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AI Insights from HBSHAA


Michael Wong talks to Pharm Exec about the takeaways from November's Harvard Business School Healthcare Alumni Association conference on how AI can successfully deliver value for pharma companies.

Michael Wong, co-president of the Harvard Business School Healthcare Alumni Association (HBSHAA), talks to Pharm Exec about the messages from November's HBSHAA conference about how AI can successfully deliver value for pharma companies.


Pharm Exec: What were the most compelling insights from the Harvard Business School Healthcare Alumni Association's recent annual conference? 

Michael Wong

Michael Wong:

While attendees came from various parts of the healthcare ecosystem, including pharma, biotech, academia, and start-ups, one recurrent theme was how technology-be it AI, analytics, big data, etc.-will be an enabler for their upcoming strategic imperatives. That being said, some attendees acknowledged that a challenge is our sector continues to trail other industries when it comes to successfully adopting new technologies into their daily operations.   

With the sector having to deal with stringent safety and compliance regulations, should pharmcos re-calibrate their expectations to become fast-followers versus innovators when it comes to leveraging AI and other technology enablers?   

As a number of pharmacos' adoption of technologies often concentrate on cost savings, perhaps becoming a fast-follower of another industry's deployment on revenue growth would be a good pivot. For instance, we invited an executive to the HBSHAA conference since her organization had successfully deployed machine learning in their pricing strategy. Initially, I was asked why would I add someone from the fashion industry to our healthcare conference, but they subsequently understood the context when I pointed out

their preliminary revenue benefits (10%) from their machine learning deployment.


It sounds like adopting a fast-follower strategy makes sense for pharma CEOs as they consider their 2019-2020 business plans?  

Taking a page from a successful playbook and adopting it for one's organization can be an excellent pivot for those fast-followers. However, I would challenge your readers to consider how other industries used to look to pharmacos for innovation. For example, before Apple went on a record eleven year run as Fortune's Most Admired Company, Merck held the crown with seven years at the top.    With "quality of management and innovativeness" being two of the attributes of reputation on which companies are evaluated in determining the industry rankings, bold pharmaco leaders should recognize that successful innovation is in our DNA and that we are in a space where other firms want to be. For instance, Goldman Sachs' prior CEO stated that his organization was a "technology firm" versus a bank. But in turn, consider where Fortune's top three most admired firms (Apple, Amazon, and Alphabet) have been placing their big bets-it's healthcare.  So bold pharma leaders should collaborate with top universities and other partners who can help uncover new value for their patients and other stakeholders.     

Michael Wong has over 25 years of experience working for Apple, AstraZeneca, EPAM, IBM, and Merck. 

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