The Tech Perspective: Coordinating a Plan of Engagement

Pharmaceutical Executive, Pharmaceutical Executive-02-01-2022, Volume 42, Issue 2

Designing an omnichannel artificial intelligence ecosystem that integrates strategies can boost commercial success for pharma.

Healthcare providers (HCPs) have never been easy to reach. But today—between the deluge of communication in digital channels, the increasingly complex landscape of therapies and treatment protocols, and the expectation for highly personalized interactions in all aspects of consumer life—the bar for what merits HCP attention is higher than ever. If brands want to get through to physicians in a meaningful way, commercial teams must ensure everything from the message to timing and channel is clearly tailored to their needs and interests.

A decade ago—prior to artificial intelligence (AI) becoming such a powerful tool for businesses looking to engage customers—life sciences organizations often had to rely upon monolithic, single-vendor solutions instead of a more specialized, best-of-breed ecosystem when integrating technology, AI, and data into a coordinated plan of engagement with customers. The benefits of specialized solutions were also more difficult to measure and realize. But now, with many technologies helping to ease the integration burden of data, strategy, AI, workflow, and analytics, organizations no longer must place all their eggs in one basket with a single vendor—nor should they.

By taking an ecosystem approach, life sciences organizations can enjoy solutions that are ready to perform as soon as they’re implemented with the flexibility to adapt in the future (see graphic on facing page). Here are three tips for designing an omnichannel AI ecosystem that maximizes investments while remaining nimble in today’s dynamic and competitive market.

Focus on core competencies

How do vendors position themselves within the larger ecosystem?

Challenge technology partners to explain their sense of urgency for working well with others to generate value for customers. It can help to break down your needs into six ecosystem categories, where there are a range of platforms, tools, and technologies that may be in various stages of maturity at your organization.

1. Internal and External Data–Data companies compile or generate the critical inputs for commercial strategies, analytical models, and more. Data sets can include HCP profiles, markets, social/media, EHR/claims/Rx, research publications, insurance and government, socioeconomic and behavioral, lab/diagnostic, ERP, budgets, personnel/performance, channel engagement metrics, and more.

2. Data Integration and Curation–The platforms or systems for managing and integrating data, applications, and APIs from disparate sources, including both cloud-resident and on-premises endpoints, allow data to be leveraged effectively by other tools and users. These include data warehouses, Extract/Transform/Load (ETL) and integration systems, customer relationship management (CRM) systems, traditional insights/analytics applications, and customer data platforms.

3. Strategy and Planning–Methodologies and algorithms to rank and classify HCPs into segments for different go-to-market campaigns and programs, which are composed of tactics and rules for specific actions based on a triggering event or series of events. Examples include HCP segmentation, content and creative development, marketing campaigns, and customer journey design.

4. Omnichannel Intelligence and Optimization–Algorithmic analysis, distillation, and prioritization of all possible actions to determine the next best action within and across channels for both the user and the target customer. For instance, omnichannel optimization, next best action, and predictive insights.

5. Omnichannel Execution and Channel Activation–Technology that enables marketing, sales, and medical affairs teams to engage with HCPs across multiple in-person and digital channels. These solutions include marketing automation, sales and medical user apps, and third-party publishers.

6. Systems Integration and Professional Services– Services vendors and consultants that implement and integrate systems by deploying a team of IT consultants to provide professional services for a specified scope and rate are an important final part of the ecosystem.

There are key players in each of these categories, and while some may fit into several, each category typically has one standout. Therefore, the key to maximizing your success comes from ensuring that the best of each category integrates with the whole ecosystem.

At Aktana, for instance, our primary focus is omnichannel intelligence and optimization. As a result, we’ve invested considerable effort integrating with the upstream data and strategy layers of the ecosystem as well as downstream execution channels. Even with modest upstream data, omnichannel AI can start to generate impactful next best action recommendations and insights, growing smarter and more powerful as organizations layer in richer profiles and data sets.

The downstream systems are an equally important consideration, as the best insights and suggestions have little impact if they’re not acted upon by marketing, field, and medical teams. To make user adoption as frictionless as possible, companies need seamless integration with omnichannel execution and channel activation platforms to reach users when and where they already work.

For sales and medical teams, users need to be able to plan and execute their engagement plans with HCPs with well-curated and timely suggestions and insights about their accounts and KOLs—whether that’s on a desktop, via video conference, or in person with a mobile device. For marketing users, this can mean ensuring suggestions and insights integrate into marketing automation, journey orchestration, and campaign management systems.

Start with a smart foundation

How can the right combination of data, strategy, and technology amplify impact?

There is often low-hanging fruit—for example, existing internal data sources—that generates impact while also laying a good foundation to expand in the future. There is a misconception that companies must start with optimized, clean, and fully organized data to see any results from an AI solution. However, companies with even an imperfect data foundation can be very successful if they practice good data hygiene with systems that most organizations already have and use daily, such as a CRM system. However, it often comes back to fundamentals such as clean, curated, and structured data in the CRM, including HCP account data and up-to-date territory alignments between field and medical teams. With these fundamentals, pharmaceutical commercial teams can start leveraging the core competencies of each technology partner to ensure HCP interactions are relevant to their specialty, practice setting, and any expressed preferences and interests.

For example, a company may have rich data on HCP activities in research publications and social media that can finally be used in targeted field rep suggestions to test how well a new campaign strategy is performing. Or a team may be leveraging a new marketing automation platform for better digital communications but need a way to optimize and coordinate which messages are delivered by global marketing campaigns and which are better delivered via in-person visit or virtual rep detail. Each of these capabilities alone can have value. But by integrating them into an ecosystem, companies can supercharge these investments and better measure how each is performing relative to its cost.

“It’s important for organizations to have a digital ecosystem that places the customer at the center and creates a holistic 360-degree view of their needs,” says Andy Fuchs, vice president of commercial strategy at Veeva Systems. “A platform that brings together data, analytics, and content to activate field sales and medical teams is critical in driving informed actions that move the needle with customers.”

Evaluate with the future in mind

Whose roadmaps will activate and accelerate your organizational vision?

While vendors may have areas of focus, the market will continue to evolve in new and unexpected ways that challenge those focus areas. Therefore, it’s important to develop a vision that spans multiple years. In addition, adopt solutions that not only integrate seamlessly but do so in a way that enables a company to measure the impact of each ecosystem component quickly.

For example, you may have recently invested in analytics models to improve HCP segmentation, but it takes an ecosystem to verify whether the new models are working effectively and where they can be improved. Or, you may have an agency developing interesting new content and campaigns for your brand, but with only modest ability to measure the short- and long-term results. By integrating those campaigns and content into an omnichannel ecosystem, you will be able to continuously measure, adapt, and achieve your vision.

When adding a new partner to enhance any part of this ecosystem, ask for its latest roadmaps and consider how it aligns with your short-, medium-, and long-term needs with an emphasis on continuous improvement and impact measurement.

As Bill Gates once said, “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in 10 years.” Likewise, it’s important to craft both a pragmatic and ambitious vision to drive progress within your ecosystem of vendors—especially when it comes to the complexity of implementing an AI-driven commercial solution.

“The backbone of a successful omnichannel solution relies on driving business initiatives forward with the flexibility to innovate,” concludes Fuchs. “Look beyond partners’ roadmaps to those that fit your long-term vision, offering greater agility and impact as business needs and HCP engagement preferences evolve.”

Jonny Rawlinson, Director of Strategic Alliances & Business Development, Aktana