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Driving Through Spaghetti: Navigating the “Chaos” of Biopharma/Digital Partnerships

Posted By Michael J. Burke, Wednesday, September 16, 2020

There are many things biopharma alliance professionals do well, and many areas where they shine. Partnerships between life sciences companies and digital organizations, however, while on the rise, remain the new frontier for alliance management. And to give alliance professionals their due, it’s often their organizations that are caught flatfooted by the demands and challenges that lie along the biopharma/digital divide. In fact, greater involvement by alliance groups might help operationalize and execute on these partnerships such that they fulfill their purposes and create more of their intended value.

That’s one of the assessments provided by Stu Kliman, CA-AM, and Ben Siddall, both partners in Vantage Partners, in their presentation, “Enhancing Partnerships Between Life Sciences and Digital Organizations,” on day two of the 2020 ASAP BioPharma Conference. (Vantage Partners is a platinum sponsor of the conference.)

In introducing Kliman and Siddall, ASAP president and CEO Michael Leonetti, CSAP, noted that this is “a topic that we’ve been talking about for a number of years at ASAP.” The two presenters agreed, with Siddall adding that what has changed in the three or four years since he and Kliman began facilitating such partnerships and doing presentations on the subject is the sheer proliferation of these alliances—to the extent that they can no longer fit on one slide anymore.

The trend is part of “an increasingly complex ecosystem, with biopharma at the center,” according to Siddall. The question, he said, is “How do we take advantage of all these relationships and manage [them] in a coherent way?” It can be done, he added, but due to the number of relationships involved, and the breadth and longevity of those relationships, “it’s a struggle.”

Changing Mental Models

Kliman mentioned that when biopharma people hear the word “partnering,” they have “a mental model for what that means,” which may be “somewhat narrow and [something that] happens linearly—the classic drug development and commercialization process.” But digital partnerships are a different animal. As Kliman put it, they tend to be “more invasive and more involved for alliance management than is typically the case.”

Kliman gave a couple examples of such partnerships, such as Concerto AI and BMS, and GE and Roche, before noting that there are often so many internal and external players and stakeholders involved, and so many different activities across the alliance life cycle, it can be challenging to coordinate all those functions and activities. “All that looks easy on a slide, but it’s hard to make all the pieces fit,” said Siddall.

And whose job is it, anyway? Both Kliman and Siddall, in different ways, made the case for alliance management groups to perform this difficult task.

Even in a “traditional” biopharma alliance, there is great complexity and a number of functions involved, and alliance managers tend to move among the different functions as needed to communicate and coordinate activities and ensure alignment, in addition to working closely with their opposite numbers at the partner company. With a biopharma/digital partnership, however, the number of functions increases and may include things like AI, tech suppliers, virtual trials (often international in nature), and more.

The Spaghetti Slide

Displaying a slide showing a veritable spider web of lines drawn between all these different functions, Siddall noted, “You see how complex the map looks. You’ve got this spaghetti.” Throughout the presentation, this was referred back to as “the spaghetti slide.”

Notwithstanding this complexity, said Kliman, “We believe the alliance management group is very well positioned to own these activities” and be the “change management driver” in digital partnerships. Other functions are simply not prepared to do it, he said.

Yet significant organizational challenges remain. Recent Vantage research shows that 74 percent of biopharma respondents said their organization has an explicit digital strategy—but 52 percent say that internal stakeholders are not clear about how to effectively engage their key digital relationships. What’s more, only 15 percent of respondents said their company has clear and operationalized approaches to manage digital relationships differently from more transactional vendor relationships.

“So how do you do this well?” Siddall asked. He cited what he called “three critical enablers.” To be successful, he said, organizations must:

  • Align decisions with strategy (“What’s the purpose? Why are we doing this?”)
  • Embed a cross-functional operating model to speed execution
  • Build the skills to enable agile collaboration

“Everybody’s Doing It”—but Not Everybody’s Doing It Well

Many companies simply ask, “Which partner does X?” he said, and then “get a list of big names.” This is the wrong approach. Rather, they should start with their overall strategy and ask, “What are we trying to do?” And, given the number of activities and functions involved, they also have to ask themselves, “How do we actively manage all that chaos, and make it strategic?”

In fact, Siddall said that alliance professionals not only need to manage the chaos, but they might need to create some as well. In so doing, they’ll need to avoid what has sometimes been the biopharma response to digital organizations’ ways: “That’s not how we do it here.”

Kliman acknowledged that the challenges of the biopharma/digital divide can make for a “differentially uncomfortable situation.” “As alliance managers, we like control,” he said. But there are far more digital partnerships now than just a couple years ago, and the number is expected to continue to rise. So get used to it—the future is here.

“The size and diversity of digital portfolios has grown,” Kliman said. “Folks have woken up to the implications for their organization. We see organizations bellying up to the [digital] bar.” Or as Siddall said, “Everybody’s doing it now.”

And although some of the skills needed for digital partnerships may be different, Siddall said it requires a “mindset shift” rather than reflecting a “skill set conflict.”

We Need a Navigator

Finally, Siddall’s pitch for greater involvement by alliance management in digital partnerships highlighted alliance managers’ role as “navigators” of different relationships, especially their ability to help partners navigate biopharma organizations and surface differences.

Kliman said he wouldn’t argue what alliance managers should or should not do, but the fact remains that companies need to have an approach to managing these partnerships—and who will be accountable to drive alignment around executing the operating model?

“It makes good sense with a portfolio of digital relationships that alliance management has a role to play,” he said.

Check back in this space for more coverage of the 2020 ASAP BioPharma Conference, and remember that the online showcase on Vimeo gives you all the livestream sessions in real time—and later, once they’re archived, in case you missed one—as well as all the on-demand content, sponsors’ messages, and more!

Tags:  agile  alignment  alliance management  alliances  Ben Siddall  collaboration  cross-functional  Digital  internal stakeholders  Life Sciences  Partnerships  portfolio  relationships  speed execution  strategy  Stu Kliman  Vantage Partners 

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BioPharma Conference Panel “Sparks” Engaging Discussion About Innovation

Posted By Jon Lavietes, Tuesday, September 15, 2020

As alliance managers, it is sometimes easy to get bogged down in the operational and administrative parts of collaborations—structuring governance, disseminating minutes of meetings, administering health checks, and the like. However, we never want to stray from the larger goals of unlocking partnerships’ intended value and producing game-changing outcomes. The last session of day 1 of the first-ever virtual ASAP BioPharma Conference explored an area where alliance management can impact companies in powerful ways and raise the practice’s profile within the organization: driving innovation, a topic “I haven’t really seen us dive into very deep at ASAP [historically],” said Christine Carberry, CSAP, principal at Carberry Consulting.

Carberry moderated the panel “Where’s the Spark? How Alliance Leaders Can Create Innovation,” which included two representatives of small biopharma outfits as well as one from an industry blueblood:

  • Yaminah Leggett-Wells, senior director of project management at Viela Bio
  • Chandra Ramanathan, PhD, global head of pharma R&D open innovation at Bayer US
  • Liz Gazda, CEO of Embr Labs

Carberry kicked off the session by asking panelists how they create a culture of innovation and integrate that culture into the alliance management function at their companies. Gazda noted that this isn’t very hard to do at a company as small as hers— Embr Labs counts 19 employees on its payroll.

For Small Companies, Innovation Is Survival

“Innovation is survival. We are a venture-backed company, and if we don’t innovate, we die. We can’t attract investment,” she proclaimed in a steady voice that belied the gravity of the reality her company faces—and embraces. 

Gazda noted that Embr Labs goes out of its way to monitor external trends and forces that could potentially shape an alliance’s activities objectives. The company holds regular interactive discussions with allies to dissect these learnings and those from the partner’s observations of the external world. 

“That exchange of tacit information often sparks innovation along the way. The alliance becomes an evolutionary and progressive process instead of a static one,” she said.

These external observations often open up new opportunities for the company. Gazda cited an example where her team learned that a condition called dysautonomia, which affects the nervous system, plagues 40 percent of recovering COVID-19 patients. Armed with research that shows her company’s technology effectively addresses this disease, Gazda convinced scientists investigating the relationship between coronavirus and dysautonomia to include Embr Labs’s product in a clinical trial. 

Carberry called this an example of the importance of “looking beyond the day-to-day, looking beyond the contract, looking beyond your company [to gauge] what’s going on in your environment.”

Illustrating Tangible and Intangible Measures of ROI, Innovation 

Carberry then pivoted to the subject of how to measure return on investment (ROI) of collaborations. Ramanathan noted that there are multiple ways to communicate this value. The simplest metric is the more than 10 partnership-driven assets in Bayer’s pipeline.

“That talks about the ROI of what we do in a much more tangible way,” he said.

But there are other intangible manifestations of alliances’ contributions to innovation. For example, Ramanathan spoke of a past situation where Bayer and another partner combined complementary biology and chemistry expertise in order to get a molecule to clinic, something neither company could have done solo. He also talked about how Bayer influences clinical trials and medical-device initiatives, and urged listeners to think about other forms of value aside from the product innovations at the heart of alliance initiatives. 

“What is going to benefit the patients?” he said.

Blending Skill Sets to Crystallize Unseen Innovation

Carberry then picked the panelists’ brains on how to create the time and space to think beyond the immediate deliverables spelled out in the contract and ruminate deeply on innovation. Leggett-Wells credited the structure of her alliance team for enabling her to keep a regular pulse on the broader context of the collaborations for which she is responsible. She is in constant contact with product development teams from both organizations who can’t help but be buried in the day-to-day responsibilities of partnerships. 

“I have my pulse on what they’re doing and how they are interacting with various alliance partners. Through that communication, you are able to find areas where perhaps the skill sets of the two organizations can blend nicely and foster some of those innovative ideas,” she explained. “They don’t see the innovation but you as an alliance manager are able to see it because you are stepping back from that discussion.”

Leggett-Wells added that networking with other professionals in the industry, such as “what we are doing today [at the ASAP BioPharma Conference],” also provides this wider perspective.

“For us, we can never underestimate the importance of communication,” she said.

Delicate Dances, Safety Nets Free Allies to Introduce New Ideas

At that point, ASAP president and CEO Michael Leonetti took over to handle the Q&A portion of the session. First question from conference attendees: when do you introduce a new idea or approach to an alliance? Carberry spoke of the “delicate dance” alliance managers have to do at times to introduce a new concept or direction to a partner. She recommended giving a meeting an innocuous label like a “brainstorming session” and creating an environment where nobody feels they have to commit to something that isn’t in the contract.

“It’s almost like you sometimes have to put a safety net around those new-idea discussions, so that people feel free to have those conversations,” she said.

“One should not think about this after the problem becomes very obvious,” counseled Ramanathan. Bayer had a partnership that was struggling to translate its science four years into the collaboration. The partner was narrowly fixated on the science itself, but Bayer wanted to broaden the focus to the patient. The organizations both felt that a two-year extension was necessary, but it took some back-and-forth to agree on a new objective for the alliance. 

“We explained that the work we were doing necessitates focusing on different aspect of the science,” he recounted. “Finally, we agreed that, for the expansion, we would focus on a slightly different area where there’s a huge unmet need.”

It’s Never Too Early to Add an Alliance Manager to a Critical Early-Stage Initiative

Another audience member asked what the right time would be to add the alliance manager role in an early-stage innovative organization? Leggett-Wells said it depends on the complexity of the program and the importance of an alliance to the organization.

“There are times where we rely on the subject matter experts to progress activities and we don’t have a formal alliance manager assigned, but we do have some in early development where we do have an alliance manager assigned because we think that early-stage alliance can be important to the future of the organization,” she said.

Gazda said she knows from experience the value alliance managers can bring if they are involved early in contract negotiations and at the start of collaborations. The best ones ask the right questions and they understand the tenor and intent of those discussions several years into the partnership.

“I’d bring an alliance manager into the company as soon as I can afford one, and I would have that strategic alliance manager in every single business development kickoff meeting,” she said.

Conference attendees can discover the numerous other insights shared by the panelists, as all completed livestreamed 2020 ASAP BioPharma Conference sessions have been archived in the event’s portal. Also, registrants have access to six other prerecorded sessions from pharmaceutical industry experts on demand. The conference continues with more livestreamed sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday. Keep checking this blog for more updates!

Tags:  Alliance Leaders  alliance management  Bayer US  biopharma Yaminah Leggett-Wells  business development  Chandra Ramanathan  Christine Carberry  contract negotiations  driving innovation  Embr Labs  Liz Gazda  partnerships  Viela Bio 

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“A Mindset, Not a Department”: BioPharma Conference Begins with a Vision of Alliance Management Excellence

Posted By Michael J. Burke, Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Day one of the virtual 2020 ASAP BioPharma Conference featured speakers sharing a vision of alliance management in the industry: what it has been historically, what has changed due to the disruptions of COVID-19, and what it may become in the future.

ASAP president and CEO Michael Leonetti, CSAP, got the ball rolling by noting some of the changes that have occurred throughout the biopharma ecosystem, some current trends, and how much more change is already occurring—and at a rapid rate.

“As we look at what’s really important in the world, the ability to collaborate has never been more critical,” he said. “We have the tools, the people—you—and the attention of the C-suite. I know we’ll reach our objectives together.”

This view was backed up by the day’s keynote speaker, Rusty Field, president and CEO of Upsher-Smith Laboratories, LLC. In his address, “Fostering Organizational Excellence in Alliance Management: The Upsher-Smith Vision Brought to Life,” he spoke of today’s pandemic business environment, which has certainly made alliances more challenging through lack of face-to-face interactions.

“Partnerships are at a premium,” he said. “We have to operate differently.”

From a Small Muscle to an Organization-wide Mindset

Noting that in the past, “alliance management was a very small muscle in the organization,” Field said it’s been a capability that Upsher-Smith has worked very hard to flex and develop since then. The way they’ve tried to do that is by instilling processes and systems to get the most value out of their partnerships—or, as Field put it, from the CEO on down, they’ve been “actively living in the day-to-day operations and execution of our strategies. It’s a process that keeps these partnerships alive and allows success to occur. It’s an entire organizational effort.”

After Field’s introductory speech, he was joined by a virtual panel of Upsher-Smith colleagues whose roles all touch on the management of the company’s various partnerships and vendor relationships:

  • Blake Boston, manager of procurement and sourcing
  • Mike McBride, CA-AM, vice president of partner relations
  • Gary Mackinnon, ASQ CQIA, CQPA, CQA, CPGP, and CMQ/OE, director of external quality
  • Jarrod Midboe, PMP, CCRC, director of clinical affairs and vendor/alliance management

A Series of Handoffs

McBride began by showing how the company noticed many of its partnerships involved a series of “handoffs” over the course of the alliance or product life cycle—from technical alliance management in drug development to commercial alliance management, for example, or from project management to product management and launch. Upsher-Smith has thus sought to map those handoffs and put the right people in the right places to handle various alliance inflection points as they occur.

As they moved forward, McBride said, they found some signs of alliance management maturity, including:

  • Connection to company strategy
  • Processes becoming more rigorous, less ad hoc
  • People and culture aligned around the importance of key partnerships
  • Proliferation of the alliance management perspective
  • Enhanced company reputation

Like Field, McBride stressed that Upsher-Smith didn’t create an alliance management department or group, but rather sought to inculcate “an organization-wide mindset.”

“No one is forgotten,” he explained. “There’s intentionality and process around this.”

The Playbook and the Process

Jarrod Midboe talked about how the company basically wrote up an alliance management “playbook” to identify key engagement and decision points with leadership, create a consistent alliance management mindset, outline the approaches for different alliance types, socialize institutional knowledge around alliances, and define who owns which relationships and what their roles and responsibilities are. In addition, partnerships are looked at from inception through to payouts and sunsetting provisions, including revisiting the composition of the joint steering committee and identifying potential risks that may arise.

Gary Mackinnon discussed Upsher-Smith’s Supplier Performance Monitoring (SPM) program, which seeks to measure, analyze, and improve the performance of the company’s supplier relationships. Those relationships are measured on quality, procurement, and time-bound and contractual deliverables. Such metrics are used for internal discussions as well as conversations with suppliers, because the goal is not only to assess how a given supplier is doing, but also to see how Upsher-Smith might do a better job of enabling that supplier and fostering the relationship for mutual success.

Blake Boston outlined the company’s annual business review meetings, which follow Six Sigma principles to fill out a DMAIC scorecard: Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control. This was instituted because in the past, Boston said, such reviews tended to be “very reactive,” with a lack of process and frequency. So once again Upsher-Smith installed more rigorous processes that still maintained flexibility, were more proactive in approach, and included documentation and accountability.

And in terms of supply chain, Boston said, suppliers are now moving from initial resistance to seeing the benefits of the process and the questions they’re being asked, which leads to Upsher-Smith having more information about its supplier relationships and what’s working and what’s not. “More dialogue is happening and suppliers are more open to it,” he said.

All these processes and the regular meetings and discussions that have flowed from them amount to a “system” for applied alliance management at Upsher-Smith—or, as Midboe termed it, “a feedback loop for improvement” that keeps stakeholders informed and also provides “a better chance of success in future partnerships.”

That’s the muscle, and the mindset, used to manage partnerships at Upsher-Smith.

Stay tuned to this space for more posts on both the livestream presentations and on-demand sessions from this year’s first-ever virtual ASAP BioPharma Conference. And if you’ve registered for the conference, don’t forget that you can visit the showcase on Vimeo anytime and check out the on-demand content, plus any livestream sessions you may have missed.

Tags:  alliance management  BioPharma Conference  Blake Boston  Gary Mackinnon  Jarrod Midboe  Mike McBride  partners  relationships  Rusty Field  Supplier  Supplier Performance Monitoring  Upsher-Smith 

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“Ecosystems 101”: Summit Session Demystifies How to Engage in Emerging Shared Model

Posted By Jon Lavietes, Saturday, September 12, 2020

Ecosystems are the topic du jour in alliance management today, a fact that was reflected in the agenda for this year’s ASAP Global Alliance Summit. The Summit track “The Power of the Ecosystem” explored a variety of elements of this evolving partnership model, including a presentation on how to use them to acquire new customers and another that focused on novel capabilities.  Since not everyone is steeped in ecosystems basics, it was only appropriate to feature an overview of sorts on the subject—call it “Ecosystems 101,” if you will. That task was enthusiastically undertaken by Claudia Kuzma, CA-AM, managing director and global ecosystems program leader at Protiviti, and Nancy Ridge, president of Ridge Innovative, who delivered the on-demand presentation “Demystifying the Ecosystem—an Interactive Conversation.”

The presentation began with a video of Ridge standing on the rocky shore of the Pacific Ocean looking down at the variety of marine life in the tidepools around her.

“Subject to harsh environment, this ecosystem is highly competitive, and yet all of these creatures rely on each other to fulfill their purpose and thrive,” she explained, setting up an “ecological metaphor” to which she would return throughout the presentation.

The New Paradigm: Decentralized Platforms Replace Hub-and-Spoke Ecosystem Model

Of course, the “science” of alliance management is similarly accelerating the development of business ecosystems, which Kuzma illustrated with a figure from analyst firm IDC: partners that adopt ecosystem business models will grow 50 percent faster than those that eschew them. So how should executives begin wrapping their minds around the pursuit of an ecosystem play? It helps to understand that technology ecosystems themselves are undergoing a transformation of their own, from a model with a large player at the center—such as Apple and its vast network of developers, accessories, content, and end users—to a “shared model,” a “many-to-many” platform where no one company serves as a hub around which thousands of “spokes” revolve.

Ridge spoke of cloud ecosystems company Tidwit’s automated and distributed “learning and enablement” platform, in which participants join through APIs, data is kept separate and secure, and content is automatically updated and delivered intelligently to users at an optimal time. The Apple model “is very difficult to scale, and requires a lot of capital, both human and financial,” said Ridge. “This shared platform is the new paradigm.”

The pandemic is accelerating the growth of shared ecosystems. Ridge noted that the state of California connected with labs across state and local hospitals to provide drive-through COVID-19 testing. Kuzma cited the example of telemedicine, which has become indispensable in the context of self-quarantining; behind the scenes, many technological parts from different organizations are working together to enable patients to talk with a physician by simply registering and clicking a few links on a mobile device.

Total Solutions: Customer-Focused, Senior Leadership–Approved

A similar trend is taking place in the B2B world. According to Ridge, Salesforce acquired Tableau in order to enable clients to drive insights out of their data that would enable them to “expedite intelligent, connected customer experiences which, again, drove innovation and accelerated it for their users.”  

Ridge continued to hammer the point home that customers are at the center of these ecosystem models—or should be—and that satisfying their needs is often made possible through coopetition.

“Today, total solutions are delivered as managed services. Now, behind the scenes, many of those companies that used to be competitors are working together, but what the customer sees is a complete solution that is brought to them as a seamless experience.”

As she spoke over a slide that listed the building blocks of ecosystems—reaching new customers, building new products and services, enabling more efficient

business operations, educating clients, accelerating innovation, and creating awareness of specific needs—Kuzma stressed the importance of balancing the objectives of the individual company and the group and obtaining executive sponsorship of this new model. 

“That awareness and collaboration, and just showing the organization how the ecosystem contributes to the organization’s greater goals, is really important,” she said. 

Building or entering an ecosystem is easier said than done, though. According to an Accenture survey of 1,200 executives, 40 percent felt their organizations didn’t have the capacity to build out the structure, deliver the value exchange, monitor their roles in the ecosystem, and manage relationships. The biggest barriers: cybersecurity, IP protection, and structuring ecosystem governance. In fact, these were the primary obstacles to telemedicine before COVID-19 created the urgency around the service, Ridge recalled.

Darwin in the Ecosystem: Learn on the Fly, Fail Fast, and Adapt Accordingly

The presenters were setting up the larger point that companies shouldn’t shy away from entering ecosystems because of the technical complexities. Rather, they should get comfortable with learning on the fly, failing fast, and adapting their ecosystem model over time.

“There’s going to be risks and failures along the way,” said Kuzma, who added later in the presentation, “It never feels good to fail, right? But we always learn something from it. When we embrace those learnings and we advance forward that’s when we begin to see those roots of innovation.”

“Adaptive programs are going to be so important. Folks are going to have to build programs that can adjust over time, but also dynamically,” said Ridge. “Not all species survive, but the ones who do have that adaptive, responsive mindset.”

How do you go about selecting ecosystem partners? First, identify the market opportunity—the customer need that has yet to be filled. From there, align with the dominant player in that space, “the core player [that] can really set the pace, driving innovation and pushing the rest of the participants to coevolve and stay relevant,” advised Ridge. From there, you can start to layer infrastructure providers and service delivery partners that will build out the end-user experience.

A Rising Tide Delivers Growth, If Not Comfort

Keep in mind that the more diverse the set of players in your ecosystem, the faster you will churn out novel solutions.

“The more diverse your perspective, the greater your innovation is going to be and the broader the market that you are likely to engage with. Unlike the old models where companies used to operate as competitors in their separate silos, today the new environment disregards that competition in favor of contribution and collaboration, meeting the needs of end user,” said Ridge. “A rising tide raises all boats.”

Kuzma then laid out a roadmap for assembling an ecosystem strategy ordered in the following steps:

  • Awareness – How are your customers accessing your products and services?
  • Landscape – Who are you working with today?
  • Strategy – Based on your strategic drivers, whom should you partner with?
  • Framework – Develop KPIs, policies, procedures, communication, and change management.
  • Align – Are your partners in position to deliver on your goals and the customers’ needs?
  • Source – Add talent and technology that aligns with business objectives.
  • Innovate – Enhance the customer experience—what needs to change?
  • Optimize – “The sky is the limit,” said Kuzma.

In making this journey, Ridge urged senior leaders to prioritize innovation and engage stakeholders in sales, marketing, finance, legal, and other parts of the business “to lay out that roadmap first internally under that leadership guidance to reach beyond the enterprise to the market at large.” She added that you may not have to recreate the wheel—an ecosystem might already exist that is right for your organization and accepting new members.

Ridge closed by echoing Kuzma’s endorsement of the “fail-fast” mentality.

“There’s no growth in the comfort zone and no comfort in the growth zone,” she said.

Find out how Protiviti’s 2020 ASAP Alliance Excellence Award–winning “i on Hunger” program exemplifies how ecosystems can not only deliver great customer experiences but also change the world, in the estimation of both presenters.

(For the full story of i on Hunger and the other ASAP Alliance Excellence Award winners, don’t miss “Paragons of Excellence” in the Q3 2020 Strategic Alliance Magazine, coming to inboxes and mailboxes soon. The Q3 edition will also have a “Focus on Ecosystems,” which will consist of three articles on this business model that is fostering digital transformation and evolving the alliance management discipline.)

Tags:  alliance excellence awards  alliance management  Claudia Kuzma  Ecosystems  I on hunger  innovation  Nancy Ridge  partnership model  Protiviti  Ridge Innovative  stakeholders  Tidwit 

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The Road to Alliance Excellence: Upsher-Smith’s Journey

Posted By Michael J. Burke, Thursday, September 10, 2020

When a company relies heavily on partners and partnering for its success, it’s natural to assume some sort of “intelligent design”—i.e., that an intentional, coherent plan or program has been or is being put in place to promote and maintain alliance management and further that company’s strategic objectives via partnering. But what should such a program look like? How do you get an initiative like that off the ground? And how do you achieve executive buy-in to ensure that the alliance management program is nurtured and supported, rather than left orphaned and floundering?

These and other questions will form the subject of a keynote presentation by Rusty Field, president and CEO of Upsher-Smith Laboratories, LLC, called “Fostering Organizational Excellence in Alliance Management: The Upsher-Smith Vision Brought to Life,” at this month’s first-ever virtual ASAP BioPharma Conference, to be held September 14–16, 2020. His address will take place on the first morning of the conference and will be immediately followed by a panel discussion with some of Field’s Upsher-Smith colleagues involved in alliance management.

Upsher-Smith is a midsize pharma company based in Maple Grove, Minn., part of Japan-based Sawai Pharmaceutical. Its products include both generic and branded medications used to treat seizures, migraines, and other conditions. Like other companies of its size—and many throughout the biopharma ecosystem—Upsher-Smith more than gets by with a little help from its friends. In fact it depends on “the strength, depth, and daily execution of partnerships” to fulfill its goals, according to its website.

C-Suite Support of Alliances: “There Is No Other Way”

So what’s the formula? How does such an organization operate its alliances at a high level and achieve its objectives?

“Operational excellence in alliance management begins with the creation of strong working relationships with all of our partners, at every level of the organization,” Field explained. “From the start, leadership and team members need to understand and be sensitive to different work cultures and ways of doing work while at the same time developing a road map to leverage these differences to create new synergies. Measurably strong, collaboratively driven relationships ensure that we have the trust, transparency, and shared commitment required to achieve short- and long-term goals.”

In order to make that happen, getting senior executive buy-in and backing is a must, Field acknowledged.

“An organization-wide alliance management initiative absolutely requires the support of C-suite members in order to flourish,” he said. “There is no other way. As president and CEO, I believe that providing support to our executive team is critical, so that they will feel empowered to establish and grow a company-wide commitment to creating and capitalizing on synergies with key partners.”

The Appropriate People with the Appropriate Mindset

Alliances, of course, can look different depending on what type of partnership we’re talking about and what the objectives are. As they say, if you’ve seen one alliance, you’ve seen one alliance. In biopharma this diversity can include research and development, quality assurance, supply chain or manufacturing alliances, commercialization alliances, and more. So how does a company—or does a company—establish a uniform alliance management program that cuts across different functions and types of alliances?

“Every function in our organization stands to benefit from the principles of alliance management, including our commercial, technical, and supply chain areas,” Field said. “That’s why Upsher-Smith didn’t establish a new department for alliance management. Our approach instead involves creating and nurturing an organization-wide mindset that ensures the appropriate involvement of the appropriate people at the appropriate stages within the initiation, development, and commercialization phases of our alliances. The particulars of how this plays out may vary, but the underlying principles remain the same.”

The Collaborative Journey and the Road Ahead

As most alliance professionals know, the road to alliance management excellence and the solid and successful establishment of such a collaborative mindset can be a long one, full of detours and speed bumps along the way. But Field feels confident that he and Upsher-Smith are on the right path in their alliance management journey.

“It truly is a journey, and we are always building upon our experience and key learnings,” he said. “I am extremely proud of how committed our team is to the alliance management initiative, and how it has become a part of the culture here at Upsher-Smith. Going forward, our mission will be to continue to strengthen our global partnerships and to optimize programs critical to the company’s growth.”

As noted, immediately following Field’s presentation will be a panel discussion featuring Field and four of his Upsher-Smith colleagues:

  • Blake Boston, manager of procurement and sourcing
  • Mike McBride, CA-AM, vice president of partner relations
  • Gary Mackinnon, ASQ CQIA, CQPA, CQA, CPGP, and CMQ/OE, director of external quality
  • Jarrod Midboe, PMP, CCRC, director of clinical affairs and vendor/alliance management

If you haven’t already, be sure to register for the 2020 ASAP BioPharma Conference, Sept. 14–16. Registration entitles you to view any and all of the three days of livestream programming as they occur, as well as the half dozen on-demand sessions at any time. This year, our Virtual Coffee Cafés, Virtual Hallway Discussions, and Conference Roundtable Discussions promise to make the conference as interactive as it can be short of an in-person event. So we’ll see you there!

Tags:  Alliance Management  Blake Boston  procurement  Rusty Field  sourcing  Upsher-Smith Laboratories 

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