The Toughest IT Strategy Question Facing Pharma CIOs Right Now

We are in the heart of strategy and planning season right now. Across the globe, pharma CIOs (and their business counterparts) are sharpening their strategic directions and operational plans for 2017 and beyond.

Listening to CIOs and IT strategists from a variety of companies it’s hard not to conclude that we have indeed entered a whole new era of technological complexity. The list of new technologies that merit consideration seems to have grown exponentially in recent years. Gone are the days when we could think about pharma IT strategy from a crisp functional perspective; i.e., what does Sales, Supply Chain or Clinical need.

As core functional solutions like SFA and CTMS have become ubiquitous and available on-demand (at least in theory), a new generation of technologies have come roaring into the headlines demanding enterprise attention.

But is this really true? Have things really changed that much? Let’s trace what happened.

From Digital Buzzwords to Digital Competitive Advantage

It started several years ago. “Big Data.” “The Cloud.” “Mobile.” All at once these amorphous technologies became must-haves in every functional area. Some CIOs managed to wrestle these buzzwords (and their overzealous business counterparts) into a thoughtful, business-justified framework for evaluating these technologies. But many business people (and even some CIOs) were overcome by the vendor and media hype and accordingly a new generation of technical solutions in search of a business need was born.

But over the last 18 months things have changed. Only this time, it’s not just hype. It’s real. Very real.

Our industry has moved beyond the buzzwords and a new generation of technologies with powerful value propositions has come on to the landscape.

Take for example how we have gone from the generic idea of “the cloud” to highly sophisticated clinical data clouds managed by highly specialized vendors like Medidata. Not only are they winning clients like crazy for the efficacy and breath of their functional solutions, but universities, investors and others are seeking them out as partners because of their health insights.

And Medidata is hardly the only example of the powerful use of clinical clouds. The NY Genome Center, IBM’s Watson and others are now providing targeted solutions to real clinical problems. The result: the question about the place of clinical data clouds is on the mind of every CIO in pharma—or at least it should be. Because you can be absolutely sure that its on the mind of every R&D leader. And if IT can’t provide robust input into the conversation, they will simply be left out.

Digital Comes of Age in Pharma IT

Another example: the “Digital Revolution” has reached pharma. Nearly every pharmaceutical company in the world is considering how to use digital technology to improve patient outcomes. How to use digital technologies to more effectively engage HCPs. In short, how to use digital technologies to differentiate and win in the marketplace.

We’re no longer talking about websites and social media silliness, now the game has changed. Therapeutic area leaders and sales VPs want the digital delivery advantage with HCPs and patients. And if IT isn’t there to make it happen, there are a host of companies that are happy to do it for them in the cloud, securely, and HIPPA compliant to boot.

Think we’re done with just R&D and Marketing, no way. The exciting new technologies are coming from all directions. How about boring old Finance and Legal. Thought you had them all neatly taken care of, now along comes Blockchain and the new possibilities for validating digital identity, improving transaction security and enhancing regulatory compliance. Once again, classical IT strategy and planning is being challenged by disruptive and complex technologies.

What Digital Now Means for Pharma IT Leaders

My point here is not to suggest you chase down a tactical response to clinical clouds, digital pharma or blockchain (although that’s not a terrible idea) but rather to point out what’s really at stake here. What the real strategic question is for pharma CIOs as we march towards 2020. And that is…

“What will be the core role and mandate of IT within the company?”

  • Will IT be relegated to managing infrastructure and providing basic business solutions services or will IT truly take part in delivering the core value proposition of the company to its customers?
  • Will IT splinter into highly specialized functional groups that operate as part of the business function or will it remain a cohesive whole that takes on a more strategic enterprise role?
  • Maybe there needs to be a general IT group for the “easy” stuff and an engineering group for the complex business-shifting stuff?

I’m not sure what the answer should be. Nor am I sure that it should be the same for every pharmaceutical company. But one thing I am sure of, is that this is the strategic question that lies hidden underneath all of these incredible technological advancements we see today.

I hope you are considering it.

For a more in-depth approach to Digital Strategy for Pharma IT, click here.

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