Pharma’s digital transformation journey and the role of customer reference data

Better management of customer data could help pharmaceutical companies’ digital transformation, according to Veeva’s Rebecca Silver. pharmaphorum’s Richard Staines spoke to her about how the use of customer reference data can transform pharma companies, increase competitiveness, and benefit the bottom line during these challenging times.

Precision medicine is emerging as a key approach for disease treatment and prevention, which makes it even more critical to get the right medicine to the right patients. But according to OpenData’s general manager Rebecca Silver, the industry is often challenged with having accurate data on the doctors and the organisations they work for.

Times are changing, though, and with the advent of COVID-19 the use of digital technology has increased considerably. One of the noticeable effects of this has been a massive uptake of remote working across the industry, which has accentuated difficulties in conducting remote sales engagements due to poor customer data quality.

The changing pharma environment during COVID-19

According to Silver, the coronavirus pandemic changed the pharma industry’s priorities overnight, and several other factors are transforming the way that pharma companies are interacting with doctors.

Speed to market is all-important in accelerating innovation, she notes, adding that using customer data well is crucial to get the kind of targeted approach needed when interacting with healthcare professionals.

“Personalised medicine is driving the need to get more information to more physicians. It’s targeting the right medicine to the right patients, so giving very specific information to physicians is really important”

“Personalised medicine is driving the need to get more information to more physicians. It’s targeting the right medicine to the right patients, so giving very specific information to physicians is really important.”

But Silver identified some challenges that must be overcome to allow pharma companies to make the most of their customer reference data. For example, data is often siloed in different parts of the company, instead of a centralised database that allows company-wide access.

Quality of data is another issue identified by Silver as being detrimental to a coordinated approach to customer relations management. She pointed to the Veeva European Customer Reference Data Survey that showed 41% of companies are not satisfied with the quality of their third-party legacy providers of customer data.

“Complexity comes in when data’s in silos and fragmented. If the data is in silos within a pharmaceutical company, you’ll find multiple people that are buying the same data assets and storing them and managing them in various systems completely disconnected from each other.

“It’s almost impossible to get a single, comprehensive view and an actionable view of their customer. It makes it really difficult to derive insights from that data because they’re not getting the full picture of their customers.”

Real-time updates

Ensuring that customer data is accurate and up to date is a priority, no matter what size a company is.

One way of making sure that the data is also useful to reps is having technology that allows customer data to be updated in real-time, whether they are looking to engage with healthcare professionals directly or via remote detailing, according to Silver.

Good data governance will help to get the information accurate and up to date – but making a case for improving it isn’t always an easy task.

But Silver said it’s possible to make the case for strong data governance by outlining the productivity benefits it can bring by taking steps to identify who owns the data and ensuring a single department is responsible for curating it.

“People don’t like the term ‘governance,’ but it’s the reality of it, and there is a strong impact. If companies have data governance issues and undertake initiatives to improve data management, they’re more likely to be satisfied with the ability of their data to support their analytics.”

Properly curated customer data allows reps to make fast decisions, as they have confidence in the information available to them.

Silver said: “Customers want their reps in the field to be able to react with speed and they want to maximise the value out of their investment of those reps. So, it is important to empower the sales rep with the most accurate data updates while they’re standing in a hospital and can still effectively execute on a call, for example.”

C-suite taking notice

Despite these challenges Silver said pharma companies are more likely to overcome them now that the C-Suite is starting to notice the issue.

Companies are increasingly realising that their customer data is an important strategic asset that can have a real impact on the bottom line. Driving this is a realisation at executive level that getting customer data right is crucial to keeping a company competitive.

Pharma companies that don’t use data as an asset risk falling behind, whether they are competing in a tight market where there are many other therapeutic options available or whether they are launching a new product and under pressure to bring in sales.

Silver said: “All of that pressure and that stress has increased the awareness around data in the C-suite. So, what I’m seeing is many business leaders are re-examining their data organisations and searching for opportunities to reduce wasted time and effort, while at the same time increasing productivity.”

Data is ‘cool’

The digital revolution has moved far beyond fascinating gadgets and devices, and promises to profoundly change the way pharma companies operate.

Pharmaceutical companies are starting to adopt a business model with data as a foundation for the company’s strategy.

Customer data and helping reps on a day-to-day basis will be at the heart of this, but companies will also be guided during crucial projects such as launching new drugs, when pharma must maximise opportunities in the often-crucial initial window for sales.

According to Veeva, the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to fundamentally change the way pharma companies operate as they are forced, at least in the short term, to move away from conventional sales operations based on face-to-face meetings with doctors.

These will still have their place, but the future is expected to favour a hybrid approach as the importance of digital support for physician interactions grows, driven by innovations in multi-channel materials and remote detailing.

To guide this hybrid approach, pharma companies should look to the insights that can be found through a sophisticated analysis of CRM data – the advantages of which are increasingly being recognised by those at the very top of their organisations.

Silver concluded: “Customer data is the foundation of companies’ success; data is now cool.”

About the interviewee

Rebecca SilverAs general manager, Veeva OpenData, Rebecca leads a dedicated team of product managers, data stewards, engineers, and services professionals to deliver a superior reference data experience for Veeva customers. Before leading the global OpenData team, Rebecca was vice president of Veeva OpenData North America, where she led the launch and growth of Veeva’s data offering. Earlier, as VP, professional services, North America, she directed successful implementations of Veeva’s suite of commercial products for many of the world’s most prominent pharmaceutical companies.