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The Digital Mandate for Life Sciences CIOs


To lead with digital, CIOs at pharmaceuticals and medical device companies need to adopt new workstyles and mindsets, build C-level relationships, catalyze innovation and find new ways to attract the talent to execute on it.

Third in our four-part series.

In this series, we explore the CIO’s role in the digital transformation of four industry sectors – banking, insurance, life sciences and healthcare – based on our exclusive CIO survey. In this third installment, we highlight our findings for the life sciences industry.

As in all other industries, “being digital” in life sciences goes beyond developing a few mobile apps, launching a Web portal or moving a system or application to the cloud. The top digital opportunities named by life sciences CIOs focused on connecting the business more closely with the value chain, and developing new sources of value.

We see digital’s greatest potential for life sciences organizations in the following areas: 

R&D collaboration:

Nearly half of respondents named this as the top area for digital opportunity, which maps to a primary industry goal of reducing costs of clinical trial and treatment development, speeding time to market and ensuring therapy efficacy. Digital approaches can also ensure better adherence to treatment protocols and improved data quality.

Patient experience:

More than one-third of our respondents named digital medicine and “value beyond the pill” initiatives as a top digital opportunity. Using digital technologies to improve patient education and adherence to their treatment regimens, life sciences organizations can help establish better customer relationships.

The commercial experience:

Customer service was also cited by one-third of respondents as a top digital opportunity. As the ramifications of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) take hold, life sciences businesses see digital as playing a vital role for engaging with an extended list of new stakeholders, including pharmacy benefits managers (PBM), suppliers, care givers and specialists.

Defining a New Role, Acquiring New Skills

Despite playing catch-up, life sciences CIOs envision themselves as crucial to enterprise digital initiatives, according to our study. Over 85% of respondents believe the new face of the life sciences CIO is that of a digital strategist and transformational leader, while also working at the execution level as a functional leader (see Figure 1).

Figure 1

To make this transformation, life sciences CIOs need to develop the following skills and workstyles:

  • A transformational/leadership mindset. Study respondents said a top role for life sciences CIOs is mobilizing commitment and creating a shared vision for what digital can enable. To make the digital vision more tangible, we advise life sciences CIOs to focus on a handful of initiatives with the highest potential impact on the business. They then need to develop a story—with a beginning, middle and end—around what each of these three or four digital initiatives can accomplish, as well as the technology elements required.

    In this way, the CIO can influence and inspire change vs. just pushing technology solutions that are not associated with solving a particular business challenge.

  • Social and relationship-building capabilities. Because digital initiatives encompass all parts of the organization, life sciences CIOs need to develop solid working relationships with people from business disciplines, according to 90% of respondents. In addition to the CMO, a critical relationship is with the chief financial officer, particularly since the CFO is nearly as likely as the CEO to sponsor digital initiatives in life sciences organizations and is a crucial power broker in today’s cost-sensitive times. Again, storytelling is key to developing this partnership, as it can help CIOs create a compelling argument to invest in digital initiatives.

  • An eye for innovation.  CIOs need to develop a sensitivity for human behavior and desires, and prepare an adaptable technology ecosystem that can respond. Key to doing this is thinking beyond industry “givens,” and developing a fresh perspective by exploring how other industries—such as retail, financial services and media/entertainment—approach digital opportunities and roadblocks.

    CIOs should also keep current with consumer use of technology so they can anticipate what the “ask” is behind a user request and think innovatively about the response.

  • The ability to fill talent gaps. Nearly all respondents (94%) said a key element of success for digital transformation is the CIO’s ability to actively collaborate with talent acquisition teams to acquire needed skills. CIOs need to first understand the skillsets required for digital success, assess the gaps within their team, and then actively direct the pursuit of new types of talent rather than waiting for human resources to get involved.

Looking Ahead

CIOs can begin by doing the following:

  • Become directly engaged and embedded in key digital initiatives, advising and serving as a key influencer or “center of excellence” for all things digital, specifying new tools and techniques, and suggesting changes to business models and processes.

  • Ensure the IT organization is moving toward digital maturity, evolving the legacy IT portfolio with the speed of digital transformation.

  • Ensure that IT serves as the primary channel through which digital products and services are realized. The CIO must play a central role in the development, commercialization and integration of these initiatives, even if they originate somewhere else in the organization.

Given the rate of digital transformation across other industry sectors, life sciences CIOs face increasingly high expectations from their peers, partners and customers, many of whom have seen how digital can improve user experience, optimize disjointed processes and deliver greater operational efficiency across the back-, middle- and front-office. As a result, CIOs must perform a balancing act, helping to elevate the business while continuing to deliver on the traditional imperatives—managing IT efficiently and containing costs. By doing so, they can earn their seat at the table alongside their fellow digital leaders.

For more details on our research findings, read our whitepaper The New CIO Mandate in Life Sciences and our overview report Being Digital: How and Why CIOs Are Reinventing Themselves for a New Digital Era. For more information, visit our CIO Study page to view our industry specific reports, or visit the life sciences section of our website.

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