Digital transformation in pharma is taking a long time

THOUGHT: Digital “transformation” within pharma is taking a long time. The reasons for the delay are complex such as organizational culture and investments in infrastructure. It’s also hard to become digital when digital is a moving target.

According to Harvard Business Review “he much-used term simply means adapting an organization’s strategy and structure to capture opportunities enabled by digital technology”. Sounds simple but things like company culture, and protecting one’s job stand in the way.

 It’s not surprising that many managers expect digital transformation to involve a radical disruption of the business, huge new investments in technology, a complete switch from physical to virtual channels, and the acquisition of tech start-ups. To be sure, in some cases such a paradigm shift is involved. But our research and work suggest that for most companies, digital transformation means something very different from outright disruption, in which the old is swept away by the new. Change is involved, and sometimes radical replacements for manufacturing processes, distribution channels, or business models are necessary; but more often than not, transformation means incremental steps to better deliver the core value proposition.

Myth: Digital requires radical disruption of the value proposition.

Reality: It usually means using digital tools to better serve the known customer need.

We all know that pharma often takes weeks of approvals before anything can be implemented. This is an industry weakness but it’s also an opportunity. Using digital tools to both listen to patients and HCP’s can vastly improve our marketing but ONLY if it’s done with speed and quality. A story about new diabetes medications, for example, in the news might not mean a thing a week after it was covered. Pharma has to become the voice to cut through the clutter.

Myth: Digital is about technology.

 Reality: It’s about the patient.

People in pharma don’t get a cup of coffee without doing research. However, research takes time and time is an asset if it’s used correctly. Digital can speed the flow of information within the company helping patients better understand treatment options. Make no mistake about it peopler comparing treatment options in cost, effectiveness and side effects. If you better understand the threats to your brand you can better respond.

Myth: Digital requires overhauling legacy systems.

Reality: It’s more often about incremental bridging.

Digital transformation may ultimately require radically altering back-end legacy systems, but starting with a sweeping IT overhaul comes with great risks. Smart companies find a way to quickly develop front-end applications while slowly replacing their legacy systems in a modular, agile fashion. This can be achieved by building a middleware interface to connect the front and back ends, or by allowing business units to adopt needed solutions today while IT transforms the back end in an ambidextrous manner. Over time the pieces of the legacy system can be decommissioned, but progress in meeting customer needs doesn’t have to wait until then.

What does all this mean?

It means experimentation, failures and more experimentation. It means allocating more money to digital because you know it’s the future of what we do. It doesn’t mean more endless meetings and Power Points.