Addressing the Pain Points with Emerging Technologies

In this installment of the Harvard Business School Healthcare Alumni Association (HBSHAA) Q&A series, Michael Wong talks to Dr. Bernard S. Meyerson, IBM’s Chief Innovation Officer Emeritus, about why C-suite executives need to determine how emerging technologies might be pragmatically deployed as solutions to address their pain points.

Michael Wong: During the 2018 Harvard Business School Healthcare Alumni Association’s annual conference, our panel focused on technologies that were creating real disruptive change within the healthcare marketplace. Your analogue was how Walmart had created a blockchain-based food trust solution where the amount of time to locate a mango in their supply chain was whittled from nearly 7 days down to 2.2 seconds. Given continued technology advancements, one can only imagine what today’s potential solutions might be for a colleague of mine who recently explained how, “Elevating our processes is also important given the sheer volume of work. We manage a formulary with approximately 9,000 NDCs across 230 plus manufacturers. We need to review offers or address supply disruption within our formulary every single day.”1

Dr. Bernard S. Meyerson: Since the conference, much has evolved around deploying technologies from pilots to production. Similar to your colleague’s pain points, IBM collaborated with Maersk (the world’s largest shipping company), where their challenges included having each of their single shipments potentially be connected to as many as 30 independent parties and 100 people, generating up to 200 pieces of information. If there is one aberration from a shipping manifest, an entire cargo ship’s goods could be placed on hold at a port. With this longstanding pain point, Maersk took a leadership role to help build TradeLens, an open and neutral industry platform underpinned by blockchain technology and which is supported by major players across the global shipping industry. The platform’s value is the potential efficient, transparent and secure exchange of information in order to foster greater collaboration and trust across the global supply chain.2 Already, the platform has scaled up to 67%+ coverage of the world’s ocean container cargo. Finally, real benefits have been secured by member organizations like Puma as TradeLens now gives PUMA notifications for 95% of its containers arriving at the port. Identified benefits have included the customs department saving time and Puma’s downstream partners like inland transportation providers and warehouses leveraging the information to plan more effectively. So, let your colleague know that scalable solutions are available today.

With the recent 10th anniversary of the Top 10 Emerging Technologies, created by Scientific American and the World Economic Forum, the publication asserted that many global pain points have overlapping aspects and the potential for interlinked solutions.3 Still, having worked directly for the pharmaceutical industry for nearly two decades, I have seen how this sector sometimes believes it is unique. How might some of the C-suite naysayers be convinced that these emerging technologies might indeed have points of intersection across different industries?

Dr. Bernard S. Meyerson: Working for IBM since 1980, I have engaged with C-suite leaders across Fortune 500 sectors and frankly most executives believe that their sector is unique. But consider the aircraft industry where the National Academy of Engineering collaborated with the sector to figure out the challenge of potential fake components being introduced in aircraft, a product that usually has a 30+ year shelf life. So, while a pill that fits into your hand versus a plane might seem quite different, fake products have life and death consequences for people. Maintaining the integrity of supply chains via applying emerging technologies should be a target goal for C-suite executives. The good news is that there are existing detection technologies for healthcare4 but it’s important for these leaders to provide tools which their employees will use.

Finally, C-suite executives need to strategically connect the dots as emerging technologies are identified and determine how they might be pragmatically deployed as solutions to address their pain points. For instance, in 2017, from prior work, our Emerging Technologies series highlighted mRNA’s potential value. So, during the past many months, our team was delighted to see how C-suite executives in that industry had challenged historical thinking about vaccine development timelines and created life-saving solutions. Importantly, such findings enabled executives to think about how to best focus on and fund new potential solutions.

Dr. Bernard S. Meyerson, an IBM Fellow, serves as IBM’s Chief Innovation Officer Emeritus. Joining IBM in 1980, Dr. Meyerson invented Silicon:Germanium technology. He has served as Chairman of the World Economic Forum’s Meta-Council on Emerging Technology, now co-chair of this ongoing project. Most recently, he was honored with the 2015 National Medal for Public Service by the government of Singapore for his many years of service and impact as advisor to the nation.

Michael Wong is an Emeritus Board Member of the Harvard Business School Healthcare Alumni Association.