Pharma’s Big Challenge: Digital Transformation

Every year, new business trends, fads and buzzwords arise—in management, marketing, pharmaceuticals and all three combined. “Digital transformation” is one that has been around for some time, but it remains a real challenge for the pharmaceutical industry.

Digital transformation is not about any particular technology. It’s not about installing a new content management system, buying iPads for your sales force or implementing a new customer database. If it was, that would be easy. A marketing team or a new platform could take care of it.

In reality, digital transformation can look like any of a hundred things. It is, indeed, transformational, down to the very heart of the business. It’s about thinking digital first—whether in accounting, marketing, sales or research—instead of proceeding with old-fashioned, business-as-usual methods and tacking a digital-focused component on at the end. Digital transformation is about people, process and is a most important, but also most difficult change.

As consulting firm McKinsey reports, “Digitally enabled healthcare is here, and most pharmaceutical companies aren’t ready.”

Changing Life As We Know It

This may be due to pharma’s notorious aversion to change, but it may also be due to a minimizing mind-set related to what digital technology has really changed. One cannot overstate the degree to which healthcare has changed because of digital. Patient behavior is entirely different than it was 20 years ago—as are the behaviors of caregivers, healthcare professionals, legislators, government agencies, scientists and sales representatives. The opportunities of digital transformation lie perhaps most of all in the potential of data—recording, collecting and analyzing information on a scale never before possible. The digital revolution has changed life as we know it. Underestimating the implication of this truth will cost you.

Digital transformation isn’t simply about understanding, though. It’s about enacting. But how do you do that when 70% of organizational change initiatives fail1 and 80% of major corporate investments in technology are either not used as they were intended or abandoned in six months?2 These tips will help:

  • Many stakeholders will be resistant to change. Executive management must demonstrate visible support, not just lip service. They need to believe in this change and be seen consistently adopting it themselves.
  • Sometimes digital transformation efforts can run counter to stakeholders’ performance objectives. This needs to be recognized, and management needs to realign performance objectives with these efforts.
  • Regulatory bottlenecks and obstacles will be a challenge. Bringing MLR into digital discussions with lots of interactions and education will ease concerns.
  • There is always a risk for poor adoption of technology, particularly when it’s not user-friendly. Let technology improve business processes rather than trying to create processes that work around a technology. Don’t build your goal to be: “Use technology X.” Build your goal to be: “Find a way to improve process A.”
  • Remain focused. Trying to transform everything at once can harm motivation, cause confusion and breed disillusionment. Set practical goals that are easy to understand.
  • Account for evolution. Today’s hot technology will not be at the top of the pile five years from now. Find solutions that are robust enough to grow and mature.




  • Faruk Capan

    Faruk Capan is CEO at Intouch Solutions. Faruk heads a 17-year-old pharmaceutical marketing agency known for its clients-first approach to service. Intouch has 650+ employees in offices in Kansas City, New York, Chicago, and London.


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