“It’s been 3 years of strategizing, ideating and experimenting with very little impact - unfortunately, our digital health folks have lost some credibility with the rest of the business”
This unfortunate reflection from a senior pharma executive talks to the struggles many initiatives face when there’s no clear line-of-sight into concrete business value.
A few years ago, Pharma made 'pilot' investments into digital health, set up new departments and innovation labs, brought in the big consultancies that professed "a digital inflection point" and hired talented executives, including from outside of Pharma.
Fast forward a few years and…
❎ It’s hard to point to a single success story for digital health and Pharma
❎ Departments and “Labs” are being dismantled and executives are being let go
❎ Some digital initiatives have burned bridges with corporate stakeholders that were previously willing to make risk-taking and experimental investments
Yes, there's been a bunch of activity (e.g., partnerships, venture formation) but there’s often a deafening silence when inquiring into how these activities have translated into tangible business results.
The problem is, there often is no problem.
Pharma is happy to continue doing what it does best – discovering, testing and manufacturing drugs. Margins are healthy, growth rates are strong and stock prices are growing.
So how can you make digital initiatives count and push beyond the “do nothing” option, often the death knell of digital initiatives?
You need to poke the bear.
An executive’s superpower is knowing how to illuminate problems that the company has or might not know about, and build a strong case around it.
A few ideas that might help:
🔥 Identify what terrible things will happen if the business does nothing, using business metrics (e.g., “if our medication adherence continues to drop, we'll lose 5% market share next year, taking a $200M hit, not including the $20M we’ve already invested in 10 medication adherence initiatives”)
🚶 Figure out who within the business will get fired if they do not adopt the initiative you’re working on – if there’s no one, then you’re a ‘nice to have’ project (good luck at the next round of budget cuts)
🚀 Quickly develop a testable hypothesis that either increases revenues or reduces future operating costs
🧪 Don't spend six months building a business case - test your hypothesis in the wild with short, agile, business-impact pilots (with clear KPIs that link back to your business hypothesis)
🤟 Craft a compelling story that’s not tech-centered but problem-centered – go beyond slides and use novel experiences to bring the problem to light
The most successful executives we know “sell the problem, not the solution”, test the business case quickly and are magicians at selling both the steak AND the sizzle of digital. They're entrepreneurs at heart.
So be brave, and don’t be afraid to poke the bear.