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Making the Most of Management Consulting


Intense regulatory demands, cost pressure, and the need to be ever more efficient has led to an upturn in the use of management consultants in the pharma & biotech sector, writes B.J. Richards.

Intense regulatory demands, cost pressure, and the need to be ever more efficient has led to an upturn in the use of management consultants in the pharma & biotech sector. B.J. Richards discusses how to make the most of this valuable outside resource.

B. J. Richards

You already know these are busy times for the pharma and biotech industry. The endless need to develop innovative drugs and devices, and in the most efficient way possible, is bumping up against increasingly intense regulatory demands and cost pressures, leaving the industry’s executives and their teams with far more work than time. All of this has led to a big increase in the use of management consultants in recent years. In fact, the UK pharma & biotech industry’s consulting spend shot up nearly 15 per cent last year, and we expect it to climb another 16 per cent in 2016.

Pharma and consulting didn’t always enjoy such a cosy relationship. Historically, the industry has been rather reluctant to use consultants, mostly out of fear that consultants simply wouldn’t have the specialised knowledge the industry demands. But as pressures have piled up, pharma has had little choice but to reach out, and we’re hearing clients here are often pleasantly surprised by what they find.

After all, when it comes to regulation, management consultants are the true experts, having spent decades unravelling similarly complex demands in the manufacturing, financial services, and telecoms industries. Pharma clients also appreciate consultants’ contributions on the talent-development front, helping highly skilled researchers become equally competent leaders. And, of course, no one can slash costs and improve efficiency like an experienced management consultant. All of these services are hot sellers these days, as is business transformation, which can do all this and more in one massive project that revamps the way a company operates from top to bottom.

But with the pharma industry investing in consulting like never before, there are a lot of companies and executives shopping for consultants for the first time. They may not be sure what consulting can do for them, how they should go about picking potential partners, or how to get the most out of their consulting engagement once it’s started. With that in mind, here are our top tips for making it work.

Know what you’re looking for

Before you even place your first exploratory phone call to a consulting firm, you need to have a clear idea of what you want consulting to do for you. Maybe you have a well-defined project in mind and just need the people and expertise to execute it. Perhaps your problem is clear enough, but you need help devising a solution. But whether your goals are set in stone or still coming together, being able to articulate where you are and where you’d like to be will make the consulting process easier from first conversations to project’s end.

Know who can help you get there

When people look for a consultant, they’re usually looking for “an expert”. But what sort of expert would suit you best? In broadest terms, consulting skills are of two varieties. There are issue-specific skills that relate to the particular problem at hand - a regulatory compliance expert, for instance, to help with regulatory compliance. Then there are industry-specific skills - where the consultant in question speaks your language and knows your industry - including the competition - inside-out. Ideally, you’ll want someone who offers a healthy mix of both, but getting the balance right means thinking hard about the nature of your project, its complexity, and how important it is that someone “gets” your industry before they can help you achieve your objective.

Keep the lines of communication open

Having identified your challenge and hired the right consultant to help address it, you’ll find yourself with a new (and likely rather expensive) resource at your disposal. How can you make sure you’re using it to your best advantage? Without doubt, the most effective consulting projects are those in which the client and the consultant work together as a team throughout the life of the engagement.

By making sure you’re giving your consultants all the information they need (and then some), promptly supplying all promised resources, and checking in early and often to identify and address stumbling blocks as soon as they appear will go a long way toward ensuring a successful project and a solid return on your consulting investment.

B.J. Richards is Senior Editor, Source Global Research.

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