It’s Time Pharma Ramped Up Its Focus on Digital Transformation

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The pharmaceutical industry was less ready for digital transformation in 2021 than it was in 2018, partly due to the strain of responding to COVID’s digital demands.

That’s one of the conclusions from our latest piece of research, The State Of Digital Excellence In The Global Pharmaceutical Industry, which presents a comprehensive picture of how pharma fared in the last six years.

Most recently it is clear that COVID-19 did catalyze digital transformation across the industry, but it also seems to have brought an element of paralysis as more local and regional commercial leaders got involved.

This influx of demand meant that, while digital teams finally saw the levels of interest they had been waiting for, the speed of 2020’s pivot to digital left them feeling a little overwhelmed. Consequently, this prevented them from responding in a coherent way because they lacked the capacity to participate in all the – at times, ‘political’ – conversations they were suddenly being asked to have.

While digital transformation is likely to gain further buy-in from leaders across global, regional and local organizations, companies’ abilities to streamline their operating model across these organizations presents a clear upcoming challenge. And as we have seen before, companies that overcome this internal challenge and grow their maturity in digital excellence see their ‘on-stage’ customer experience become consistent, more relevant and joined up in the omnichannel environment we live now in.

The 16 companies assessed in this latest DT Consulting report were AbbVie, Astellas, Bayer, Biogen, Bristol Myers Squibb, Daiichi Sankyo, Gilead, Janssen, Lilly, Merck & Co, Novartis, Novo Nordisk, Sanofi, Takeda, Teva, and ViiV.

Our survey found them to be evenly split between digital leaders and digital laggards for ‘organizational readiness’, as we assessed key factors such as strength of vision, common understanding on the way forward, clear articulation and prioritization of required digital capability, and overall resourcing.

The report also examines benchmarking data from our Digital Excellence Maturity Assessment to plot some digital transformation trends between 2015 and 2021.

It’s a period in which improvements in on-stage digital capabilities, like live virtual events, rep-triggered email, and search, plateaued. In contrast, ‘behind-the-scenes’ capabilities such as customer engagement analytics, Veeva CRM, and content creation – after some improvement in 2017 – perceptibly fell back and currently sit just behind their 2015 level.

As the industry average of digital capability excellence slowly advances, it’s the behind-the-scenes capabilities that hold the most promise to drive capability excellence in the future (and for companies to outcompete their peers).

There were other rays of light during the recent, unprecedented COVID-powered digital transformation of the pharma sector.

Three-quarters of respondents to our survey agreed that the digital/multichannel engagement (MCE) team leading the digital transformation is working from a clear road map of digital capabilities, while two-thirds thought pharma companies were effectively communicating these outputs more broadly though the organization.

Meanwhile, the digital/MCE team’s role, vision, and responsibilities were thought to have leadership backing by 81% of respondents, though this support has yet to be mirrored by leaders at local/affiliate level according to only 56% of respondents.

After the slight decline in average digital budgets seen last year, pharma companies must take a disciplined approach to all facets of their digital transformation and excellence programs: their overall organizational readiness for change; their focus to improve the awareness and adoption of digital capabilities; and their overall ability to define and operationalize new technology.

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