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Digging for gold

Reporting from the British Healthcare Business Intelligence Association conference

A sheet of goldThe pharmaceutical industry is experiencing a paradigm shift in its marketing strategy. New structures that incorporate market access and managed care teams are emerging, and thinner pipelines combined with greater payer pressure are forcing companies to do more with less. Outsourcing is on the increase, and resources within non-revenue generating departments such as business intelligence (BI) are being cut back to meet basic needs. Some companies have already opted to move away from UK BI departments toward globally aligned strategies.

In the face of reduced budgets, diminishing headcounts and shrinking time lines, BI, like every other business unit in pharma, is being challenged to reappraise its business model. How can BI units ensure they remain valued as essential components to successful business in the future?

This was the question posed by Su Sandhu, head of market research at Schering Plough, and Jane Scorer, director of the Healthcare Research Partnership, along with other presenters at the 2010 annual British Healthcare Business Intelligence Association (BHBIA) conference, held at the Grove, Chandler's Cross on May 10 and 11. Under the theme of 'gold', speakers at this event sought to answer how, like gold itself, BI can ensure it continues to be viewed as a valuable investment instead of an expensive luxury.

Sandhu and Scorer suggest that with the greater emphasis being placed on return on investment (RoI), BI needs to broaden its skillset and move from a service provider role within pharma to that of a 'consultancy'.

"The role should be seen as one of enabler; working with external consultancies and feeding results back to the internal brand teams," Sandhu says. "Our roadmap for the future is to adopt a strategic focus, take on a proactive leadership role, develop stronger working relationships and conduct research to understand the diversity of the NHS customer."

Enabling success
Showcasing a good example of how BI can fulfil this 'enabler' function, James Macleod, senior research executive at Kantar Health (formerly TNS), and Sally Burgess, senior market research manager at sanofi-aventis (S-A), presented a paper on a robust corporate reputation study conducted by S-A across seven therapy areas with approximately 750 respondents, which showed strong correlation between corporate reputation and the willingness to partner, as well as our ability to access both healthcare professionals (HCPs) and NHS managers.

Not only did the findings of the research show that the attributes driving corporate reputation differ in importance for different stakeholder groups, but it also highlighted the areas in which S-A could improve and informed a strategy to segment HCPs and provide tailored personal and professional development to deliver better patient outcomes. This programme was shown to change the perception in the groups for which it was designed.

"New clients bring new challenges and journeys and researchers can help pharma understand stakeholders, and then to design and later measure interventions," Macleod said.

Chasing rainbows
Suzie Denton and Ian Pickles, strategy consultants from ConsultComplete, part of the Complete Medical Group (CMG), conveyed similar sentiments about how BI can bring value in the future in their presentation entitled 'Alchemists, gold diggers or just rainbow chasers? Who are we and how must we change to be successful?'

Through research conducted with senior figures in biopharma, ConsultComplete identified five major challenges currently facing industry, namely identifying the business of the future (broader portfolio versus specialisation), the need to develop better patient-focused innovation and adapt to payer power, the need to engage the customer and the need for better decision making. To be successful in this new world of new pricing, new 'product' development and new promotion models, Denton and Pickles conclude BI needs to be aware of how companies are changing and develop a deep understanding of the whole stakeholder environment.

"BI units need to act as internal consultants to participate in the drive to change, identifying and understanding the opportunities and risks through the life cycle," Pickles commented.

The future for pharma
To gain such deeper understanding of the stakeholder environment and find out if BI is on track to address the key questions going forward, John Aitchison, managing director of First Line Research, believes it is important to consider how radical the future of UK healthcare will be. His company commissioned futurist, strategic advisor and author, Rohit Talwar to look at two scenarios around the question of what the UK healthcare service could look like in 2020 and answer the following questions: Can BI embolden its methodologies? Is BI too clinical and frontline in its thinking and does it effectively consult a range of relevant influencers?

Through horizon scanning, Talwar was able to develop two separate stories about the future; the goal of which is to abandon current paradigms and challenge thinking on where healthcare could go when the main drivers play out.

Talwar's first scenario was one of collapse and rehabilitation, postulating that following public sector cuts and erosion of trust in the system, the NHS will collapse. There will be salary freezes, a decline in non-core services and a cut in drug approvals from NICE as the system works to right itself. This will lead to rise in A&E admissions, more hospitals failing, an increase in patients going private, and a 'brain drain' of key skills. The new government in 2015 will be forced to focus on local/community-based innovation and the introduction of radical initiatives such as opening treatment centres in schools during the evenings to make cost-effective use of public facilities. The emphasis would be on genetic profiling to know how better to target the health of the nation.

In the second scenario Talwar put forward, science will lead the way. Radical cuts will drive radical reform and the focus will be on the private sector and open innovation. Pharma will need to provide underwritten business cases for new drugs and more risk and reward programmes will surface. We could see the first innovation millionaires during this time.

Talwar's stories were presented to 120 senior NHS clinicians and influencers and respondents were split down the middle on which scenario they thought was most plausible. When asked to present their own scenario for the future of the NHS, a third potential outcome emerged: one of crisis in which the NHS never fully recovers, indicating the low morale prevalent in the current structure.

Based on this research, however, Aitchison concluded that BI is not currently addressing the big questions. But just how does the industry go about redefining its business model to meet the challenges of the future?

While challenging the way delegates think about how they move forward, keynote speaker, Dr Leandro Herrero, co-founder and CEO of the Chalfont Project, an international consulting firm of organisational architects, offered tangible guidelines on the steps BI should take to go about "reinventing" itself. The key attributes to reinvention are to move from teamwork to network, from analytical to synthesis and from best practice to disruptive ideas and practices, he said.

According to Dr Herrero there are ten steps to reinvention, which involve asking the following questions of yourself and your service:
1.  Am I needed? (What would happen if I did not exist?)
2.  If so, why me?
3.  What is unique? Most companies and their products are 'me toos'. To ensure longevity one must define one's own space and own it completely
4.  Speed, boldness and surprise are important. You must be courageous and ambitious; complacency and comfort kills
5.  Be disruptive — do that which is not anticipated, but keep it simple
6.  Make use of the collective brain
7.  Develop relevant new skills and toolkits
8.  Digitalise
9.  Write your 'sell by date'
10. Start this process all over again.

To embark on this journey successfully, however, the pharma industry must first "stop admiring its problems," Dr Herrero says. Problems can become the excuse for inertia and complacency.

Overcoming inertia
With the industry at a tipping point, change is inevitable and the key to BI's future lies in its ability to evolve effectively to meet the changing needs of its environment. Here's hoping the messages shared at the BHBIA conference go some way towards helping BI master the mystical art of alchemy.

The winning presentation at the BHBIA Conference, as voted for by delegates, was "Drilling for black gold in a regulated and complex environment" by Jeremy Fazal, market intelligence manager AstraZeneca, Nick Leon, director, Naked Eye Research, Nigel Griffiths, director, Insight Research Group and Brent Hooper, engagement manager, McKinsey and Co. They expressed from a first person point of view the challenges, frustrations and ultimately the true value of working in a non-traditional Business Insight matrix, incorporating two different agencies, client and consultant delivering insights that were utilised to the good of the brand.

For further coverage of the BHBIA conference, and the Best of Business Intelligence (BOBI) Awards see 2010 BOBI awards - winners and pictures.

The Author
Natalie Uhlarz is group editor of Pharmaceutical Marketing and Pharmaceutical Marketing Europe.

To comment on this article, email

23rd June 2010


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