Digital transformation in pharma

Digital transformation, disruption, innovation. Business and modern technology concept.

QUICK READ: DTC marketing as it is and as you knew it is dead. The pandemic has forever changed the way consumers shop and uses healthcare. Now is the time to prepare for the new era of healthcare marketing and transform your organization into a digital company.

The cost of patient acquisition had been increasing. Pharma’s answer has been to increase digital marketing budgets but that’s not the answer unless the money is spent in the right areas.

The most important skill any DTC marketer can have now is to think like a patient or caregiver. Consumers today have a lot of healthcare choices and with increasing health insurance premiums they want more control over treatment choices. Why switch to a new medication when the old one works fine? Why should I pay more?

The other issue that DTC marketers need to deal with is getting patients into doctor’s offices. Sure telehealth is an option but it’s often important for HCP’s to talk directly with patients about new treatments.

What about TV ads? They’re still good to build awareness but awareness is not enough. People want to know “what’s in it for me?” and even if you provide them with a reason there is a huge challenge in getting them to fill the new Rx.

The exposure of the toxic, unsustainable organizational culture at most pharma companies opened up the pandora’s box on one of the biggest challenges for digital transformation: organizational performance and processes.

Organizations need to assess their situations and assets to plan their shift to digital. Digital organizations are customer-centric. They focus on customer experience and innovate with their customers as partners. Digital organizations are agile and fluid: They get rid of hierarchies and silos. In addition, all companies are competing for the same scarce digital talent, so digital organizations must have an active plan for finding and retaining skilled workers. This doesn’t include hiring job hoppers who go from one pharma company to another.

Why Change Is Necessary

Identify what changes digitization requires of your company. Established companies should feel a “sense of urgency” about the changes they face. Because digitization builds on itself to produce rapid, fundamental change, firms who ignore their challenges will be left behind.

The first step is to create a plan to lead your company to its place in the digitized world. Use the plan to set priorities. Optimize your current departmental operations and identify your strengths. Develop a “twin-track IT structure”: one to keep daily operations moving, and another to go in new directions. To overcome “mental barriers” among your organization’s leaders, the CEO must lead the way and make digital a priority.

A “New Digital Business Unit”

As the company develops, shape a new digital business unit. The new digital organization will be more fluid and collaborative. Teams will have more responsibility. Managers will function as coaches. Base budgets around products, and develop them according to product success based on metrics that matter.

Create a “digital competence center” to serve your business units, helping them identify the technology they need, and coaching them on implementation.

As pharma integrates new technology, it will have to change its culture to become a more flexible workplace that adapts to the needs of the digital world. Employees should have a sense of ownership over their projects, feel empowered to act, and gain strength from workplace teams and structures. Managers should lead interactively and by example. The CDO should be part of a steering committee that guides this transformation. Develop a unified communication plan, including social media.

Implementing Digitization

The final stage is implementing digitization for the entire organization. This involves plunging “into the unknown.” To guide this journey, set milestones for the entire process, as you did for individual projects. Borrow the “build-operate-transfer” model from the auto industry, in which suppliers install and operate machinery in their plants. 

Digital transformation in pharma