Play to your strengths, partner for your weaknesses

In recent years, I’ve met with many Pharmaceutical leaders who share the same vision, to transform their traditional, slow and complex organisation into a lean, fast and innovative entity that is able to keep up with the pace of change and deliver meaningful value to doctors and patients.

It’s a worthy aspiration, but is it realistic? Can oil tankers ever truly become speedboats that are capable of pivoting and flexing to the ever-changing demands of digitisation and customer expectations? The answer is probably not.

This challenge is not unique to the Pharmaceutical industry, every major traditional business is trying to reinvent their incumbent business models, whether they’re a bank, an automotive or an insurance provider. According to McKinsey, 70% of these digital transformations will fail. Why? Because digital favours fast movers who are able to knit together unmet customer needs with new technologies to create truly impactful products and services. However, these fast-moving start-ups face their own battles, going up against long established, mammoth organisations with decades of industry knowledge, regulatory know-how, brand equity and bottomless pockets.

This here is what I consider a clear win-win situation, where the speedboat makes up for the oil tankers’ shortcomings and vice-versa. By collaborating, they provide all the ingredients necessary for true innovation.

This principle is particularly pertinent for leaders considering organisation-wide transformation, where the status quo is to pump millions of dollars into digital labs or customer-led pilots trying to build something from scratch. While well intentioned, these initiatives tend to rely on existing business leaders with little expertise in design thinking and lean start-up methods. Alternatively, an external agency might be procured, but their wings are clipped by existing internal processes, governance and an extreme risk adverseness that leaves good ideas ‘rotting on the vine’. The outcomes for these types of initiatives are clear – change is slow, innovation is encumbered, and ROI is questionable.

Collaboration is the better way. The financial services industry cottoned onto this several years ago and I’m seeing glimpses of new and unique partnership models cropping up in healthcare. For instance, Merck’s Global Accelerator, which gives digital health start-ups a platform and funding to grow and scale their services and in turn, Merck gets access to new talent, new ways of working and valuable customer data. It’s mutually beneficial and serves a greater good, working together to create products and services that actually improve the lives of the people using them.

The collaboration principle also applies on a smaller scale, with brand managers contemplating new ways to build deeper engagement with healthcare professionals. Too often the solution is ‘let’s build an app or a website’, without a clear understanding of the value proposition and differentiation from existing tools and services. The outcome here is a project that takes many months to build, adds to an already crowded and fragmented digital portfolio and ultimately delivers very little engagement.

Why? Because digitally savvy healthcare professionals already have trusted tools and services embedded in their workflow. Whether they are diagnosing, making a prescribing decision or educating their patients, chances are ‘there’s an app for that’ and crucially, it’s agnostic of any single pharmaceutical company or medicine. In this instance, the most prudent path forward is to partner with a digital health start-up that is already delivering a valued service to an established and loyal user-base.

In my view, smart leaders and brand teams that are striving to deliver services that genuinely help healthcare professionals and patients should first look to collaborate with those it might currently consider to be a threat. This is a big shift but a necessary one for the healthcare industry to realise meaningful change.

Play to your strengths, partner for your weaknesses
Steve Royle
Client Solutions
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