We’ve started on a fascinating journey as we connect with people in the middle of shaping and delivering transformation, and learn about the challenges and opportunities they’re experiencing.  From the four P’s of digital transformation to Digital’s positive role in patient health, learn about the impact of digital in biopharma.

I have spent the past 25 years working with a wide range of biopharmaceutical companies across the R&D value chain to understand and address their critical business challenges.  Many of the recommendations and ultimate solutions implemented have had direct or indirect technology considerations—and during my time working in this industry, I have seen technology (and now digital) evolve from being viewed as an enabler and cost center into something that is now a core and central part of the dialog to solve the most complex challenges faced by the industry. That evolution was a large part of the decision to start a podcast series that explores the state of digital transformation in the biopharmaceutical industry.

Driving Digital was originally supported by an Accenture report on the state of digital as the foundation, but quickly grew into a more comprehensive conversation about the state of the industry today. I’ve been lucky to speak with several leading thinkers, from within Accenture and the industry at large, such as Kailash Swarna, Jen Spada, Tina Ripperger, Debraj Dasgupta, Guido Radack and more. Through the process of having these conversations, several key themes surfaced, including pathways for successful transformation—as well as the hurdles and challenges in getting there.

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Key takeaways from the first five episodes

Through the conversations I’ve had with my guests on this podcast series thus far, there are three key takeaways that come to the forefront.

Takeaway #1: Technology is core to digital transformation—but it is not enough on its own to achieve the intended impact

In the “4 P’s of Digital Transformation” set forth by Debraj Dasgupta in episode five, platforms are the core foundation upon which digital transformation can take place. This is something that was echoed by Kailash Swarna, who said, “We’ve tended to look at technology somehow as an adjunct, as a support function as opposed to something that is core to the business. And I think when we start to realize that it is core to the business...then we start to apply the same kind of expectations and mindset.”

This view from Kailash is spot on, however, technology also needs to be supported by an overall business strategy. As Debraj noted, many companies make the mistake of jumping into a platform without a core strategy, and only realize its shortcomings down the line. Further to this, in Guido’s episode “Digital is Greater than Technology”, he outlined how he believes the benefits of technology cannot be realized if the processes—and people—surrounding the technology don’t change. While technology is fundamental to digital transformation, it is not interchangeable with a “digital strategy.” Technology is only part of the equation in becoming truly digital.

Takeaway #2: People are the determinants of success for digital transformation—and organizations need to have the right capabilities and talent

Having the right people in your organization is imperative for driving digital transformation initiatives, but these people need to have the right skills to operate in the ever-evolving digital landscape. To do this, organizations are looking both within and outside of their organizations for the skilled talent to drive innovation.  

“We've recently expanded geographically to other sites around the world where we are tapping into the innovation mindset in many of these new geographies,” said Kailash. “And we're starting to see people who are ‘digital natives.’ These are people who have come in with the expectation that their world and what they do and what they're doing it for, will innately be digital by nature.”

While an organization may have the right people, oftentimes they are sitting siloed within the organization, across a variety of functions. As Debraj noted, “To drive large scale change in the organization as it relates to the Four Ps, it's important that all of these individuals sitting in different functions come and work together in a collaborative way to make this big transformation happen for the organization.”

Digital transformation in biopharma still has so much untapped potential, as evidenced by the transformations we have seen in other industries. Guido in particular has challenged us to look outside of the “four walls” of the pharmaceutical industry, to observe and learn from other industries undergoing digital transformation—and they can learn from us as well.

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I’m excited to further explore how organizations are seeking to transition beyond the “proof of concept” and pilot stages of digital transformation, into a repeatable and more scalable digitally enabled way of operating.

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Takeaway #3: Improving patient-centricity is emerging as an imperative for digital transformation—and, where applicable, digital transformation initiatives need to align to patients’ expectations

Innovation took center stage during the COVID-19 pandemic, with 2020 serving as a “proof of concept” for pharmaceutical organizations rethinking how they can create enhanced experiences for patients. One of the insights from my discussion with Tina Ripperger and Jen Spada in episode four was that the pandemic forced patients to use digital channels to receive healthcare. Patients reported that overall the experience was positive and that they are willing to continue using and exploring new channels to receive care.

Tina summarized this takeaway well, saying, “Because everything we've known has been disrupted, we have a very unique opportunity to reframe, to reintroduce what healthcare means, how [patients] can engage and interact, and to really reimagine how they receive and proactively manage their care.”

Kailash Swarna also commented on the complexity of patient centricity, saying, “It's easy to talk about digitization in some countries, but there are many countries or many places in the world where our medicines are used where patients don't have access to digital technologies. So what does patient experience or patient-centricity mean in that context?”

What to expect in season two

The experience of hosting this podcast has been great. It’s fascinating to connect with people in the middle of shaping and delivering transformation, learning about the challenges and opportunities they are experiencing. From the podcast discussions and my interactions across the industry, it’s clear to me that there is significant potential for digital to be an enabler to a variety of new outcomes—but the question remains as to how fast the industry will seek to benefit from the impact of digital transformation in biopharma.

Driving Digital has re-confirmed to me that a North Star for transformation is fundamental. It won’t happen overnight or through one single effort. Instead, it’s about using your North Star as the target and implementing change over time and across the organization. As the industry becomes more digital, the roles of CTOs and other digital leaders will merge with the business as it becomes a digitally holistic enterprise—and getting there takes strong leadership and understanding of the task of transformation. And it's not about a particular technology or a particular platform—it's about fundamentally changing the way we think about our work and how we execute it.

With the podcast progressing and moving into the next several episodes, I’m excited to further explore how organizations are seeking to transition beyond the “proof of concept” and pilot stages of digital transformation, into a repeatable and more scalable digitally enabled way of operating. 

Season two promises to have even more candid conversations about what has, and hasn’t, worked for companies and the different challenges experienced along the way—with a number of high-level industry leaders already booked to share their perspectives. I encourage you to like and subscribe to the podcast on your favorite player so you never miss an important insight, exploration or discussion about the state of digital in biopharma today. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn and let me know if these topics resonate with you.

Tom Lehmann

Managing Director – Life Sciences

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