Updated on 23/01/2023

Digitalization in the pharmaceutical industry

Digital Maturity Pharma: How important is digitization? How far along are we? What are the margins and how can we reach them? That’s what we’ll talk about in this post!

The pharmaceutical sector encompasses a huge set of organizations, from large multinational companies to individual local pharmacies. Today, as a whole, it is experiencing a delicate and decisive moment due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

On the one hand, the sector is under great stress, but on the other, it is facing unprecedented opportunities

Let’s make it very clear: The vast majority of these new opportunities are related to digital transformation in some way. It’s a trend that didn’t start only recently, but one that has accelerated in this unexpected and complicated period. 

But there is a warning: This acceleration will not end as the urgency wears off. The path of digitalization in the pharmaceutical sector must therefore look at the present but also at the medium to long term. 

To put it another way, from Digital Transformation we must aim for Digital MaturityWhat do we mean, specifically?  

That’s what we’ll discuss next. We’ll also provide a snapshot of the current state of digitalization in the pharmaceutical sector. Finally, we will identify the three directions of development that seem most decisive and that must be implemented by all Pharma players, with their many differences. 


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The Road from Digital Transformation to Digital Maturity in Pharma

A revolution doesn’t happen in a day. But neither is it done in a few weeks or months. A profound revolution must be a process, a pervasive, long-term and, above all, continuous process. 

So, if by “digital transformation” we mean a series of epoch-making changes triggered by digital technologies that affect business and our social and private lives, on the other hand, “digital maturity” refers to the implementation of all these changes in a profound and lasting way.  

Such an implementation must be conscious, not improvised, and it must be one that produces not only an increase in efficiency or a decrease in costs, but that causes a real change in mentality.  

All of this, in turn, translates into an attitude of openness, because the digital revolution is not something that has happened, but something that is continuing to happen. 

Only those who remain receptive and responsive can reap the benefits before others, gaining (and maintaining) a competitive advantage. 

For a company in any sector, therefore, embracing mature digitalization means implementing a paradigm shift that concerns internal processes, from production to distribution and document archiving. It’s also about external processes, aimed at customers: Sales, purchasing, marketing, and customer service. Finally, the training, involvement, and loyalty of a company’s own employees, collaborators, and suppliers must not be underestimated.  

Now let’s try to put all this into the pharmaceutical sector and ask ourselves: Where are we in Pharma, and how “digitally mature” is this sector? 

Pharma 4.0: What is it all about, and where do we stand now? 

Let’s start with the label Pharma 4.0.” What does it mean? 

Pharma 4.0 applies the logic and dynamics of Industry 4.0 and digitalization in the pharmaceutical sector. These are actions and processes that must be implemented upstream, in production departments.  

This is about digital sensor technology and IoT, and a continuous control, analysis, and interpretation of data, through increasingly precise and dynamic predictive systems, based on Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning.

In this first step, the keywords are optimization, cost reduction, and data-driven innovation

Now let’s move to another side, that of R&D. Here, too, digitalization is playing (and will play) an increasingly important and disruptive role.  

Above all, it’s a question of “networking,” thanks to the new digital collaboration systems that unite private companies, public administrations, industry giants, and innovative start-ups. 

Are there some examples of this? 

There are some obvious examples of late: Think of the race to produce a COVID-19 vaccine. Without this kind of collaborative network (a network made possible by 4.0) we would still be in severe lockdowns around the world. 

Now let’s go even further downstream. 

Digitization and Pharma 4.0 can and must also concern the national health system and the entire network of local pharmaciesThink, for example, of the digitization of document processes, of administrative and distribution processes, but also of  more efficient and transparent communication between all the actors involved. 

Then, there are the patients. Today, patients are no longer just the target, the terminal to which the players in this enormous and complex sector turn. Today, patients are at the center of all these changes

And all these thanks to digital. 

So, we’re talking about a revolution in marketing. A paradigm shift in Customer Service. A company-patient dialog that is becoming increasingly personalized and “close,” but also a pharmacy-customer dialog that is enriched by many digital touchpoints

Health itself is becoming increasingly digital. Think of all the opportunities in healthcare, from smartphone applications to wearable devices, up to sensors that may be ingested or implanted under the skin

In short, the opportunities are many, and they are both decisive and promising. But where do we stand? What is the level of digitalization in the pharmaceutical sector?  Let’s not deny it: There is still a long way to go

Take this in-depth report by McKinsey, which sought to measure the digital maturity of various production sectors. Well, the pharmaceutical sector ranks low, with just 27 points, followed only by the Public Administration sector (with 22 points).  

For the sake of comparison: The banking sector scores 32 points; the retail sector 42 points; the travel and hospitality sector 49 points; and the food industry 49 points. Travel & Hospitality has 49 points, while Digital Leaders are at 70/80 points

Exactly: there is a long way to go. And, certainly, this period of emergency has only accelerated the pace of this journeyBut which direction should we follow to achieve the best Digital Maturity? 

There are many factors at play, but we have tried to collect them around three main directions, which we propose in the following post. 


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The Starting Point: Digital Document Archiving 

Digitization in pharma must start with document archiving and this is as true for big companies as it is for pharmacies. What are the benefits? 

The benefits of digital maturity in pharma are savings in costs, time, and space. Simplicity and speed in research and – above all – in sharing, are other benefits. There is also a drastic reduction of error margins, risks of tampering or loss, and increased security and transparency

In short, it’s a virtuous circle. But that’s not all. 

The word to keep in mind is one: dataWith digital, documents of all kinds become a valuable mine of precise information about your customers, patients, employees, and suppliers.  

This data must be collected in a secure manner. It must be analyzed and interpreted in a way that is functional for your business and then put in place all the data-driven processes (which we will focus on in the next point). 

Of course, the premise of all of this is the construction of a specific software platform, tailored to each individual company, based on its characteristics, its mode of operation, and its needs. 

In order to realize an architecture of this type, it is important to hire specialized companies, such as DoxeeWe are talking, for example, about Doxee paperless experience solutions, aimed at the digitalization of all Customer Communication Management procedures. 

From data to data-driven (all the way to personalization) 

As we have seen above, at the origin of digitalization in the pharmaceutical sector there is a huge availability of data that 4.0 (in all its forms) has made available

There is the information provided by the “machines,” which therefore concerns production dynamics made available by “Factories 4.0.” In this field, adopting data-driven solutions goes in the direction of efficiency, optimization, and continuous improvement of processes. 

Above all, there is the information provided by people, and here, we’re talking about a huge volume of information. It’s about what we buy, in what quantity and how often; also, what we search for online. It’s about the preferences we express on social networks, how we use mobile apps, how the sentiment of public opinion changes, in general. It’s also about the most interesting trends on a smaller geographic scale. 

 That’s a lot, but it’s not everything.

One growing side, in fact, is that of the so-called “IoMT” (“Internet of Medical Things”), the IoT applied to healthcare devices. Again, here is another invaluable gold mine of in-depth and targeted data. 

But, in this sense, what is the frontier? The answer is: “precision medicine.”  

It’s about pushing data-driven to the extreme, going beyond segmentation and aiming directly at personalization, at knowing the individual patient and the individual customer, to interface with them in a one-to-one mode. 

Everything with an omnichannel perspective 

Digitization in the pharmaceutical sector also means knowing how to make the most of a wide range of channels.

The “physical” side remains important. Digital will not replace pharmaceutical representatives, the human side of general practitioners, or the employees of pharmacies and parapharmacies. 

Digital will complement and integrate all of this. 

Be careful, though! Under the label of “digital” there is a composite and multi-channel world: From company and pharmacy websites, to dedicated applications for smartphones, from specialized forums, to influencers with their channels (which often exploit the enormous power of video) up to KOL (Key Opinion Leaders). 

What is the way forward? 

The way forward is to exploit as many of these opportunities as possible, optimizing your actions based on different devices and channels. 

There is no universal recipe. But each player must find the right mix for his business and targets. All with maximum elasticity and dynamism. This is what is meant by omnichannel optics. The ultimate goal of this perspective? It’s always the same. To truly put the patient at the center.


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