Last year, we checked in with research and development (R&D) executives across the globe through a survey to see how the biopharmaceutical industry is faring with the adoption of digital capabilities. Our report Driving Digitalization in Biopharma R&D: Which Direction Should You Take? highlights the survey findings and details the changes from similar research we conducted three years ago—including an increase in the belief that digitalization will help companies achieve their strategic imperatives. We also found that large-scale adoption of digital capabilities is lagging, and we explored the reasons why. Our survey reached 250 life sciences R&D executives across various levels and functions, from a wide range of company sizes and locations.

Moving forward: Steady but slow

In this survey, executives confirmed that they see the potential value of digitalization across R&D. At the same time, they also reported significant risk aversion to large-scale adoption of digitalization, especially among the largest companies. At the same time, digital tools and platforms are becoming more integral to how companies collaborate, analyze and manage data, and enhance the patient experience.

Executives report that they are seeing opportunities for these digital capabilities to achieve real, measurable value in their organizations. 88% of survey respondents said that using real world data across R&D would enhance decision-making, and 77% believe the ability to better manage data across the enterprise could deliver measurable business value.

Much of this potential value still lies ahead of us, based on the current level of digital adoption. Less than half of the respondents said they have achieved their desired state of digitalization, which is not too surprising since it requires significant investment, the right talent, and often involves major organizational change.

These barriers further add to the risk aversion that was noted as one of the most significant barriers to adoption, especially in larger organizations. In companies with market caps over $10B, 75% of respondents said that risk aversion was preventing an embrace of digitalization. Just 36% of companies are adopting digital as a key strategy in R&D, while 49% of respondents said they are exploring, and 15% are still taking a “wait-and-see” approach to see how others fare first. That’s 15% too many who are unwilling to commit to driving digitalization ahead.

Why not move into the fast lane?

All of our life sciences clients have moved to adopt some form of digitalization, but many struggle with scaling those capabilities. Part of this struggle is related to how R&D functions are tackling digital transformation and our survey showed the following roadblocks to digitalization:

  • R&D functions are often going it alone. Digitalization is being implemented in silos and is being driven by individual R&D functions. 88% of survey respondents reported that digitalization is happening in silos inside their organizations, rather than across functions, throughout R&D, or the entire enterprise.
  • Lots of pilots, but few successes at scale. Companies have been taking a cautious and incremental approach to digitalization, with plenty of digital pilots, proofs of concept, and minimum viable products. Together these amount to sizeable investments in digital transformation, but this focus on select use cases rather than broad relevance, with repeatability and extensibility, means that companies are not yet able to realize the payoff of digitalization at scale.
  • Metrics are needed to measure impact and justify investment. 60% of respondents say that they struggle to measure the success of digitalization and without clear metrics, it’s difficult to assess the success of previous investments and justify the potential impact of new investments in emerging technologies. Being able to demonstrate and quantify the value of an initiative is important, especially when technology adoption means disrupting a currently functioning process.
  • Resources and talent are in short supply. A majority of R&D executives (60%) said they are insufficiently funded to undertake digitalization, and don’t have the budget available to fully realize their plans. Talent was also reported as a barrier – a lack of access to IT resources was reported as preventing change for 46% of survey respondents and 34% said they were not able to attract the right skills and talent to implement new digital technologies.

Getting from experimentation to scale

From this survey and from our own experience in working with our life sciences clients and beyond, we see an increasing commitment for the adoption of digital technologies across R&D. This has become even more pronounced today, with the need to enable virtual engagement solutions for both employees and clinical trial participants, and the urgent need to deliver new solutions to patients faster than ever before. Tackling the barriers to digital transformation in a thoughtful way will help to overcome the inertia that many of our R&D executives are experiencing, and those life sciences companies who succeed will be taking the lead in the development of new life-changing treatments.

Follow this link to the survey findings, titled Driving Digitalization in Biopharma R&D: Which Direction Should You Take? You can listen to our podcast and read the full report, including the steps that companies should take to accelerate the pace of transformation.

Tom Lehmann

Managing Director – Life Sciences

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