Harnessing data and insights for success

Ahead of the eyeforpharma Awards shortlist announcement this week, we spoke to judge and commercial insights executive Peter Barschdorff about how data and insights are changing pharma and what he is looking for in this year’s competitors.

How is data and insight collection changing?

Several leading pharmas are looking to increase efficiency, and the area of data collection and insights gathering is an area where efficiencies can be found.

A strategic approach to data can help reduce cost and increase value. This requires focus for capabilities such as data strategy, data governance, and data visualisation, but also new areas like data acquisition, data scouting, and data security.

As far as “insights” are concerned, that term is used quite loosely these days, for anything from a data point to a major strategic finding. However, the cognoscenti will work with an approach where a good customer insight is characterised by being new, offering a customer perspective – maybe even with an emotional undertone, promises competitive advantage (or at least important business impact), and uncovers the “why” in customer behaviour. Good insights are collaboratively derived and vetted, increasingly have a quantitative benefit assigned, and ultimately establish the basis for critical decision-making.

“There needs to be confidence on the part of the decision-makers, and willingness to ground important decisions in data. All of this remains a work in progress across the industry”

What are the biggest challenges affecting your work at the moment?

Where to begin!

There’s important clinical innovation happening, and a fair amount of product launches, or new indication launches, as a result. This means that commercial analysts, forecasters, market researchers etc. are busy establishing the positioning, sales force size and structure as well as other means of market engagement, data strategy, and demand parameters, making sure products get to patients as quickly as possible.

There’s a steep increase in relevant data, daily. Therefore, we need to identify the data we need and find ways to structure the data and prepare for analysis and decision-making.

There’s payer pressure, and we need to clearly establish value of our therapies to payers.

There’s less and less qualified talent willing or available to work in our industry. So, we have to modify our culture, policies, and environments to attract a larger pool of people who we didn’t attract in the past.

There’s a lot of investment going into digital platforms and into innovation hubs. As a result, we need to ensure that these investments generate value – not in three to five years, but relatively quickly.

Finally, there’s almost unprecedented change in our industry, including spin-offs, mergers, and acquisitions. This then means change and disruption to almost every function, and, naturally, many well-oiled insights machines will be impacted, and only “gel” after some time, in a new constellation.

What kinds of insights are going to become increasingly important to pharma?

It’s the types of insights that are evidence-based, on-strategy, and promise to make measurable impact. If we can measure, and establish that a particular insight generated significant impact, that’s even better. Examples include the realisation that a particular cancer therapy may have benefits in an additional tumor, and a focused trial would be needed to demonstrate this clinically. And on the commercial side it could be the insight that discounts and rebates to payers in certain local markets don’t make it economically feasible anymore to also deploy sales representatives, which is why alternative go-to-market channels should be leveraged more.

How can companies make data valuable?

A textbook approach will suggest starting with effective ways to convert unstructured data into structured data, and to make data easily accessible to commercial analysts. There are many next steps, which include some of the investments in data and analytics capabilities mentioned before: data strategy, data governance, data acquisition, data scouting, data visualisation, etc. But at the end of the day, there needs to be confidence on the part of the decision-makers, and willingness to ground important decisions in data. All of this remains a work in progress across the industry, although there are of course some firms who have led by example, while others trail.

How can pharma companies successfully harness what they are learning from commercial insights?

Over the past few years there have been a number of groundbreaking publications about the data/analytics/insights space by leading business journals as well as proprietary studies by university marketing departments, consultancies and industry advisers. A particularly well published case is that of Unilever from just a couple of years ago, but there are also a small number of case studies featuring pharmaceutical companies that set up highly effective, innovative, and value-generating commercial insights functions. So, there’s literature out there, and there are industry panels. The adoption of best practices could be accelerated.

What are you looking for at this year’s eyeforpharma awards?

My general view is from the strategy and analytics perspective, grounded in data, and based on customer insights. When I overlay this with current industry challenges and trends, I come out at three questions I will ask myself: 1) Has this campaign leveraged innovative data/digital/analytics capabilities? 2) Is there an element of “nudging,” or interesting use of behavioral economics? 3) Is an approach chosen which enables effective benefit measurement? But at the end of the day, the most critical question is about patient value generated.

What advice would you give to people entering?

Highlight creativity and innovation, stress new-frontier approaches, and show that they work for patient benefit – good luck!

The eyeforpharma Awards will take place at eyeforpharma Philadelphia on 11 December. For more info on the shortlisted companies please visit the official site.