Life Science and Pharmaceutical Industry

Pharma’s new CDO: Top priorities for today’s Digital Officers in Pharma

Within the last few years we’ve seen some monumental examples of digital transformation in Pharma and Healthcare emerge: medical-grade device connectivity, telemedicine, AI-enabled devices.

And yet, when 100 Pharma companies across 200 countries were recently assessed for ‘digital maturity’ in terms of strategy, capabilities, organisation and culture, Pharma scored 27th place out of 33 industries – lagging behind other highly regulated verticals like banking and insurance.

Is your digital strategy in pharma targeting the right objectives?
7 minutes to read

  • Digital transformation in Healthcare and Pharma has made headway in R&D, services and digital marketing, but there’s still room for improvement when it comes to building digital patient-facing products.

  • In order to accelerate progress, digital officers in Pharma need to broaden their focus from purely technical initiatives to things like cross-industry collaboration, governance, culture, talent and having a bigger overall impact on the business’ digital strategy.

  • To talk to Zühlke about building an effective digital business strategy, or digital product strategy in Pharma, please contact us. We’d love to help

Within the last few years we’ve seen some monumental examples of digital transformation in Pharma and Healthcare emerge: medical-grade device connectivity, telemedicine, AI-enabled devices.

And yet, when 100 Pharma companies across 200 countries were recently assessed for ‘digital maturity’ in terms of strategy, capabilities, organisation and culture, Pharma scored 27th place out of 33 industries – lagging behind other highly regulated verticals like banking and insurance.

So why then, despite huge investments in new technologies and an increasing presence of Chief Digital Officers (CDOs) in Pharma, is the industry at large still struggling to adapt to a digital world? And which areas should digital officers in Pharma be focusing on to catch up?

Well, one significant barrier to progress that many Pharma companies are currently facing is managing the industry’s increasingly complex regulatory landscape – especially in emerging areas like AI applications that involve highly sensitive patient data. We actually wrote a post about this recently, as a big part of what we do here at Zuhlke is helping Pharma companies tackle that landscape with the guidance of our in-house regulatory and data science experts.

On the business side, there’s also what you might call a productisation challenge. It’s one thing to run a successful digitalisation project inside an organisation – it’s another challenge entirely to monetise digital services. The difficulty is compounded when you try to bring digital products or services to market in multiple, global regions with diverse pricing and business models. 

But these are not the only areas digital officers in Pharma should be focusing on right now...

' Pharmaceutical companies are currently transforming themselves by transitioning from a vertical organisational design to a horizontal organisational format, enabling shared services, optimising and automating for cost efficiencies, and leveraging new information supply chains pivotal to digital health.[1] '
Richie Etwaru
Chief Digital Officer (CDO), IMS Health

Collaboration: The Key to Progress for Digital Officers in Pharma

Today’s Big Pharma companies are being challenged by Big Tech companies like Apple and Google, who are entering the healthcare market – predicted to be worth $10 trillion by 2025 – with large investments, and access to previously unseen amounts of data thanks to the proliferation of consumer devices.

Both competitors have their own strengths and weaknesses – for example, Big Pharma companies tend to have higher quality data (such as clinical trial data), plus the knowledge, regulatory experience and industry relationships needed to discover new cures and drive development. Big Tech companies, on the other hand, tend to have the capabilities needed to handle huge, complex datasets, as well as resources like UX experts, security experts, cloud experts and developers in house.

For these reasons, instead of going head-to-head in the battle for dominating the healthcare market, Big Pharma and Big Tech companies should find a way to collaborate, and draw on each other’s respective skill sets in order to scale quickly, and bring Pharma’s digitalisation up to speed as quickly as possible. Ultimately, we believe that this collaborative model will be the answer to bringing successful, patient-facing digital products and services to market.

The question is: who should be leading the charge in fuelling the collaboration between these two, traditionally distinct worlds – and who should be responsible for creating the value proposition for a successful engagement in digital business? 

One prime candidate is the Pharma CDO. 

Who are today’s Pharma CDOs?

It’s a role that emerged in the Pharma space just three years ago, and one that still gets interpreted in different ways by different organisations. At Zühlke, we tend to work with one of two common types of Pharma CDO:

  1. The Pharma-Native CDO
    Typically, this kind of CDO will have learned their trade at a conventional Pharmaceutical company and slipped into the CDO role over time. 
  2. The ‘Outsider’ CDO
    This kind of CDO is much more common in Pharma. They’ll most likely have come from companies in CPG or tech, where they either were, or worked closely with, a CDO but never exclusively in a healthcare or pharmaceutical context. 

A recent analysis of Chief Digital Officers in Pharma found that only 25% of CDOs had previous experience working exclusively in Life Sciences.

Other top priorities for today’s digital officers in Pharma:

  1. Become a More Visible Leader for Digital Business, Internally and Externally
    The CDO role often gets perceived as more of an ‘inside’ driver of change that’s still establishing itself, and being pulled in many directions instead of having a clear remit. Some even perceive the CDO as just an extension or support of the CIO. 

    The onus is on today’s Pharma CDOs to change that perception – inside and outside the organisation.
    Pharma companies today need a dedicated change agent with real executive power who’s able to drive excitement across the business while transforming culture and mindset. Someone who can manage uncertainty, make bold moves and have a sole focus on enabling a digital business as quickly as possible. This is clearly a very distinct skillset to that of a typical CIO, and it requires its own form of strong, visible leadership.

  2. Invest in Skills, Not Just Tools
    “It’s easy for businesses to jump to technology, to be enamored with the shiny objects and not focus on the problem [they’re] trying to solve,” says Amy Landucci, Global Head of Digital Medicines at Novartis.

    A Pharma CDO shouldn’t just have technologies on their radar. They should be actively working on transforming their internal teams’ suite of digital capabilities, such as data science and multichannel management, and deriving insights from real-world evidence. They should also be on the lookout for potential collaborators who display some of the skills we mentioned earlier that are more typically seen in Big Tech companies.

  3. Take Inspiration From Big Tech and Startups: Build, Measure, Learn
    There’s a tendency in Pharma to follow a ‘think before you act’ principle. Meaning, to take a cautious and considered – some would say conservative – approach to projects. As a driver of ‘transformation’, it’s critical that the Pharma CDO is one of the people who doesn’t follow this principle. Instead, the Pharma CDO should be placing bold, disruptive bets – and being proactive instead of reactive. They should be looking at what their competitors are doing and always trying to be a step ahead.

    To make bold, disruptive bets requires an experimental, ‘fail early and learn fast’ approach to projects. Agile methodologies – in development as well as product ideation and design – are a great way to adopt this kind of approach. Learn from younger startups and form interdisciplinary teams that can create and iterate quickly, adapting to market feedback.

  4. Accelerate Old-School R&D
    One big initiative Pharma CDOs should be focusing on for the foreseeable future is finding new efficiencies in the R&D process – even better, finding ways to integrate digital capabilities into the process from end to end. 

    We’ve already seen this play out successfully in the case of Novartis, who managed to streamline the process for finding patients for clinical trials online using a UK patient data set. According to Global Head of Data and Digital at Novartis, Bruno Villetelle, “We’re now increasingly using advanced data science to model disease progression. For example, we are testing the use of a validated AI-based algorithm to predict how long a transplanted kidney will keep working, [which] could accelerate substantially the clinical trials of new transplant medicine.”

How to make digital business a reality as the Pharma CDO

At Zühlke, we’re big advocates of moving away from the hype, lofty visions and buzzwords that surround digital transformation. Instead, our experts are focused on helping companies build real, concrete strategies that accelerate digital transformation in all the right ways – the profitable ways.

Over the years we’ve helped transform companies from banking and insurance, medtech and the consumer goods industry to become customer-centric IT powerhouses. Combining engineering prowess with technology and consulting experience, we’re now serving leading healthcare institutions on all digital-agenda issues from digital innovation and business-model transformation to product innovation and more.

If you’re a CDO in Pharma looking to lead a successful digital strategy, need guidance on current initiatives or for building your future data-driven business models, or simply want advice on which digital technologies, techniques and collaborators should be on your radar, talk to us

Autoren: Jan Horvat & Bardia M. Zanganeh

[1] Source

Bardia Zanganeh, Director Business Development, Zühlke Switzerland
Contact person for Switzerland

Bardia M. Zanganeh

Director Business Development

Bardia M. Zanganeh serves leading healthcare institutions on all technology agenda issues. His primary areas of focus include digital innovation, business model transformation and product innovation. He has a background in engineering, consulting and entrepreneurship and is a lecturer at the University of Applied Sciences in Business Administration in Zurich. He is driven by the positive impact of technology to reimagine healthcare for better patient outcomes.

Thank you for your message.