• ODAIA Team

ODAIA Presents: Next in Pharma with Michael Cloutier


ODAIA is very pleased to have sponsored a special episode of the NPC Podcast. This “Next in Pharma” episode focuses on AI-Powered Analytics.


Michael Cloutier sat down to chat with AstraZeneca Director of Analytics Martin Booth; Omer Ariburnu, Affiliate Head of Customer Excellence and Operations at Biogen; and Shawna Boynton, manager of Omnichannel Marketing at Novo Nordisk. In a wide-ranging discussion, Michael talked with his guests about the challenges and opportunities for customer engagement in the Covid and post-Covid eras, the rapid adoption of new digital tools during the pandemic, and the obstacles to further progress, as well as some advice on how to speed up adoption. Here are some of the key takeaways.


Covid Hit Field Forces Hard


You probably already knew this, but the impact of the pandemic on the way field teams do business was astonishing. In the case of Biogen, digital channels jumped from around 20% to 75% of all customer engagements within a single month after the pandemic started.


Readiness Was Useful. Adaptability Was Key


Fortunately, everyone had digital tools at hand. What the pandemic did was precipitate a rapid evolutionary shift, as teams rushed to make use of digital channels and find the platforms that best fit their needs. At AstraZeneca, Zoom went from a pilot programme to an essential part of doing business. In other cases, field forces had to upskill to using new technologies they may never have used before.


Fortunately, frontline reps proved themselves adaptable and resilient, rapidly finding new ways of doing business and keeping customer engagement afloat. As Martin Booth put it: “I think what’s interesting is we’ve been able to maintain the levels of engagement with customers that we had pre-pandemic, but we’ve delivered them in fundamentally different ways.”


Field forces were also themselves drivers of change. One of the keys to Zoom’s rise in popularity was its ease of use. As Omer explained, “It was Zoom that was requested by the field force for the ease of use and simplicity over other existing platforms.”


AI and Big Data Are Now Part of the Picture


Pharma is sometimes regarded as a laggard when it comes to automation. As Shawna put it,” I jokingly say this, but our industry is in the dark ages from a digital capability and technological standpoint.”


This is now changing. As with other digital tools, the pandemic took an incipient move toward AI and big data and accelerated it. In Omer’s words, “We’d had the concept of collecting data in warehouses and data lakes for years and years [...] but we hadn’t necessarily turned those into actionable insights”. Now, with improvements in things like customer segmentation, this is starting to change.


“What we’ve been able to do—this was partly accelerated by the pandemic itself—is to be able to dive deeper into the large data that we have available to us, quickly move toward effective and efficient segmentation initiatives, and then do the whole channel content match and merge according to those segments.”


Armed with new tools and techniques, brands are looking at what they can do with them in the future. Shawna emphasized the importance of leveraging data to become responsive to changing customer needs, with external vendors being a part of that solution. Martin concurred, noting that the use of digital tools has quickly moved past merely overcoming barriers to engagement and toward finding better forms of engagement. ODAIA’s Maptual platform has been a part of this:


“We leveraged Maptual to be able to really understand, not just the kind of our engagement, [but also] the impact we were having with customers, and to really start to shape customer preferences in terms of how we engage with them.”

Change Depends on Both Individuals and Organizations


Adapting to the new way of doing business will take the initiative for some, education for others, and experimentation for everyone. At AstraZeneca, encouraging change meant leadership support at all levels and actively encouraging information sharing across teams and units to cultivate best practices. “We put a significant effort in articulating the need for that change across many levels of the organization.”


At both Biogen and Novo Nordisk, getting all stakeholders on board was critical to making change work. Not just managers and field teams, but stakeholders like legal, regulatory, tech partners, and medical all need to be involved.


According to Shawna, for change to work, everyone needs to be made a part of the story and to feel that digital solutions are enablers, not replacements. “I think that spending the time upfront to explain the why to colleagues across the organization is really important to help things move smoother and faster. And just explaining the value and what’s what’s in it for them.”


As in the initial period of the pandemic, local initiatives could prove decisive. According to Omer, “The most important thing is that modernization is not a push down from region or even from the office, but something that is suggested to end users on a peer to peer basis.”


Finally, Martin stressed the virtue of experimenting with new tools and methods to achieve a brand’s vision. “A progress over perfection mentality allows [an] organization to make rapid changes, test, explore new ways of working, and quickly decide what doesn’t work and what does.”


These are only a few highlights from an excellent discussion. You can get the full podcast here: https://anchor.fm/next-in-pharma