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In these uncertain times, it’s hard to plan for a post-pandemic world, but companies are already looking at how to allocate resources for what comes next. Life sciences companies need to think about how technology can best serve them to become fully digital and data-driven, with elastic cost structures and improved agility, even as IT budgets are tightening. Factoring in an impact from COVID-19, the May 2020 IT Spending report from Gartner estimates an 8% decline in IT spend in 2020 over 2019 with businesses focusing on “back-to-work” initiatives and investing in business continuity and supporting technologies.

Many companies have also been experiencing “technology overload,” faced with endless technology choices coming from major players as well as niche vendors and start-ups. Not having a well-thought-out technology strategy means that organizations get caught in the proof-of-concept loop, and rarely scale new ideas or fully integrate new systems into their workflows. In the post-COVID world, companies can no longer afford to spin in these endless cycles and instead must move forward with a technology strategy that harnesses the best technology available today with potential for tomorrow.

The intensity of current attention on the life sciences industry, combined with the longstanding compressive disruption that these companies have been facing, is creating a moment for life sciences companies to embrace new ways of working. How you choose to implement technology to support the flexibility, agility, and resilience of your business has never been more important. I’d like to share some thoughts about how taking the right technology approach can help companies to thrive in these challenging times.

Cloud services as a launchpad

Selection and utilization of cloud services is a vital piece of company strategy as public cloud solutions become increasingly prevalent and useful, with significant investments coming from providers such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google and Microsoft. It is no surprise that an organization’s journey to the cloud should leverage these investments and capabilities. Companies are already directing significant spending to the cloud — last year’s IDC Worldwide report1 estimated that worldwide spending on public cloud services and infrastructure will more than double from 2019-2023.

Only a few life sciences companies are taking a “cloud first” approach where the cloud is primary (80% in the cloud)2 and prioritized, extended beyond the IT organization and embraced by the whole organization.3 This could explain in part why two-thirds of life sciences companies said they haven’t achieved the results expected of their cloud initiatives to date.4

While choosing a cloud service is in itself a topic of debate, that choice is just an initial step. It would be a fundamental mistake to think that once a particular cloud service is selected, the business impact and results will naturally follow. Public clouds and their technology ecosystems are indeed a launchpad for innovation, but hard work is still needed to maximize their potential. For example, Google Cloud has an API (Application Programming Interface) technology that supports popular healthcare data standards and enables the extraction of non-personal data that could be used to improve our understanding of patient needs in many ways. How do you take a building block like this, and create a robust, secure, and scalable solution that could significantly impact the effectiveness of R&D? Matching up business priorities with technology has never been trickier, but the possibilities have also never been more exciting.

Future-ready strategies

Life sciences companies want to have continuity for their core R&D operations in case of any future crisis, and ultimately, better help their patients. How can they use technology to enable those priorities?

Here are three technology approaches that are crucial to becoming future-ready:

  1. Build systems to be open but know when to go deep. Your technology strategy and vision should, where possible, take advantage of the deeper capabilities that lie within specific cloud stacks. Quite often the path to differentiation lies in the details. Google Cloud, for example, is investing heavily in machine learning capabilities, and this can be used to rapidly develop, test, and deploy production-grade machine learning models which can then be integrated into your clinical workflows. It is also critical to have the flexibility to be able to quickly incorporate and integrate other technologies as needed. No one platform has it all covered.
  2. Don’t try to do it all yourself. Sometimes it simply doesn’t make sense to start everything from scratch. Does your differentiation come from your ability to be a software company, or from the quality of patient outcomes? You can buy services and ‘accelerators’ that have done the hard work of pre-packaging and pre-integrating the right combination of technologies from cloud vendors to get you there faster. Within life sciences there are many examples of problems that would be hard to tackle from scratch. Can I securely and cost-effectively manage my clinical data flow end-to-end in the cloud and be fully compliant? Can I create better ways to engage with patients and help them achieve better outcomes, while safely using relevant de-identified data to improve and enhance research and clinical development opportunities? Can I easily and quickly connect new technologies and services to enable specific digital therapeutics? Other pharma, biotech, startups, tech companies and so on, are already working to tackle these questions — take advantage of their legwork as you look for solutions.
  3. Seek out networks and new ways to collaborate both internally and externally. Take this opportunity to change how you work across your organization to take advantage of new technology. This will require that culture and processes be transformed, to maximize the utility of the technology you are adopting. You will also need to look beyond your organization and find ways to collaborate with technology vendors large and small, industry organizations, and beyond — establishing an ecosystem of partners that will help you achieve your goals.

Smart and strategic IT spending can enable organizations to become more agile and resilient, able to respond more effectively to both current COVID-19 challenges and beyond, in preparation for future crises. Life sciences companies that can shift their technology strategies now will emerge from this disruption with a more effective set of tools to help them reach their goals.

It’s never been more important to be open to this new future, and use these strategies to build effective collaboration, drive continuous innovation and build in resilience and flexibility into your technology choices and your organization.

This very concept of ‘Open to the Future’ was the theme of Accenture’s 2020 INTIENT Virtual Summit held on the 17th and 18th of November. Together with some outstanding thought leaders from across the life sciences industry, I explored all the strategies mentioned here and more. You can apply to register for on-demand access to the INTIENT Virtual Summit 2020 content here.

Moving to the cloud gives life sciences companies an opportunity to unlock data, collaborate across the ecosystem, improve engagement and more.

About the Author

Rahul Kabra, Accenture’s INTIENT Life Sciences business lead in Europe has over 25 years’ experience in technology strategy, innovation, global partnerships and solution development. He has previously held positions as a Strategy Lead for Accenture’s Products Group, and as the Ecosystem and Ventures Lead for Accenture Technology. Rahul holds a degree in Computing from City University London, and an MBA from Henley Business School.

1 03 Jul 2019 Worldwide Public Cloud Services Spending Will More Than Double by 2023.

2 Takeda Accelerates Digital Transformation with Accenture and AWS, Accenture Newsroom 2020

3 How organizations can advance the use of cloud across the business, Gartner 2019

4 Sky High Hopes: Navigating the Barriers to Maximizing Cloud Value

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