The digital transformation is sweeping across increasingly more industries – the pharmaceuticals sector included.
Please note, as the podcast is in Spanish, we’ve added a transcript below in English for convenience!
What are some of the keys to the success of digital transformation in the sector?
Arthur: To understand the keys to success we need to understand the context. We have opted for digital innovation in the pharma sector because technology has changed profoundly, making people’s lives easier, offering new services and access to information.
This technological revolution has impacted the wholesale sector, which has been one of the precursors in the change of model in the last 10 years. The pharmaceutical sector is different: constituted of multinationals, it has 2 activities: R&D and pharmaceutical promotion, traditionally it does not dare to go outside this scope.
Over time, there has emerged this divide between our day-to-day and the solutions on offer for patients and doctors. Today we need to participate in this evolution, creating new solutions to meet the needs in a sector where everything is about to be completely overhauled.
Our job is to align the strategic needs of the company, with what the technology offers, and the unmet needs of the Health sector. But the lack of transformation of this industry is a major obstacle that harms the entire system. To grow, and streamline projects, we have implemented transformation programs through digital innovation, where employees themselves take the lead of initiatives in their company.
It is not just about creating digital solutions, but about changing the way in which employees can be involved in changing the organisation they work for. Along with our experience, we have detected seven essential factors for the success of the digital transformation:
1. Boost from management to mobilise the entire company.
2. Work in a transversal way within multidisciplinary teams. Each employee can add value and knowledge to contribute to the team. This way of working has 2 great advantages: identifying and attack the problems from the beginning, instead of finding them once the projects are underway and, above all, facilitating the realisation of the project, because when we have worked months on a project, we all want to see the result of our labour.
3. Innovate based on unmet needs. The transformation must provide solutions for the company to grow, so, basing the workshops on internal or external unmet needs, we can ensure the creation of solutions with an added value to benefit the organisation.
4. Inspire and enhance employees’ creativity. Pharmaceutical companies recruit the best talents in Spain, every day they find extraordinary people. However, multinational companies because of their size, their inheritance, also because of the laws of the sector that are less and less permissive, prevent exploiting the full potential of their employees.
5. Carrying out the projects convinces us of their usefulness. When we have co-created, prototyped and validated these prototypes, it is essential to move on to the realisation stage. Many projects stop at this stage. Employees ask themselves, why have we spent so many resources, time and energy for something that is not done? That naturally frustrates people.
6. Congratulate and encourage participants, because any personal change requires a great effort.
7. Define clear metrics to compare before and after.
In your presentations, you say that the main transformation has to do with the patient’s experience…
How is technology contributing to it? We talk about Big Data, AI, mobile applications; what other things could be done?
Arthur: Transformation is also a key element here. Technology has seen an exponential acceleration. As a result, we invest 5% of our turnover in new developments, we study how emerging technologies can benefit users. In the health sector, there is a mismatch between daily technological advances and their adoption, there are changes that require years to be implemented.
For example, if we talk about Skype, it was born in 2003 and, in terms of technology, it allows telemedicine. But only 16 years later health centres are implementing, still quite shy, systems that have the same functions. There are more than 300,000 health apps in stores, but patients at the end of the consultation never ask the doctor to advise an APP and, few doctors have the habit of prescribing a digital solution to accompany them. This is changing, but the time factor is the key to change. Here, the transformation has a key role too.
Regarding new technology, we have made a big bet on augmented reality, though it still tends to be seen as a ‘gaming’ thing.
Today, we’re developing very high-level applications for medical education. We see startups like Psious in Barcelona that raised 8 million euros, which have shown that this technology is a fantastic tool, with proven scientific value, to treat disorders. This example confirms that we must remain bold and curious.
Prevention, self-diagnosis, remote monitoring, measurement, and interpretation of vital data in real-time and the democratisation of DNA sequencing show great promise to change the lives of millions of people in the world.
Do you think there are factors apart from technology that can have an impact?
Arthur: We have commented that technology is an accelerator, but people for me are the key element. The health system must reinvent itself, that is, break the walls of hospitals, open to the world, entrepreneurs, accelerate projects with public/private agreements, create spaces for dialogue where an exchange is possible between talents from different backgrounds.
Our education, in southern Europe, is based on avoiding failure, it is exactly the opposite attitude that we must take. For this reason, multinationals are looking for start-ups, because they have assumed a risk that allows them to acquire a lot of knowledge in a short time. We should not continue working each by his side, it is time to grow together.
You’re a board member for several start-ups in the healthcare sector, traditionally ruled by large corporations.
How do you see the situation of the start-up ecosystem at the European / Spanish level and in Barcelona? Which are, in your opinion, the most innovative trends and the companies that are most successful and you would recommend following?
Arthur: At the European level, we can be proud of having a very dynamic ecosystem thanks to great actors, the Netherlands, London or Paris supported by European and national policy initiatives. In Spain, and particularly Barcelona, Catalans are natural entrepreneurs, if we add that Barcelona is the city of Mobile with a fantastic breeding ground.
All these attributes allow us to be in the top 5 of the most innovative cities in Europe with a worldwide attraction. In recent years, laboratories, foundations, and events have accelerated the growth of the ecosystem that is today very solid and is strengthening with new initiatives: Barcelona Health Hub did a great job in a very short time, EIT Health and its role at European level, Barcelona Tech City with strategic partnerships with international laboratories with headquarters in Barcelona. This massive hub of knowledge and talent makes Barcelona a place with great projection.
At the national level, some companies to follow are: Novartis both globally and locally is driving large projects; Almirall to conquer startup; Ferrer with a management team that is doing a great job. Leaving aside the purely pharmaceutical sector, I would talk about Alpha Medical, which is achieving monetisable solutions internationally. I am sure that in the next couple of years we will have very high-level results.
In this context of digital transformation and change, what do you consider to be the most needed profiles from companies in the sector and how do you think organisations are changing?
Arthur: Pharmaceutical companies are quite ‘prudent’ corporations. In recent years, the profiles that accessed these positions often arose from internal promotions, people who knew the company very well and with a management/planning profile. But a couple of years ago there was a change, the pharmaceutical companies have seen that they needed to look for talents outside their sector to provide another vision, new ideas, and models.
I think that the profiles coming out of digital sector consultancies have an excellent profile with analytical capacity and technological knowledge. Also, the profiles coming from wholesale (where the customer has always been at the centre of the game) are daring profiles that bring freshness and creativity.
Even the global, multi-billion industry of pharmaceuticals is experiencing tech disruption – and fast. What do you see for the future of pharma?