Data Is The Key Ingredient To Digital Transformation

February 13, 2019

Contributed Commentary By Rebecca Silver

February 13, 2019 | One in five of the top pharmaceutical companies employs a chief digital officer or similar position. Digital continues to be one of the most discussed topics, yet the industry lags behind 33 other sectors in its digital transformation, according to research from McKinsey.

Despite their digital mindset, why are life sciences companies still low on the digital maturity scale? A new survey suggests one of the main causes is poor data quality and outdated data management. The Veeva 2018 Customer Reference Data Survey shows only 22% of respondents are satisfied with the quality of their primary customer reference data, and only 15% are happy with their affiliations and hierarchy data to support daily sales operations. In fact, sales teams often have the incorrect address and affiliation data, or outdated information about a physician’s specialty and license status.

Today, everything we touch turns to data. Many companies struggle to manage the overwhelming volume of data and many different data types and sources. Global enterprises, for example, can easily work with hundreds of data sources. In addition, the industry has adopted various data management systems incrementally across geographies, resulting in fragmented databases. This also makes it difficult for organizations to leverage all of their data assets to create a single, complete, and accurate view of healthcare professionals (HCPs) globally.

Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan, who announced his drive toward digital when he took the helm last year, said it well during the recent JP Morgan conference. “The first thing we’ve learned is the importance of having outstanding data to base your machine learning on,” Narasimhan said. “It’s taken us years just to clean the datasets for a few big projects. I think people underestimate how little clean data there is out there, and how hard it is to clean and link the data.”

The industry needs a data transformation before it can realize its digital transformation—and most companies recognize the urgency. In fact, 86% of survey respondents view data as a strategic asset and the majority have data quality initiatives underway. Without this critical foundation, companies cannot take full advantage of digital channels and promising new technologies like artificial intelligence (AI).

A Single, Complete, Accurate View of HCPs

One of the most common data challenges is that customer data is siloed at the local level. Data blind spots impede companies from implementing holistic digital transformation initiatives on a global scale—the key to harmonizing processes and increasing efficiency. Without a complete view, companies cannot effectively personalize customer engagement, which is one of the main aims of digitalization. They also struggle to capture the rich customer insight needed for better decision-making and competitive advantage.

A complete customer view enables field teams to effectively leverage different channels for each customer segment, or even each individual customer. In fact, the need to improve customer targeting, segmentation, and alignment was one of the top drivers (69%) for data improvement initiatives, in addition to the need for better customer insight (53%). Without master data that provides accurate and complete market coverage of the customer, life sciences companies will struggle to make a full digital transformation.

Making a Data Transformation

The key to making a data transformation is to replace traditional multi-sourced master data with one unified data model. In this framework, each customer is assigned a single unique identifier that is recognized across systems, countries, data sources, and types to create a global record.

Specialty pharmaceutical company Indivior previously had two data systems and worked from 17 different versions of the same data source across North America and Europe. This left teams uncertain if they were working from the most current data. Indivior switched to a single data model and now has a complete source of customer reference data to help field teams effectively and compliantly deliver new treatment information to HCPs.

“We now have a single source of customer data that’s always accurate, which is key to digital engagement strategies,” said a spokesperson on the commercial team at Indivior.

The prevailing multi-sourced approach makes it difficult for companies to comply with changing privacy regulations. A single global data model, delivers consistent data management processes everywhere to prevent risks and improve compliance. “This model offers a major advantage, particularly in today’s varying compliance environment,” he added.

After establishing a single global data model, companies should ensure each global customer record provides a clear picture of geographic location as well as affiliations for engaging with specialists and account selling. This information must be complete, accurate, and kept up-to-date in real time to avoid making business decisions on stale data. For instance, it’s important to have a fast data change request process that resolves requests in hours rather than weeks.

A strong data foundation is crucial to global digital transformation initiatives and will enable companies to take advantage of powerful analytics technologies such as AI and machine learning. It also helps companies reach new markets, improve sales productivity with better targeting and segmentation, enhance stakeholder engagement with a holistic view of decision-influencers, and improve business decision-making thanks to richer customer insights. Ultimately, high-quality data allows for more intelligent interactions, which leads to more successful customer engagement and, in turn, greater use of digital channels. It’s the key ingredient in the recipe for successful digital transformation.

With over 20 years of healthcare and life sciences experience, Rebecca Silver knows the importance of good customer data. As vice president for Veeva Global OpenData, Silver leads a dedicated team of product managers, data stewards, engineers, and services professionals to deliver a superior reference data experience for Veeva customers. She can be reached at