Digital transformation in life sciences was supercharged at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. During the days of lockdowns and social distancing, the need for telehealth and remote clinical trials to better serve patients spurred quick action from companies. Supply chain chaos signaled the need for more advanced tracking tools and ways to optimize manufacturing.
Yet, this moment was not the beginning of the digital transformation process for most companies, nor did it represent anywhere near the end. Was this just a temporary ramp-up to meet an unprecedented moment or can the life sciences industry maintain the momentum around adopting the powers of artificial intelligence, cloud solutions and more?
As with most industries, the future of digital transformation in life sciences will not be defined by the magic of innovation alone; instead, it comes down to the power of planning and people.
Planning for Digital Transformation
First, if the need for a digital roadmap was not abundantly clear to life sciences leaders prior to 2020, it certainly is now. Polling from Deloitte revealed that 77 percent of biopharma leaders say their organization views digital innovation as a competitive differentiator. While these numbers paint the picture of an industry ready to leap into an innovative future, there’s also uncertainty baked into the equation. According to an EY report, 55 percent of C-suite executives polled said their company lacked a clearly defined digital strategy and goals. Compounding the issue is the fact that a mere 23 percent said that they measured their return on digital investment.
Recognizing the potential of digital transformation in life sciences is one thing; crafting a strategic plan for harnessing that potential is another challenge altogether. As noted by the Deloitte article, organizations must begin by establishing their “digital innovation north stars.” Is a patient-centered approach at the heart of everything? Does the promise of seamless development drive your organization? Establishing these guiding lights early in the process will be essential for staying on track throughout the timeline.
Many of these projects may have been accelerated out of necessity, but no organization can survive by being purely reactive. Instead, it’s time to look to build cohesion between innovations. This will require organizations and the teams within them to lock arms across disciplines to tap into a variety of expertise, from implementation to evaluation and optimization.
The People Building the Future
Of course, the promise of transforming into a digital-first company can be tantalizing. An avalanche of data is pouring in from the expansion of the personal medical device industry (think fitness trackers and smart watches). More patient data pulled from clinical trials could mean safer products developed in a much more efficient way. The possibilities are truly endless. Unfortunately, the powers of AI and other technologies will not be realized by simply flipping a switch. In truth, digital transformation is driven by people. The previously cited EY report dug into the most common reasons why digital initiatives stall at life science companies. Unsurprisingly, a lack of skills/talent (57 percent) came in second, just behind concerns around budget/funding (58 percent.)
To be fair, this sort of work is not the core business for life sciences organizations – and that’s okay! However, in order to keep pace with the speed of digital innovation, companies must recognize their skillset shortcomings and find ways to fill the gaps. This could include partnering with or acquiring companies with digital expertise. Alternatively, there is the opportunity to build teams in-house. Leaders going this route would be wise to establish relationships with staffing and workforce solutions teams with the expertise needed to identify, source and vet out the skilled talent needed to get the job done right.
Our Digital Life is Transforming Science
As life becomes increasingly digital, it is no surprise that the world of life sciences is transforming. The benefits of embracing these tools are now obvious. Patients may be more empowered to track their own journeys and organizations can reduce costs by identifying new efficiencies. Yet, the industry will never get to this place through half measures, starts and stops or purely reactive decision making. It’s time to invest in planning for the future, and putting the people in place to make it a reality.
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