In Pharma...Without Digital, It’s not a Strategy, and the 5 Reasons You May be Avoiding It

By Adam Chapman, EyeForPharma on Mar 21, 2019


New and often asymmetrical competition is reshaping the market. Disruption is the new normal, the pace of innovation is accelerating, and data more important than ever. Furthermore, we have entered the era of the Millennial healthcare providers (HCPs) & patients with technology-dependent expectations and empowerment regarding care treatment, research and sharing of information.

Every aspect of the entire healthcare ecosystem such as research and development, clinical trials, sales and marketing, market access, point-of-care, value-based pricing, and real-world evidence (RWE), among others—is being challenged in ways never seen before. These forces are propelled by and require, a new digital approach for the life sciences sector.

Executives are asking tough questions about how to compete and succeed in this digital environment. They need to see a clear journey along with the crucial steps needed to realize true value from a digital strategy.


These same forces are enticing new players into the marketplace. Digital-first companies like Amazon, with no prior life sciences background, can leverage their platforms to deploy new products and services.

We see these dynamics across the sector: Nestlé has collaborated with DBV Technologies1 to develop a milk allergy patch; Imec and Samsung were among the first to innovate in digital health with the Open Reference Sensor Module for wearables; while Walgreens and CVS are transforming the drug store into a first-choice destination for health and daily living.

Forward-looking life sciences companies recognize digital as an integral part of business strategy. The question now is: how best to make that happen?


Digitalization will enable and require life sciences organizations to fundamentally rethink their businesses; including how they approach clinical, safety, manufacturing, sales and marketing, and supply chain activities. 

The sector must leverage digital as a driver of innovation and value across the following four transformational areas:

Life science companies accelerating their speed-to-value in this competitive landscape are focusing on a more integrated connection with patients, providers, distribution, CRO’s, etc.; including very creative partnership models.

As the sector shifts towards a patient-centric and outcomes-driven model, pharmaceutical firms and other organizations must adapt new engagement strategies for patients and providers. Those strategies must support a range of innovative methods that will all require new data and analytics capabilities,including: advanced monitoring and adherence, prescriptive and population health, evidence-based outcomes management, and new pricing and market access structures.

Progressive life science companies are already adopting approaches to foster more personalized interactions with HCPs and patients. They use segmentation and persona-based solutions to satisfy the demand for more responsive and genuine interactions.

Evolving partner ecosystems require convenient but secure collaborative access, particularly with newer or smaller partners who may use more vulnerable consumer applications. Life sciences firms must ensure all digital activity is secure to protect their intellectual property, brands, patients, and employees.


Driven by consumer expectations, regulatory guidance, and logical business strategies, pharmaceutical firms and others in the industry have moved towards the connected care model. That still-evolving approach integrates care providers in a system that is enabled by patient and physician portal-based communications.

A number of early digital technologies are now commonplace, including electronic medical and health records, more advanced medical imagery, e-prescriptions, and more. These advances represent significant progress.

Yet, there is still tremendous potential for a far more radical and positive transformation of the life sciences sector. A significant new wave of digital technologies is now mature and is being used to deliver more personalized, predictive, and preventative evidence-based medicine while enhancing interactions with HCPs. Here are some examples:

- Connected patients and consumers who expect, and demand personalized engagements across platforms and interfaces: social media, virtual discovery, bio-electronics, augmented reality, and other technologies.

- Real-world evidence and patient monitoring leveraging new intelligence in embedded hardware, and the introduction of sensors (IoT) will boost adherence, enable follow-up, and better prediction of health outcomes. They will also empower companies to rethink their research and development to focus more on outcomes.

- Digital platforms that capture medical and clinical data from disparate sources (wearables, glucometers, mobile phones) to connect and integrate them for personalized treatment.

- Strategic, digitally informed business models will produce insights into patient well-being, global innovation, drug portfolio optimization, market access, pricing, launch sequencing, among others.

- The Intelligent Enterprise, better access to medical and clinical data, accompanied by advances in processing power, health analytics, cognitive technologies and Artificial Intelligence will fuel new insights into research and development and medical care.

The life sciences industry has already begun its digital journey.

Digitally-enabled workforces across the life sciences environment will accelerate efficiency across operational units and lines of business, research and development, safety and pharmaco-vigilance, compliance and validation, distribution channels and partner ecosystems.

Many firms are already using these advances. In the life sciences space, companies need to look closely at how best to plan and pursue their future business strategy. Without digital, it is not a strategy. To survive and prosper in the digital economy, life sciences organizations must rethink a number of fundamental assumptions and accelerate the path to action.


1. It’s too complex.

Since it spans all functions in the organization, and is rooted in technology, it was too difficult to get full buy-in and alignment around digital. This is no longer an excuse.

2. Considered as a nice-to-have.

It is core. Your digital strategy is no longer an “add-on” to your business plans. Embrace it and embed it.

3. It’s just talk, and others in Pharma aren’t doing much.

Assume your competitors are actively pursuing their digital strategy for competitive advantage and to erode your share for commercialized products.

4. We can’t get aligned.

Your company likely doesn’t have a single view, position or universal agreement on what digital is, and what it means to the company. Get one.

5. IT and the Digital Team are responsible.

Companies assume this is an technology challenge. It’s a business challenge at all levels.


The knee-jerk reaction is to bring in the consultants, or strike up an internal task force—that doesn’t always work. The onus rests on the consultants or the task force to interview many people, understand everything they are being told, synthesize it all, and somehow come up with a novel solution that makes sense to those who have to execute it. That way of problem-solving is what is known as a “hub & spoke” model. You may get a great digital strategy out of this, but it will likely take a long time, be costly, and has no guarantee of buy-in and execution.

For more than a decade, senior executives have successfully leveraged the co-creation model as a way to develop innovative solutions. “Co-creative” models look different depending on the context, but they typically involve gathering into one location a group of people who collectively understand all the facets of the challenge, and who will be part of implementing the solution.

When it is executed poorly, it turns into your typical brainstorm, one in which a few loud voices— usually the most senior leaders—dominate the discussion. When it is done well, however, it integrates all the knowledge and insights from each contributor to create solutions that are greater than the sum of the parts.

Co-creation produces exceptional results in a compressed timeframe by deconstructing complex challenges into more manageable but comprehensive discussion topics. It connects every discussion and every person, so that each topic is enriched by every other topic. Everyone can enjoy the dynamics of small team discussions while remaining in direct contact with and being able to contribute to everything else that’s being discussed.

The environment is transparent, hierarchy-free, disarming, and very engaging, so that people can set aside their usual behaviors, listen and be heard, and ultimately reach conclusions based on new-found trust, shared understanding, and alignment.

It surfaces, captures, and integrates all the issues, ideas, and conclusions from the group. Certified Facilitators act as guides and scribes for each meeting, encouraging participants to contribute to their full potential (and to push each other).

Most importantly, it delivers clear answers that the group believes in. Answers that are created out of the collective work and in the words of the participants are as much in their minds and hearts as they are on the written page.

Instead of taking several months as a typical consulting engagement does, well-constructed co- creations typically lasts just two to three days. Instead of tacking on “execution” at the end, the approach embeds it into the process by directly involving those who will execute the solution so that they own it and are ready to proceed with the support required.

So, while it is possible your organization may be behind in terms of leveraging digital in your business strategy, a rapid and inexpensive approach to ignite your efforts, with complete buy-in and a clear path for execution, is ready if you are.

Co-creation produces exceptional results in a compressed timeframes by deconstructing complex challenges into more manageable but comprehensive discussion topics.

It connects every discussion and every person, so that each topic is enriched by every other topic.

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