Pharma – Riding On The Digital Wave

Pharma companies need to adopt a strategic digital vision to capitalize on the opportunities and potential of digitization.

The pharma industry has been proactive in harnessing digital technology to build lean and agile organizations. From deploying cloud-based platforms, mobile-applications to advanced data analytics tools, pharma businesses have been reaping the tremendous benefits of digitization.

Digitization holds tremendous potential in helping pharma companies adapt and face the growing challenges, such as, supply chain complexities, price and cost pressure and globalization.

Need for a strategic plan

However, to optimally capitalize on the trend, the pharma industry needs to adopt a strategic digital vision which includes the following elements:

IT and digital teams to be aligned with business trajectory and focus on business planning and execution.
Critical areas in the value chain, such as, R&D, manufacturing and quality, supply chain, sales and marketing, digital communications, etc. should clearly define KPIs for digitalized operations.
Leadership should articulate a clear vision about the importance and the expectations from the digital strategy.
Tactical choices to be made in terms of specific ERP platform, implementation partners, pilot vs. full implementation and so on.
People, processes and culture should be cohesively aligned to achieve the organizations’ digital success.

Digitization challenges

Digitization comes with its own protocols, risks and challenges apart from investment and maintenance considerations. Often, the strategic vision is lacking or the senior management sponsorship is absent. Hence, a long-term commitment is mandatory.

Building capabilities, both internal and external, is critical to ensure the success. A CIO and skilled staff with the requisite digitization skills are required to digitize processes quickly. The implementation strategy also needs to start small and scale big; instead of big bang launches, pilot runs should be the norm.

Disconnect between vision and implementation often hampers the digital transformation. Delay can cause competitive disadvantages to a company in terms of its inability to respond to sudden surge in the market demand or inability to deal with competitive pressures in the market.

Adopting a War Room strategy

Building analytics capabilities through digitization helps pharma companies take tactical decisions and improve performance. This War Room facilitates a 360-degree view of market, competition, prices, market shares, portfolio, capacities, supply chain, human resources and everything else, to see whether each part of the business is growing its sales & profits in line with the targets. The CEO would then be inclined to allocate time to review & intervene specific aspects of the organization.

The benefits of digitization are immense and tremendous. However, to harvest the full potential of the digital disruption, pharma companies will have to rebuild businesses with digital at the core.

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A Disease Called Myth

Real life is the fertile hub of startling insights. Picture this scenario straight from life.

A 6-year-old Indian boy in an urban metropolis was diagnosed with mild persistent asthma and had been started on daily inhaled corticosteroid. At a follow-up visit in 2 months, his symptoms had worsened and the dose of the corticosteroid was increased.

During a home visit required by the research protocol, the research team noted that there were a significant number of incense candles and sticks burning in the living room, a place where the child spent most of his time. At a subsequent clinic visit, it was suggested to the mother that the incense burning may be the primary cause for the poor control of asthma. The mother responded in agreement that she was aware that this could be the problem. However, since it was her mother-in-law’s practice and something she could not oppose due to her cultural upbringing, she was expected to comply.

Cut to another story where an Indian mother expressed outright denial when given a diagnosis of asthma in their child. The acceptance of the diagnosis of asthma results in the acknowledgement by the parent that their child carries a chronic illness resulting in an “imperfect “child. Certain other beliefs attribute the cause of asthma to ‘lack of love’ from a mother!

Watch how belief further mutates into bizarre myths. Asthma is usually seen as a serious disease, which leads to death, a belief propagated by the Bollywood cultural movies and stories in which the Asian Indians are used to seeing the major actors clutching their chests while looking for their asthma inhalers and succumbing to their illness. Since the respiratory symptoms of asthma have usually been portrayed as life-threatening which often take the life of the person with the disease, a barrier in the acceptance of the diagnosis and the treatment of this disease is inherently prevalent.

More stories populate the diverse panorama of India’s socio-religious ethos. Spiritual healers are often used to do special prayers and create special magical concoctions, which are given to the child for their well-being and treatment of the chronic illness. Belief in horoscopes and their effects are well-accepted factors that can influence the child’s health. Horoscopes are evaluated by specialists to determine the chronicity of the illness and for prediction of improvements in those conditions. Special articles of religious significance are given to the child to wear. Removal of these articles even if required by medical professionals is considered inauspicious to the point where it may aggravate the symptoms of the disease and distance the provider from the family of the illness.

Home remedies, such as tea, hot water, walking, ginger and turmeric, are perceived to provide relief in asthma.

Clearly, there is a cultural/folk cognition of asthma -the disease that permeates all areas of life manifesting in cultural barriers and also affecting other aspects of the social fabric like matrimonial alliance!

The increasing diversity of the nation brings opportunities and challenges for healthcare providers, healthcare systems, and policymakers to create and deliver culturally competent services. Cultural competence is defined as the ability of providers and organizations to effectively deliver health care services that meet the social, cultural, and linguistic needs of patients. A culturally competent healthcare system can help improve health outcomes and quality of care and can contribute to the elimination of racial and ethnic health disparities. Today strategies skewered to move the health care system towards these goals include providing relevant training on cultural competence and cross-cultural issues to health professionals and creating policies that reduce diagnostic and cultural barriers to patient care.

At Cipla, we rose to the challenge by plunging into a ‘barrier-breaking campaign that attacks the root of the disease- ignorance that is currently rampant in fatal quantities. Berok Zindagi is a multi-channel communication arsenal that is aimed at eliminating the myths and reinstating the fact that asthma need not come in your way.

Because after all, cultural competence and therapeutic competence really go hand in hand.

Hopefully one day, blessed amulets and fish stuffed down the throat will give way to inhalation as an integral part of an asthmatic’s life.

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Campus To Corporate

This is the time of the year when graduates from technical and business schools join organizations across India. Often referred to as Graduate Engineering Trainees, Management Trainees, Post Graduate Trainees etc., this is a key transition that these youngsters are going through in their lives.

While they are taking a plunge into the world of work from the world of academia, learning is hardly over. While learning will be a life-long process, considering the nature of the transition, their learning over the initial few months at work will be both intense and immense. They need to learn about the organization, its culture and practices, the industry and the sector, the domain and skills associated with it, tools and processes that are followed as well as skills associated with work and personal effectiveness.

Here are some pointers on how they can learn the maximum and handle this transition effectively. Let me start with certain mindsets that they need to bring in.

I am a part of the whole – unlike student days wherein what one does impacts just their performance (my poor scores may not impact anyone else), in an organization, one is always a part of the larger ecosystem, a team. If I don’t do my bit, it is going to impact others’ performance as well. That is a big responsibility that one needs to be aware of always.

I am observed and assessed all the time – there are no periodical or term-end assessments to determine one’s knowledge and skill. Rather, one is observed on a continuous basis and impressions are formed. And all this will feed into evaluation. And it’s not just knowledge and skill, but more importantly behaviour – whether you are on time for meetings, how and what you speak etc that gets observed. In a way, every day is an assessment day

I am an equal employee – there is no teacher and student; the trainee is as much responsible as a very seasoned employee and needs to take the effort and initiative. One cannot wait for instructions and directions always

These mindsets can set the right context after which they can do the following to actively learn.

Pull learning – Unlike in college, learning will not be pushed always through a standard curriculum, sessions etc. One needs to set his / her own agenda – a personal learning plan – and leverage resources. For eg. one may want to start by learning about the industry and check for all possible online and offline resources that can help with that. Like everyone else they need to own their learning and get into a self-learning mode

Learn on-the-job – this is the most potent source of learning. As per the well-known 70:20:10 model, 70% learning happens on the job. However, this does not happen automatically just because one is at the job. One should plan it, seek it and consolidate it. At the start of the day, the youngster (and everyone else as well) should plan not just the activities but the learning aligned to it. And then seek that actively, through experience and more importantly through interactions. For eg. assuming the trainee is present along with the manager in a negotiation with a vendor, a 5 – 10 minutes discussion post that with the manager saying why did you do this, what model were you following, share a little more etc would help.

Reflection and consolidation at the end of the day would be very important to crystallize and sustain the learning. To quote John Dewey,

“We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.” 

An online journal can be a good aid to jot down one’s reflections.

Seek a mentor – Mentor at this stage can be a huge developmental support. Mentor can be from within the organization or outside – a professor from one’s college, a senior from the institute etc. The mentor will not just act as a sounding board but can share perspectives and guide the trainee. I recollect my initial days as a school counsellor post college, when I used to travel from one end of the city to the other to interact with my mentor, who was couple of years my senior. Her guidance helped me in a big way to succeed in my initial years.

Form a PLN – PLN or a Personal Learning Network is another powerful source of learning. This enables Social Learning through sharing and collaboration amongst peers. Any online social collaboration platform can be the medium for this. While digital interactions are very much a part of our lives, the core purpose of a PLN would be sharing around learning. PLNs can be formed within the organization, say all trainees from a batch as well as outside, PLN of one’s batchmates across different organizations. Through external PLNs, I have often found that trainees are a very good source of information about external practices.

Gain the maximum out of formal training – One cannot ignore formal training. Starting with the induction / on-boarding programme that they would be a part of, trainees should take maximum advantage of all formal learning opportunities that the organization provides. This would include leveraging online learning platforms that many organizations provide.

Do not be limited by micro learning – Micro learning is the in thing. Byte-sized, short modules is what everyone, not just youngsters, favour. While micro learning has its value, I am of the strong view that it cannot replace mega learning. While micro learning can drive breadth, it is mega learning that will drive depth. One needs to understand and appreciate the value of mega learning and leverage it accordingly.

While the trainees need to own this, one cannot undermine the role of line managers and HR. They need to act as enablers and facilitators and sensitize and support trainees in the learning journey.

Let me end this with a quote by Henry Ford –

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young”

Let us keep learning and stay young forever!!

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How Cipla’s Self-Learning And Continuous Learning Approach Is A Game-Changer

Learnability is the biggest skill one can possess in the hyper-dynamic times that we exist in. There is a need for people to quickly learn and unlearn, and re-invent themselves if they seek to survive in the professional arena. At the same time, owing to how automation and technology are changing the nature of jobs, even organisations need to focus on continuously adding to the knowledge and skills of their people to stop them from becoming redundant. Gone are the days when learning and development were seen as a cost burden. It has now become essential for businesses that seek to sustain and grow in the existing volatile business scenario.

Cipla has been transforming its approach towards learning through focused efforts by its learning and development arm, Cipla University. In line with its philosophy of continuous learning, Cipla University believes in offering best-in-class training while promoting continuous learning that would enable all its associates as well as the organization on the whole Learn-Excel-Grow in a regular manner. This would not just lead to performance excellence in the present, but more importantly make individuals and the organization, future ready as well.

Hemalakshmi Raju, head- learning and development, Cipla says, “It’s not knowledge but a continuous learning approach that provides a competitive advantage.”

Raju shares that the organisation observed that there was a hunger for learning, and people needed guidance to be more efficient at what they do. More so, as the sales representatives in the pharmaceutical industry are mostly on the field and spend a significant amount of time, on-the-go. In addition, they have to deal with people who are way more qualified than them — the doctors. Even more challenging is the fact that their interaction window is limited to a few minutes versus the wait time that may be an hour or more.

It’s not knowledge but a continuous learning approach that provides a competitive advantage.

“Keeping all these challenges in mind, we realised that the field force required learning on the go such that they have anytime, anywhere access to relevant content. We launched mobile learning for the field force, a year ago. It allows them to utilise their wait time for learning, along with constant self-assessment on the same,” Raju explains.

The Company follows the 70:20:10 principle for its learning initiatives, and focuses majorly on continuous learning and self-learning. It has a unique programme called ‘Keep educating yourself’, under which it has provided its people access to a set of curated MOOCs. ‘My learning challenge’ is another unique initiative, that was organized sometime back, wherein employees could enroll themselves, pick a topic of their choice and spend at least half an hour every day, for ten days, learning the same.

Raju shares that over 250 people had enrolled for this programme across the globe, of which the best 10 were selected as learning champions. “The idea behind all these initiatives has been to inculcate in our people a habit of learning on their own,” Raju opines.

Cipla recently organised a learning expo at its office in Mumbai, with an aim to encourage self-learning and learning on the go. The event attempted to sensitise people and orient them to utilise various tools for self-learning through gamification.

Raju shares that the buy-in from the top management towards these digital learning efforts is extremely high and Cipla’s CEO, Umang Vohra and group chief people officer, Prabir Jha are strong proponents and ambassadors of the same

Looking ahead, Cipla is planning to organise social-learning drives, through digital platforms. It will include strong peer-to-peer learning through ‘tag and learn’ initiatives.

“Learning is not just about individual capability building but organisational capacity building” is a strong perspective held by Jha and Raju feels that Learning On the Go will be a key lever in bringing this alive.

This article originally appeared in HR Katha.

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Innoventia – Search For Disruptive Innovation in Healthcare

Keeping up with Cipla’s innovation-driven credo, happy to share one of our big initiatives towards the same. Check out Innoventia.Cipla.Com to participate & reinvent the way we deliver healthcare.

I take this opportunity to also write my thoughts on why an initiative like Innoventia is much needed in our times.

They say when data is tortured enough, it will confess to anything! This couldn’t ring truer than now- when ‘sharing’ has become a way of life, thanks to the digital takeover of our lives. Everything is under the impact of the fastest moving phenomenon in recent times: CHANGE. In fact, change is the new technology, permeating everything, especially healthcare.


We are already witnessing applications for blockchain and more uses for AI, especially in diagnosis. Analytics has become the new buzzword. In the broad sweep of AI’s current worldly ambitions, machine learning healthcare applications seem to top the list for funding. Clearly, healthcare is no longer about the passive delivery of diagnostics, drugs and infrastructure. Guess why?

Along with the diseases, patients are changing too – across the spectrum of understanding, knowledge, and management of diseases given the emerging technology canvas.

So what’s next? Innovation is the only answer – to tide this wave of life-altering times to transform the delivery of care.

Therefore, is it healthcare or tech care? A question that will perhaps be answered through the lens of innovation.

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