SPMSD provides a four-step roadmap for life sciences companies on the journey to digital.


By Paul Shawah, VP of product marketing at Veeva Systems



Don’t fall under the digital bus.

That’s how Gartner’s 2016 report characterizes the certainty and velocity of the movement to digital. And, according to IDC, two-thirds of CEOs plan to focus on digital transformation strategies in 2016. No doubt that many life sciences company CEOs will be among those on the digital bus.

The digital movement is breaking down old, established business operating models in many industries. In life sciences, the digital demand is being driven by customer and patient expectations to have information online, on demand, and all of the time – through any channel or device. Whether in our business or personal lives, the industry is realizing that the consumerization of technology is impacting many areas of the enterprise. However, the transition to digital has been challenging, given the complexity of regulatory requirements. Even so, organizations large and small are pushing forward because of the promise of new technologies to improve business agility and speed.

One company making the transformation is Sanofi Pasteur MSD (SPMSD). In 2013, SPMSD took its first steps towards remodeling its global commercial strategy. The company was preparing to launch three new products so it took the opportunity to incorporate digital channels for better customer engagement. As one of the largest companies in the world entirely dedicated to vaccines with nearly 1,000 employees across 19 countries, SPMSD understood the magnitude of the undertaking as well as its tremendous potential.

Like many life sciences companies, SPMSD has taken a careful, step-by-step approach to going digital. Here are the key learnings from their journey as a roadmap for others to get started.

Define digital to drive alignment

Before embarking down the road to digital, SPMSD first defined digital for the entire organization so that they had clarity on how to begin mapping their journey. For SPMSD, ‘going digital’ means learning to incorporate digital technologies into every process across all teams globally to make fundamental changes in how business gets done.
In the recent past, digital was largely a one-size-fits-all model, so many organizations created a single digital business unit that was separate from the rest of the organization. This team created the digital ‘rule book’ that others would follow, but this hasn’t worked. Rather than maintaining a separate entity operating on an island, companies like SPMSD are seeing now that integration is key. By adopting a ‘digital first’ policy across the whole enterprise, not just in one department, the organization can start to change how it approaches problems from a digital perspective. It’s important to assess the right digital strategy across sales, marketing, medical, R&D, clinical, and quality.

Get executive and team buy-in

Executive support across IT and business teams is another critical element that paved the way for SPMSD to go digital. Leaders throughout the company are digital advocates and recognize that to continue to be competitive and relevant, everyone needs to continuously be thinking about how to weave digital into the fabric of the company.

Once executives are onboard, it’s just as crucial to establish training and internal communications programs that ensure all fully embrace the change. Establish ongoing education programs in short bursts but more often for continued support. Digital transformation is a long, continuous process of engaging stakeholders, showing the value, implementing technology, and training. Education programs are important to help encourage and train staff on the value of new technologies to them, the company, and their patients.

Make execution a team effort

According to Gartner, as digitalization moves from an innovative trend to a core competency, enterprises need to understand and exploit the impact of digital throughout all aspects of their businesses. To do so requires a greater shared role among executive leadership to drive digital savviness throughout the organization. This means that digital leadership in the enterprise is no longer the sole responsibility of one person.

Likewise, SPSMD knew it needed a new mindset to put its strategy into action. So rather than viewing digitalization as a standalone strategy for one or two discrete areas of the company (i.e., marketing or sales), SPMSD is working to create a ‘think digital first’ philosophy enterprise-wide. SPMSD believes that all aspects of its business can use digital in new and exciting ways. Digital is a joint effort across the organization as leaders across many areas of their business are leveraging digital strategies to enable greater speed, reach, connectivity, and efficiencies throughout the company.

Use technology to open the floodgates

Fundamentally, digital is transformative because it connects people with information and services to enable the fast sharing of information. Technology, however, can make this difficult. Many life sciences have fragmented digital tools in place that create silos across their people, processes, and systems.

To fully capitalize on digital, life sciences companies must identify a unifying, globally accessible platform that can be built upon and can support end to end business processes. In other words, an organization’s technology must empower a digital business model of information sharing, speed, and agility, not thwart it by creating siloes.

SPMSD implemented a cloud platform that enabled the company to swiftly shift from a predominantly paper-driven, single-channel discrete commercial model to a globally harmonized multichannel digital organization. It united its organization worldwide with a common understanding of the customer, improving brand alignment and coordination of interactions. In addition, SPMSD has improved efficiency and projects overall efficiency gains of 17 percent in year one, and 33 percent annually in years two through five – largely as a result of less redundant content development efforts from global content reuse.

“Our digital transformation is about putting the customer squarely in the center of everything we do, and that’s really possible now with our new cloud technology,” says Alexandre Gultzgoff, deputy director of Information Systems at SPMSD. “Everyone across our global commercial team works in lockstep with each other, no longer limited by siloed views of the customer.”

“A complete view of customers gives us customer insights we never imagined were possible before like channel preferences and relevant content, and eventually, online browsing habits,” added Antoine Blanc, director of commercial excellence at SPMSD. “It allows us to provide increasingly relevant information around specific disease and vaccine areas to create a coordinated, meaningful multichannel customer experience You can’t put a price tag on that. Our platform allows compliant, digital interactions with healthcare professionals and other key stakeholders globally – this is how we form lasting connections with our customers.”

So far, so good … but digital is an ongoing journey

So far, SPMSD has realized great results. The company has increased engagement with healthcare professionals and reinvented its interactions in a changing environment marked by low access with new technologies and a fresh, personalized content approach. SPMSD has more than tripled the frequency and the reach of its customer engagement without the addition of more sales reps. For example, using new email channels, sales reps interact with customers more often to help create attentive, ongoing personal relationships. In some regions, SPMSD has seen customers respond with open rates of 54 percent with rep-sent emails and click-thru rates on average of 50 percent, crushing industry open-rate averages of 3 percent.

Digital is finally coming of age in the life sciences industry but the journey will be ongoing. As customers’ and patients’ needs change, so will digital strategies. It must continually evolve to stay relevant and embody a holistic mindset about how to serve customers. In the future, we can expect to see digital make an even greater impact as the industry uses advanced technologies such as social, mobile, and data analytics to better scale globally, reach more customers, create new types of customer experiences, and, ultimately, help people faster than ever before.