How to make digital adoption a smooth journey

Four big pharma experts explain the challenges companies face in adopting digital tech and what trends are likely to drive digital commercial strategies in the next few years.

There is always going to be a certain amount of risk involved in deploying new technologies in a company and undertaking the digital journey. But how do companies ensure that these investments are fully leveraged and don’t end up as technology solutions that do not impact the business?

Uwe Dalichow, Bayer’s head of global marketing operations, notes that a major risk of driving digital in a business is heavily investing in technologies and then not using them to their full extent.

“I think sometimes the reason is content-driven, sometimes it is consent related, but most of the time it is people related,” he says. “There are several key factors that can hinder a technical infrastructure from working, and then the risk is that we have a perfect system in place but we’re not leveraging it – not even 10% or 15% of what’s actually possible.”

He says that an additional risk is that technology evolves at such a fast pace that you may end up with something that may be relevant today but not in three years’ time.

“We’re behind as an industry when it comes to technological advancements”
Uwe Dalichow, Bayer

“This can frustrate people because you train them and hope that they’re going to use it, but by the time they familiarise themselves with the tool it is already obsolete. Therefore, we need to ensure that we include colleagues in the change management process and don’t underestimate the magnitude of supporting people in embracing technology.”

“Technology changes every six weeks,” adds Jeff French, vice president and chief digital officer at ViiV, “but the impetus is often to get the ‘next big thing’ in place and get it used.

“If the need for technology is led from a business objective perspective, you will never face that issue. If the business objective is to figure out how to create better experiences for your customers and it’s more consistent and integrated experience that you’re looking for, then you start to look at what technology makes sense to allow for that, versus just letting the technology try and drive it.”

Similarly, Novo Nordisk’s vice president of commercial operations, Thomas Thestrup-Terp, says that it’s less about the technology and more about the change of mindset and the processes in the organisation.

“For example, with the approval process for promotional material process, you may need to leverage the benefits that you are getting from existing tools better within the organisation. It’s not a technology challenge, it’s all about utilising that technology in the existing processes and changing minds.

“And how do you change minds? You need to go one step at a time and show the way forward to others. What we are doing at Novo Nordisk in terms of optimising the digital content supply chain would not have been possible five years ago because there wasn’t a burning desire to bring about these changes at that time.”

The biggest digital trends

Despite acknowledging these difficulties, Raakhi Sippy – global head of marketing operations and third party partnerships at GSK – believes that organisations like her own are still moving towards patient-centric, evidence-driven, and outcome-focused healthcare.

“It is imperative that we change the way we market our products,” she says. “It needs to be closer to an FMCG organisation that’s customer-centric. I think we’ll start to see an absolute shift in terms of how we get there and I think marketing operations plays a huge role.

“The other thing you’ll start to see is a more central perspective on brand identities and strategies – giving companies one voice as they engage with customers – which has been done really well by the Unilevers and the L’Oreals of the world.”

At the same time, Dalichow also believes that individualised engagement will continue to become more important – especially when it comes to drugs that affect tiny populations.

“We face an increasing level of complexity on how to serve individual patients and physician needs at the same time,” he says. “Therefore, individual need-based engagement is required in order to address the true needs of customers.

“I sometimes call this a ‘super/hyper-personalisation’ and a ‘segment of one’. Even if I can approach all HCPs in the target area in a personalised way, I may still not derive a good outcome with them because these approaches do not work collectively.”

He adds that analytics and data-based decision-making is reaching a “tipping point”.

“Healthcare technology is cheap, computing power is phenomenal, and there is an enormous wealth of data already available. If you connect it well with the capability to visualise consumers’ needs, this is something that can drive choices in many different directions, much faster, more frequently, and more precisely.”

“If you are a good pharma company, then you need to be doing more than just providing innovative medicines”
Jeff French, ViiV

Thestrup-Terp adds: “In the next 2-5 years, we will see a lot more data coming in on our customers. The pharmaceutical industry is lagging behind compared to other industries in terms of knowledge of their customers with real world data. Especially the ‘Digital Footprint’ of HCPs, where we will get more insights in terms of content consumption, preference, channel affinity etc.

“It’s up to us to treat and derive insights in a decent and ethical manner, but that is not something we’ve had to focus on before because we have had great products. We still have great products, but the marketplace is changing and we need to become more savvy and insightful around how our doctors prefer to interact with us and how we stay simple, relevant, and trustworthy in our communication.”

French notes that to get this kind of data, companies need to get into the patient space and start servicing and supporting the patient in a way that the industry has never seen before.

“This is the point where the standard of care might actually be fulfilled by the pharma company and not healthcare organisations. If you are a good pharma company, then you need to actually be doing more than just providing innovative medicines.

“It’s all about generating the best customer experience possible. New capabilities alone would not necessarily guarantee better outcomes. You’ve got to have an orchestrated effort across the customer-facing entities within the organisation to really create something new and different.”

But to get there, Dalichow says, companies should have more focus on risk-taking and “just doing it” instead of just talking about it all the time.

“You also have to be ready to fail. For example, if you send an email and receive a very low click-through rate, you shouldn’t just conclude that emails don’t work. You need to be willing to accept learnings, because maybe it wasn’t the email channel, but the content, or wrong distribution, or some technology that wasn’t right and the email ended up in a spam folder. We must be ready to learn fast. And we should approach things differently based on our learnings in order to make real progress.

“At the moment we’re behind as an industry, no doubt, when it comes to technological advancements.”

Sippy adds that there is a need to move away from “gut feelings” and large qualitative studies to “A/B testing, agile ways of working, and truly applying real data and analytics to drive customer and market behaviour”.

Thomas concludes: “They say that iIf it isn’t broke, don’t fix it, but I think the industry is coming to the conclusion that the current model will be broken soon.”

Some of these interviewees will be speaking at the Indegene Digital Summit in Philadelphia on 16 October.

Note: The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the article belong solely to the interviewee, and not necessarily to his/her organisation, committee or other group or individual