Accelerating the digital approval process

The boom in digital tech over COVID means that pharma can move faster than ever – but the industry’s traditional processes for asset approval are still holding timelines back. David Reily examines how pharma companies are responding to the increased burden of asset approval with new ways of working.

The coronavirus pandemic has forced a traditionally risk-averse industry tied to legacy systems for regulation and compliance to fully embrace digital solutions in commercial and marketing functions.

While the majority of executives understand the value and business potential of digital, keeping up this new tempo of rapid digital implementation and asset approval is increasingly challenging while simultaneously maintaining compliance footing.

New digital channels have changed the way patients engage with the medical world around them, while driving expectations on how the pharma industry must respond and deliver their communications during the pandemic.

Every digital initiative, from content creation to review, approval, and distribution, comes with the potential for delays during medical/legal/regulatory review, regulatory impediments, or unexpected factors. And, as the digital world demands fast-tracked timelines, many pharma companies are still held back by inefficient processes and outdated manual systems that limit visibility, collaboration, and sharing across the digital supply chain.

Traditionally, many pharma companies have taken a centralised approach to content management and legal approval in which entire assets, such as a brochure or an article, are created and approved centrally, and then distributed on a local level to every country.

While this traditionally meets the need for brand consistency and compliance, the pandemic has unleashed a greater variance of digital formats that need to be approved at a greater speed.

“The challenge requires transformation and change management on an organisational level and needs to be supported by senior leadership… Embedding the new processes and ways of working is a huge cross functional project that needs good coordination, communication and capability building”
Bhupinder McJennett, AbbVie

Indeed, research by Veeva Systems research shows that 83% of pharma companies are creating more content now to support digital engagement than six months before.

The sheer volume of content required across multiple formats threatens to overwhelm traditional, centralised strategies.

Bhupinder McJennett, global digital lead, eyecare, at AbbVie International articulates this problem: “The pandemic has created a marked shift towards digital content creation and the need to approve this content in different formats and at speed. I can only see this workload increasing, driving a need for more efficient, agile approval processes.”

Many commenters have observed that this challenge is about a reallocation of resources and people management. Rick O’Neil, digital consultant to pharma and founder of LTF Agency, says: “As the need and workload of digital assets increases we will clearly require a parallel investment in more headcount on the reviewing and approval side.”

Meanwhile, AbbVie’s McJennett believes that a digital strategy from management is required to address this issue: “The challenge is not confined to digital content creation. It requires transformation and change management on an organisational level and needs to be supported, if not mandated, by senior leadership to facilitate this shift.

“Embedding the new processes and ways of working is a huge cross functional project that needs good coordination, communication and capability building.”

Another solution to removing bottlenecks and allowing information to flow from a single source is the use of digital asset approval technology to speed up the approval process.

Such technology could allow for better compliance and faster availability with accelerated creation, approval, and distribution of commercial content across the digital supply chain.

Replacing a mix of systems and processes with a single, seamless digital asset management solution could also reduce complexity and save costs and time.

In practice this means that content could be bulk published, updated, or withdrawn wherever it appears. This approach reduces the need for expensive reworking of minor details, removing bureaucracy and enabling teams to focus on content rather than administration.

Rick O’Neil agrees that enterprise technology will play a key contribution to digital asset approval in the future: “Digital Pharma also needs to consider an efficient process for adapting central content into localising content assets. This is where I see a potential opportunity for a quality enterprise technology to solve this problem”

As the pharma industry responds to the increasing requirements of the pandemic, in-house marketers must use this opportunity to break down the silos between marketing and regulatory teams and address the bottlenecks to initiate more efficient data-driven processes.

This is not easy to do given the current demands of the pandemic but senior management must recognise that this it is vital to enable an efficient digital asset approval process to flourish and scale
About the author

David Reilly is the founder of Let’s Learn Digital; delivering quality training in digital and emerging technology for the UK pharma industry.