The Unspoken Truth About Going Digital in Life Sciences

7 min read

Imagine a doctor examining a patient.  The stethoscope glides, the thermometer clicks, and the blood pressure cuff inflates. Every symptom is noted, every sign investigated. Only then, with a clear understanding of the patient's health status, can the physician chart the path to recovery.  Similarly, in the realm of digital transformation in life sciences, the initial phase of building a Digital Foundation requires a meticulous assessment of the organization's current state. Organizations must dig deep, reassess their existing structures, systems, and technologies, and pinpoint the areas that need improvement. Consulting firms can act as the discerning doctors in this phase, diagnosing the current state and crafting a vision for a digitally resilient future. Their insights, drawn from various industries, can help organizations understand their current challenges, identify the gaps, and outline a plan for a digitally transformed future. The journey towards a prosperous future requires resilience and a forward-thinking mindset. Just like a patient overcoming health challenges, the transition to a digitally robust organization comes with its share of hurdles. Persistent issues such as a lack of integration, standardization, and efficiency in critical areas reflect these challenges. Addressing these symptoms is vital, but the real key to a healthier, more efficient future lies in identifying and remedying the underlying causes. In drug discovery, the conventional approach often entails tedious processes and high attrition rates. Adopting cutting-edge computational methods, machine learning, and AI can accelerate this process, significantly decreasing costs and increasing success rates. These technologies can expedite the identification of potential drug candidates, saving invaluable time. Clinical trials, a crucial step in drug development, often face inefficiencies due to manual processes, recruitment challenges, and data management hurdles. Digitalization can streamline these processes, improve patient recruitment through digital platforms, enhance data collection and analysis, and enable remote monitoring and virtual trials. This digital shift increases efficiency, reduces costs, and enriches the patient experience. In the realm of the supply chain, often suffering from a lack of visibility across the network. This opacity can lead to inefficiencies, bottlenecks, and delays, impacting the overall performance of the organization. By integrating digital technologies, organizations can gain real-time visibility into their supply chain operations, enabling them to identify potential issues and take corrective actions promptly, thus improving efficiency and reducing costs. Unfortunately, old habits and outdated approaches have prevailed over time, creating inertia that hinders digital transformation. In such a scenario, drastic measures might seem to be the only solution. However, these drastic steps should not be construed as workforce reduction. Instead, the focus should be on shifting mindsets, fostering an innovation culture, and leveraging digital tools to optimize processes and enhance performance. In the next section, we will discuss how organizations can create a comprehensive strategy to navigate this complex journey, ensuring that the transition to a digital organization is smooth, effective, and beneficial for all stakeholders. Human Ingenuity Amidst Digital Transformation As life science organizations embark on their journey to digital maturity, they must remain cognizant of the human factor at the heart of their operations.  Just as a physician values the resilience and adaptability of their patient, these organizations must appreciate the invaluable knowledge and experience their employees bring. Layoffs, although they may seem like a cost-effective strategy, often result in the loss of this crucial capital. Instead, a more prudent approach would focus on re-skilling and upskilling the existing workforce, fostering a culture where innovation naturally emerges from daily operations. The more we tread into the era of machines and automation, the more human ingenuity becomes a vital asset. With the right training and tools, employees can transition from manual tasks to roles that demand creativity, problem-solving, and strategic thinking - areas where human intelligence truly shines. The concept of open innovation presents a promising path, offering a departure from traditional closed innovation models. This approach involves leveraging both internal and external ideas and resources, fostering collaborations similar to the successful partnerships of Moderna and Lonza or Pfizer and BioNTech. However, managing these collaborations, protecting intellectual property, and maintaining competitiveness bring unique challenges to the fore. Adopting a strategy like P&G's "connect and develop" model could provide a potential solution. This approach encourages collaboration with external partners to develop new products, instead of solely relying on internal R&D. For life sciences organizations, these collaborations require careful management, with a keen focus on intellectual property protection, data privacy, and regulatory compliance. Fostering an innovation-friendly culture necessitates a shift in mindset. Organizations should encourage risk-taking, promote cross-functional collaboration, and provide opportunities for continuous learning and development. Recognizing and rewarding innovative behaviors can help create an environment where innovation flourishes, just like a well-nourished patient recovers faster. In the face of recent global health challenges, the ability to adapt and innovate is crucial. Companies that can effectively leverage their internal capabilities and resources, while also integrating external innovations, will be better positioned to thrive in this rapidly changing landscape. Open innovation should not be viewed solely as a means to introduce new products or services, but also as a strategic tool for long-term growth and sustainability. This involves a delicate balancing act. Companies need to pursue short-term gains to stay competitive, while also making medium and long-term investments to build a solid foundation for future success. Mergers and acquisitions, often viewed as opportunities to acquire new technologies and capabilities, can create disruption and lead to loss of knowledge if not effectively managed. Integrating the newly acquired capabilities with the existing processes and culture, while preserving the unique strengths of the acquired entity, is a complex task. This challenge underscores the need for a careful balance between integration and preservation. The role of leadership in this journey cannot be overstated. Leaders play a pivotal role in managing change, fostering an open innovation culture, and steering the organization towards a digital future. Their vision, strategy, and actions shape the organization's trajectory, just as a physician's treatment plan shapes a patient's path to recovery. Navigating the Three-Phased Journey Embarking on the journey to digital maturity involves traversing through three distinct yet interconnected phases: the Digital Foundation, Strategy, and Operation. Each phase, akin to a patient's journey towards recovery, underscores the need for a guiding force, often fulfilled by external consulting firms. The initial phase, the Digital Foundation, is similar to a physician assessing a patient's health status. During this stage, the organization's existing structures, processes, and technologies are critically evaluated and redefined. This foundational phase requires organizations to develop guiding principles that will steer the evolution of the organization, much like a doctor formulating a patient's treatment plan. Consulting firms play a vital role in this stage. With their wealth of industry experience and fresh perspectives, they help the organization understand its current state, identify gaps, and create a vision for the future, acting as a diagnostician and a guide in this crucial journey. The Strategy phase follows, wherein the organization evaluates various scenarios, quantifies potential paybacks, and charts the path forward. This phase is similar to a doctor discussing potential treatment plans with a patient. Consulting firms collaborate with organization leaders to identify and deploy strategies that add value. This phase involves a deep exploration of the organization's strategic objectives, its competitive landscape, and the opportunities presented by digital technologies. The result is a strategic roadmap that aligns the digital transformation journey with the organization's goals and market realities. Finally, the Operation phase is where strategies are transformed into action. This phase is akin to a patient following a treatment regimen, with continuous improvement based on feedback and learning. At this stage, the organization takes the lead, while the consulting firm acts as a periodic reviewer and assessor of progress, ensuring that the strategies deliver the intended results. This phase involves the development and implementation of new digital tools, processes, and capabilities, the upskilling of the workforce, and the fostering of a digital culture. It is a journey, not a destination, with the organization continuously evolving and adapting to stay ahead of the curve. The ideal companion Amid these phases, an ideal consulting partner should exhibit three essential traits. Firstly, they should demonstrate operational excellence, signifying 'skin in the game'. Consulting firms that provide strategic advice while also showcasing domain expertise, a proven track record in managing operations, and visionary leaders who can design change are more likely to contribute beyond financial stakeholders, enabling operational optimization. Such a partner can offer practical insights, helping the organization avoid potential pitfalls and leverage industry best practices. Secondly, they should possess a "game theory" mindset, balancing short-term results with the pursuit of long-term strategic goals. This mindset is akin to a physician advocating for a balanced diet and exercise regimen, focusing not just on immediate health gains but long-term wellness. A consulting partner with this mindset can guide the organization in choosing strategies that deliver immediate returns while laying a robust foundation for future success. Lastly, team diversity is a crucial trait. A diverse consulting team brings different perspectives, experiences, and ideas, fostering a culture of innovation and agility. It challenges the status quo, inspires fresh thinking, and enables the organization to navigate the complexities of the digital transformation journey with greater resilience and adaptability. The journey to digital maturity requires not just a clear roadmap but also a capable co-pilot. A consulting partner exhibiting operational excellence, a game theory mindset, and a diverse team can guide organizations through the intricacies of digital transformation, ensuring the realization of their digital future vision. Sequencing for Success: The Vital Balance The path toward digital maturity for life sciences organizations is an intricate journey, resembling the stages of a patient's path to recovery under the guidance of a doctor. It is a three-step process: establishing a Digital Foundation, crafting a Strategy, and implementing Operations. Each phase is crucial, reflecting the human element's value and the essential role of external consulting partners. The sequence of these interventions is of paramount importance. Just as a doctor wouldn't prescribe treatment before diagnosing the patient, a life sciences organization must not leap into strategic initiatives without first establishing a robust digital foundation. This phase involves assessing and redefining the organization's current structures, processes, and technologies. It requires external assistance in the form of consulting firms, who can offer invaluable experience, insights, and a fresh perspective to guide this transformation. Once the foundation is laid, the next step is the strategy phase. Like a doctor discussing potential treatment plans with a patient, consulting firms collaborate with the organization's leaders to identify and deploy strategies that bring value to the organization. This phase involves a deep dive into the organization's strategic objectives, its competitive landscape, and the opportunities presented by digital technologies, resulting in a roadmap to guide the organization's digital transformation journey. The final phase, operation, is akin to a patient adhering to their prescribed treatment plan. Here, the strategies are put into action, and the organization takes the lead while the consulting firm periodically reviews and assesses progress. This phase requires continuous learning, adaptation, and improvement, reflecting the dynamic nature of the digital landscape. In this journey, the consulting partner must demonstrate more than strategic advice. Operational excellence, a game theory mindset, and team diversity are essential traits that can guide the organization through the complexities of digital transformation. However, embarking on this journey without recognizing the urgency of the transformation can result in significant setbacks. The digital landscape is rapidly evolving, and delays can lead to missed opportunities, decreased competitiveness, and inefficiencies. Likewise, laying off employees, often mistaken for a cost-saving strategy, can result in the loss of invaluable knowledge and experience. Instead, the focus should be on upskilling and re-skilling the existing workforce, enabling them to contribute to innovation. Ultimately, the journey to digital maturity is an essential undertaking for life sciences organizations to thrive in the future. By adhering to the correct sequence of interventions - laying a strong digital foundation, formulating a well-crafted strategy, and effectively implementing operations - organizations can successfully navigate the challenges and seize the opportunities that lie ahead in the digital era.

Discover the human capital’s role, the strategic interventions sequence, and the right partnership’s importance in achieving digital success in life sciences Imagine a doctor examining a patient.  The stethoscope glides, the thermometer clicks, and the blood pressure cuff inflates. Every symptom is noted, every sign investigated. Only then, with a clear understanding of the patient’s health status, can the physician chart the path to recovery.  Similarly, in the realm of digital transformation in life sciences, the initial phase of building a Digital Foundation requires a meticulous assessment of the organization’s current state. Organizations must dig deep, reassess their existing structures, systems,…...

This content is for DDI Basic Membership only.
Join Now
Already a member? Log in here
Flavio Aliberti Flavio Aliberti brings with him a 23-year track record in consulting around business intelligence, change management, strategy, M&A transformation, IT and SOX auditing for high regulated domains, like Insurance, Airlines, Trade Associations, Automotive, and Pharma. He holds an MSc in Space Aeronautic Engineering from the University of Naples and an MSc in Advanced Information Technology and Business Management from the University of Wales.