategic direction or in “wait and see” mode stand to lose the most. No matter how well established their traditional products and services may be, they’ll be significantly disadvantaged against new business models built around the personalized, predictive healthcare that digital disruptors are offering.

The long-term implications of these findings are clear. Digital plays a critical role in helping R&D organizations make more informed decisions more quickly, by improving data integration and analysis as well as through better engagement and collaboration with patients, providers, regulators, R&D partners and other stakeholders.

R&D executives clearly want to contribute to improving patient outcomes, and see a place for digital in their organizations for helping accomplish this goal. Capturing the promise of digital, however, requires both a broader lens on how digital can be deployed, and more internal and external collaboration.

To learn more, read the full report: Industry at a Crossroads: The Rise of Digital in the Outcome-Driven R&D Organization

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