Big pharma is getting its digital capabilities in order with a slew of new hires to its executive ranks. Merck & Co. recently announced the arrival of Jim Scholefield from Nike to head up its global IT and digital strategy; Pfizer has recruited Quest Diagnostics’ chief information officer Lidia Fonseca; Novartis and GlaxoSmithKline each have new consumer executives for their digital teams.

It’s a race to become a digitally mature organization, with the idea that those who get there first will be able to benefit sooner from faster drug development, greater operational efficiency and productivity, and more innovation, which positions them well for exponential growth.

The industry has been slow to make digital a priority, but it now feels like it’s making up for lost time and has recognized the need for digital transformation.

Related Reading: Becoming a Digital Organization – 3 Areas to Target

Digital maturity takes time

A new international survey of biopharma leaders shows that most companies (75%) are still in the early phases of digital development, with 25% placing themselves on the lowest rung of adoption and 55% stating that they are “developing their capabilities.”

The findings from Deloitte and MIT show the importance of progressing along the digital maturity curve at a pace, with those further down the curve more likely to embrace innovation and creative thinking about common business problems.

While companies that identified themselves as in the early stages of digital development are significantly more likely to focus on leveraging existing organizational competencies, more mature organizations are splitting their time between internal improvements and new methodologies.

Inevitably, data is having a greater say in business decisions at more mature organizations – nearly two thirds (62%) of digitally mature biopharma companies have already implemented a data-driven project at scale, compared to just 38% of companies new to the digital landscape.

As we’ve discussed before, for life sciences organizations to undergo successful digital transformation, they need tools that facilitate fluid access to relevant data. But – tools only go so far if organizations lack overall digital dexterity. Organizations that will be successful in digitally transforming need to rely on a strong combination of people, process and technology.

Digital adoption breeds change

Being digitally forward also has an impact on organizations’ attitudes to change. More than three-quarters (77%) of the respondents at mature companies said that their leaders take an active role in promoting new ideas. In comparison, just 31% of early stage innovators said the same.

It’s the same story with managers and employees where the split between mature companies and early stage innovators was 92% versus 50% for managers and 49% versus 13% for employees, respectively.

Commenting on the findings, Greg Reh, principal of Deloitte Consulting LLP and Mike Standing, a partner at Deloitte Consulting UK and EMEA life sciences said that mature companies are more likely to collaborate, both internally and externally, than companies in the early stages.

“[External collaboration] is especially important in biopharma, in which emerging data sources are likely to come from external stakeholders including hospitals, physicians, health plans, and patients,” they added.

A collaborative culture is one ingredient needed to cook up digital transformation – but transformation also requires a clear strategy, supportive leadership and a pro-risk mentality. As Standing deftly puts it: “Biopharma companies need to bravely address the risks rather than let concerns delay their transformation efforts.”

Big pharma’s new additions will certainly help to create that pro-risk, change mentality that is required for true transformation to yield those bottom-line benefits.

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Author: Jill Shuman

Jill Shuman is a former Director of Product Engagement at Copyright Clearance Center and currently a CCC Consultant. She is also an adjunct faculty member at Tufts University School of Medicine, where she has taught courses in grant writing, searching biomedical literature and expository writing. Prior to her role at CCC, Jill headed up the corporate library and Knowledge Management Centers at Shire, and also served as a healthcare research analyst and an award-winning science journalist. She is active in SLA, HBA, and the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA). In 2016, Jill was the recipient of AMWA’s lifetime achievement award for her success in teaching more than 40 classes, workshops, and seminars. When not at work, she can be found reading (on an e-reader to make the print bigger), looking for her glasses, or writing children’s mysteries that feature sick children as super sleuths.
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