The partnership powering omnichannel
Mastering omnichannel requires a close working relationship between marcomms and IT
The rapid rise of digital engagement and the requirement to master omnichannel is making a close partnership between IT and marcomms a vital one. Marcomms and IT leaders have to work together to develop the right tools, such as the right platforms, data analytics, automation, and artificial intelligence (AI), to get the job done effectively.
In building this partnership the two functions must address a number of issues as they collaborate to build the internal digital wiring that will make omnichannel communications successful. These include knowing:
- What marcomms and IT should understand about each other
- How marcomms and IT can best work together to add maximum value
- What challenges marcomms and IT face when training their staff to best use digital tools
The omnichannel learning process is an ongoing challenge. To be successful, companies may have to modify their traditional organizational structure, operating model and supporting infrastructure, which may require a change in mindset and internal culture – cutting across organizational silos.
An agile approach
“IT challenges can include compatibility issues with existing hardware and software, budget, data security, and training and support issues. Additionally, IT restraints can include limited resources, lack of technical expertise, and limited time and capacity,” says Craig McGettigan, Head of Omnichannel Enablement, US General Medicines, at Sanofi. “To help mitigate these issues, it's important to use an agile approach when coordinating marcomms and IT projects.
“Agile emphasizes collaboration, flexibility, and responsiveness, and is great for IT projects that need to be completed quickly. The iterative nature of agile allows for quick feedback and adaptation, and encourages team involvement and transparency to make sure projects are successful and done on time,” he explains.
In addition, McGettigan says it’s important for IT to understand the goals and desired outcomes for the project, any potential challenges, timeline, and to find ways to bridge any gaps to ensure successful implementation.
“When selecting software, it’s important to consider not only the cost of licensing, but also the impact the software will have on the operating model. It may cost more to license software A versus software B, but the efficiency gained from software A may be several times what the additional licensing costs are, so the net cost to the organization for software A could be lower,” McGettigan reasons.
Additionally, when purchasing software, the ubiquity of one product’s use versus another should be considered to determine how commoditized the development skill is for that tool, says McGettigan. “If a tool is very niche, then the resources that the company will have to pay to develop on that tool will be more specialized and demand a higher cost per hour compared to a tool that is more of a commodity.
“To justify using a tool that is not commonly used, there should be a very thoughtful business case built demonstrating the value that the additional cost of development is more than outweighed by the value added,” he explains.
Communication is key
Liaising to procure the right software tools and platforms is just one task. There are also challenges facing the two groups when aiming to skill their people up to use these new tools to the best extent possible as pharma moves from ‘push’ to ‘pull’ style engagement.
“It is important for an organization to ensure that people who are being asked to change their ways of working understand why, and what the ultimate goal is,” says McGettigan. “People often need to hear the same thing several times before they fully absorb it, so it’s important to be repetitive. Using examples that someone can relate to is often the best way to teach adults a new concept.
“Managers must provide support and guidance during these transitions. We are developing better prioritization, agile practices, and new training programs so we can respond to emerging needs boldly and swiftly,” he adds.
To develop a true omnichannel experience, the leaders who have to be at the table for preparation and planning discussions should be sales, marketing and operations, and IT leadership at a minimum, says Pallavi Garg, Head of Global Oncology Products and Pipeline Strategy at Takeda Oncology.
“When they are in alignment, we have a very clear, precise vision for what we're trying to achieve, creating a role model for collaboration from the top. That's when the success of omnichannel actually begins.
“When the right leaders came to the table, aligned early, and built that ‘north star’ for the entire organization, we were able to build omnichannel in months. But when there is no clear alignment, we may not reach our goal even a year later. So it's about the collaboration, the partnerships, breaking down the silos, and having a unified vision from the top,” she adds.
A digital mindset needed
For Garg, leaders and those involved in one function need to invest the time, energy, and curiosity, as well as engage in the conversations needed to understand other functions they are not familiar with. “I'm not suggesting that marketers understand all of IT, that IT understands all of operations, or that operations understand all of sales. But there needs to be enough communication so a common core starts to build, ideas begin to translate and form in a cross-functional way with clear accountability. Leadership also must create a data and digital mindset pervasive throughout the organization that will help in adapting to the evolving business environment.”
Working to understand each function’s job also helps break down organizational silos, adds Gard. “These lines between groups must be more permeable so that we understand what the other team is doing. We need visionary leaders who can connect the dots between different functions. Real innovation happens at the interface of these functions, so we need to have more permeable boundaries that allow more information to seep through.”
Extensive cross-training among and between functions is also helpful here. “We need more cross-training and a rotational program that would allow for more cross-functional knowledge amongst our leaders. Digital and IT experiences must be part of cross-functional training as technology becomes more pervasive across an organization,” she adds.
“It is a challenge for leaders to make sure that everyone involved in omnichannel has the proper and similar training and curriculum to ensure that they’re all moving in the right direction in their data and digital journey.”
When planning for omnichannel, Garg stresses the importance of keeping the customer in mind. “You have to look at it from the customer perspective, and think what are we trying to develop? What is the problem we are trying to solve?”
Developers must work from the customer backwards and determine the best features and tools – platforms, analytics, and the like – needed to meet the objective of the campaign. They also should agree on how success will be measured, adds Garg. “It is really crucial for the IT teams to understand the business challenge, and for the marcomms teams to understand the objectives and communicate those objectives clearly to their IT counterparts,” she notes.
Once that is clear, IT colleagues can match technology requirements, and by undertaking a technology gap analysis, determine which components of the system have to be built, in-sourced, purchased, or licensed. “We need those types of conversations. But the primary piece is always the customer, our stakeholders, and understanding the problem that we're trying to solve,” she says.
Pharma is making great strides in cultivating close IT and marcomms collaboration, believes Pooja Ojala, vice president of commercial content at Veeva Systems, a cloud software company for the life sciences industry. “The barriers and silos between marcomms and IT are being broken down, which presents a great opportunity. Many marketing teams have a good IT counterpart, and this setup helps them co-create their plans together.”
IT’s role has been to implement the best-of-breed platforms, and make sure they communicate with each other, while marcomm’s role has been to make sure they can create fast and agile campaigns and content at scale, according to Ojala. “But now, more conversations are happening between the two groups. There’s more collaboration and problem solving, and less push back.
There’s an emphasis on figuring out which digital tools are in hand, and which ones must be acquired to do the job,” she adds.
What’s relatively new, Ojala continues, is the establishment of “governance committees,” consisting of marcomms and IT personnel. The committees assess the capabilities of the content space. “That didn't exist in the past. Typically IT would make an assessment and suggest tools for marcomms to adopt. But every lens is different from how a user applies a tool versus how IT thinks it should be implemented,” she notes.
“Swat teams of individuals that represent key functions of programs and ways of working are co-creating for the future, establishing short-term and long-term objectives, with everybody's agenda heard and recognized,” she explains. “There’s also a mutual understanding to share more of what each other is trying to do. It all comes down to constant ongoing communication. It isn't a once and done. Now, it's more of a fluid communication and collaboration,” she says.
“IT must think holistically about all the pieces. You need a centralized platform to manage content and create those omnichannel experiences. In the past, there were separate conversations and decisions being made, but now with omnichannel there should be a single platform,” adds Ojala.
Training and automation
Ojala indicates that training is always a challenge since it is an ongoing commitment. Recently, there has been an emphasis on hiring more digital talent, and training assistance is offered by many software vendors.
Moreover, the automation of manual tasks to make the system more efficient will be extremely helpful in establishing omnichannel experiences. “Given the demand to deliver a steady stream of content to meet HCPs’ needs, pharma marketers must react, create, edit, and adapt quickly. While AI has often been a go-to capability and will continue to help, the true content accelerator in 2023 will be automation,” Ojala explains.
“Automation will help organizations limit manual tasks and work quickly to deliver relevant content for more meaningful omnichannel customer experiences. Using technologies like AI accelerators, and automating workflows will enable brands and marketers to focus on what matters most: delivering great content to customers how they want to consume it.”