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Pharma, Life Science Leaders Face Big Data Analytics Challenges

Innovative leaders who embrace big data analytics are key to successful digital transformations for pharmaceutical and life sciences companies.

big data analytics in life sciences and pharma

Source: Thinkstock

By Jennifer Bresnick

- Pharmaceutical and life science companies are staring down major challenges as value-based care alters the healthcare landscape, but those that are further along in their digital transformations are also more likely to embrace innovation and creative thinking about common business problems, according to a new survey by Deloitte and MIT.

Organizations that have more mature big data analytics and digital engagement skills are tend to have leaders that embrace change and staff members who are willing to get on board with new initiatives, positioning them well for exponential growth.

However, many organizations are failing to translate their recognition of the need for digital strategies into real-world adoption, leaving them at risk of falling behind their peers in a highly competitive environment.

“Biopharma leaders know that if they don't embrace digital transformation they will be surpassed by more agile competitors,” said Greg Reh, principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP, and US and global life sciences leader.

“But transformation can pose some cultural challenges that slow the pace of change. The good news is that their mindsets are shifting toward greater digital experimentation, collaboration, and innovation.”

READ MORE: Pharma, Tech Companies Set to Restructure Healthcare Big Data Market

The international survey of biopharma leaders revealed that more than 75 percent of companies are still in the early phases of digital development, with 25 percent placing themselves on the lowest rung of adoption and 55 percent stating that they are “developing their capabilities.”

Organizations that are further along the digital maturity curve are actively recruiting chief digital officers (CDOs) and other talent to help them push towards a greater reliance on big data analytics, digitally-driven consumer experiences, and innovative business practices.

Life science and pharmaceutical companies at different stages of this process show clear distinctions in their strategic approaches, cultural priorities, and existing capabilities, the survey found.

Companies that identified themselves as in the early stages of digital development are significantly more likely to focus on leveraging existing organizational competencies instead of exploring new ways to do business. 

Fifty-six percent of early stage companies are looking internally to improve their processes and strategies compared to 31 percent of mid-level digital entities.

READ MORE: Informatics, Machine Learning Accelerate Pharmaceutical Discovery

In contrast, the most mature organizations have widened their focus, and are splitting their attention between internal improvements and new methodologies. 

More mature organizations are also more likely to report success with scaling up initiatives, the survey found.  Sixty-two percent of digitally mature biopharma companies have already implemented a data-driven project at scale, compared to just 38 percent of companies new to the digital landscape.

Digitally maturing life science and pharma organizations and their priorities

Source: Deloitte / MIT

But perhaps the most striking difference between newcomers and more established entities comes not in their achievements but in their attitudes towards embracing change.

When asked if the organization’s leaders facilitate change across the organization, 77 percent of mature companies said their leaders take an active role in promoting new ideas.  Among the early stage innovators, just 31 percent said the same.

Ninety-two percent of maturing organizations said managers take a similarly active role, compared to 50 percent of digital neophytes.

READ MORE: MIT Works to Align Pharmaceutical Development, Public Health Needs

The stark differences in opinions also filtered down to employees: just under half of digitally mature organizations reported engaged staff members, while a mere 13 percent of early stage organizations could say their employees played an active role in fostering change.

Pharma and life science stakeholders facilitating digital change

Source: Deloitte / MIT

“Digitally maturing companies are increasing and encouraging collaboration internally, especially across functions, more than early-stage companies,” said Reh and Mike Standing, a partner at Deloitte Consulting UK and EMEA life sciences, in an accompanying blog post.

“They are also more likely to collaborate externally (with business partners and customers) than companies in the early stages. This is especially important in biopharma, in which emerging data sources are likely to come from external stakeholders including hospitals, physicians, health plans, and patients.”

Biopharma companies are likely to undergo some significant shakeups as they try to position themselves for success in a quickly changing industry. 

Even among organizations that applaud their executives for embracing innovation, dissatisfaction is evident. 

Just 20 percent of participants in the survey believe that their companies are able to develop leaders capable of bringing their organizations into the big data era – a whopping 78 percent agree that their organizations require new leadership to succeed in the digital age.

Top executives at these companies will need to balance speed with sustainability in order to keep their positions, the report indicated.  Employees are looking to their leaders to provide vision and purpose while still allowing for plenty of opportunities to innovate and think differently across all levels of the organization.

Developing the right mix of expertise and experimentation will be a challenge for companies that are facing new financial pressures as lawmakers, consumers, and health insurance payers demand more effective solutions at significantly lower costs.

And as technologies like artificial intelligence, blockchain, and virtual reality start to offer new efficiencies and innovative insights, organizations will need to carefully identify their priorities and develop implementation plans that leverage the potential of these tools without delay.

“Opportunities abound for biopharma companies to digitally transform how they engage with patients, physicians, health systems and payers, or innovate new products, or a host of other improvements,” said Standing.

“But it requires having a sound strategy, collaborative culture, and supportive leadership. It also requires taking risks, which are inherent in all digital disruptions. Biopharma companies need to bravely address the risks rather than let concerns delay their transformation efforts.” 

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