Breaking out of data silos in commercial

Pharma’s commercial teams have much to gain if they can overcome technical and cultural blockages that prevent data sharing

The healthcare business generates over a trillion gigabytes every year. That number is also known as one zettabyte –you may well want to get used to the higher order counts when it comes to data.

This zettabyte count will double, Moore’s Law style, every two years. This explosion of data should portend the best of times: Just think about the applications and algorithms that could run on all those datapoints and the insights and innovation they could deliver.

The reality right now is somewhat more prosaic though. Most pharma companies are today drowning in data lakes, yet they continue to be relatively thirsty for insights. In particular, those valuable insights that arise from cross-divisional interconnectedness are far and few between.

An online survey of 800 people by eyeforpharma in July 2019 revealed that Only 2% of respondents consider their level of data sharing effective today. It also found that two out of five industry executives consider cultural factors, those that prevent data sharing, as the biggest hurdle for pharma companies to overcome data silos. A further 26% believe that meaningful technical capabilities to effectively share data are still lacking.

Unrealized potential

Anish Shindore, VP & Head of Digital Acceleration – DTx (and formerly Global Head of Commercial Data Solutions) at Sanofi, is not surprised by such findings. The data limitations within pharma mean even relatively simple interrogations are still a challenge, he says.

“For example, from a salesforce effectiveness point of view, I cannot even answer a few simple questions, such as: Who is the doctor that I am visiting? What am I showing the doctor today? Who is the sales rep visiting them? And, what is the plan of action for that doctor?”

There is a growing need for commercial teams to harness data in new ways and with greater agility. Doctors increasingly have access to the latest information on trial stages and cannot be ‘sold’ to in ways they once were. Working on what can be a 15-20 day turnaround to get the latest new product progress information out to physicians isn’t good enough, says Shindore.

“By then we have missed the boat. We need to make sure that the data from any trial is available immediately. The commercial team need to find ways of getting more savvy about how to broadcast this information so it can be consumed within minutes. There are many cases where reps go and talk to doctors who know about a study already and have formed an opinion on it. That makes the rep’s job questionable.”

Sales reps will increasingly need to develop a more relationship-style rather than a transactional approach. This means commercial teams need to become even more data driven and will need to communicate with the new generation of doctors in real time or near real time, which means much faster cross-team data sharing.

Does data need a Chief Officer?

It is becoming more common for pharma companies to create senior, dedicated roles in order to tackle the issue of data sharing across functions and business units. “If your top management has understood the challenge, it is very likely that you will have a Chief Data Officer,” says Frederic Ohayon, former Innovation, Data & Customer Experiences Director at AstraZeneca.

In many cases, pharma companies will benefit by bringing in Chief Data Officers (CDOs) from sectors beyond pharma where a culture of data-centricity is more established, says Mauricio Campos Suarez, Head of IT and Digital Innovation EEMEA Region at MSD (Merck).

Design thinking, empathy and ideation are creative processes that senior data leaders from outside the industry can often bring to pharma organizations, which can help transform the culture of data sharing. “Exposing us to ideas not believed to be possible in pharma is of value,” says Campos Suarez.

The role and impact of CDOs in the pharma industry remains a topic of contention, however. In other sectors, CDOs are close to the commercial heart of the organization’s operations can improve efficiency, drive agility, directly increase revenues and impact business outcomes. The pharma CDO, by contrast, tends to have limited P&L ownership over areas that truly set the financial valuation.

The risk for CDOs in pharma is that high expectations can be raised against very short timeframes, says Shindore, while securing buy-in for change takes time. It may well be that a CDO is not the answer to the organization’s data sharing problems.

Taking data to the next level

If a proper system of governance when it comes to data quality is lacking, for example, appointing a CDO won’t solve this, says Shindore. “You need a CDO to evangelize to make sure your company is data centric and that is not done by doing data management. Bringing in a CDO is often a PR stunt to clear up the mess where data standards have not been put in place.

“You don’t need a CDO for that, you need someone who does data governance at a global level, someone who knows about enterprise information management, which is making sure that the data standards and quality measurements are in place and that different data sets are interoperable.

“Look at the problem you are trying to solve and then think: is it a CDO that you need, a head of data management, or even a data quality person? If you are not clear on that, the roles are going to be a mess.”

Where a CDO can make a difference is in evangelizing in the business for the benefits of data sharing, in creating a wider data roadmap and in providing a three- to five-year strategic positioning of the enterprise, says Shindore.

Creating a sharing culture

Since cultural issues are such a big part of the problem, a CDO should also be able to help improve data sharing by identifying the right incentives that induce pharma colleagues to share data with one another.

These need not be, and often should not be, commercial incentives. The wrong incentives can warp the process and lead to the low-quality data being shared, which would defeat the object of such efforts, says Campos Suarez.

A better way is to emphasize to everyone the value that sharing data brings to the wider organization and to patients and healthcare providers. A focus on these impulses can serve as a spark to induce IT, data science and commercial teams to work better together to improve customer experiences and commercial planning, adds Campos Suarez.

<“We many times walk into the trap of not communicating the value of data to the organization and ignoring the behavioral science perspective. The true business value of analytics is not well understood and KPIs are used like a hammer. Instead of driving the desired behavior many times they bring counterproductive effects. While using behavioral science we can use the right triggers to create a fertile ground for new behaviours to stick.”

Another powerful incentive to sharing data is communicating the fact to commercial teams that doing so can help drive efficiency and save time, says Shindore. “They are looking for better and more productive ways of generating insights that buy them time, so the first set of incentives would be process automation so they can get time back so they can do better things with it.”