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We Can’t Afford “Business as Usual”: Rethinking and Reimagining Alliance Management in the Age of COVID-19

Posted By Michael J. Burke, Friday, September 25, 2020

“It’s clear that over the last eight, nine months things have changed significantly. There really is no going back. The status quo is no more. Everything that has been done in the past can, and in many instances must, be rethought.”

That was the sobering pronouncement by Jeff Shuman, CSAP, PhD, at the outset of the presentation “The Silver Lining: Reimagining Alliance Management to Focus on What Matters Most Now,” on day one of the first-ever virtual 2020 ASAP BioPharma Conference, just concluded. Shuman and his copresenter, Jan Twombly, CSAP, are the principals of The Rhythm of Business, and both they and their keen insights into alliance management are quite familiar to the ASAP member community.

Shuman was referencing the many changes wrought by COVID-19—but according to Twombly, the healthcare ecosystem was being transformed already, before the pandemic, and this process has continued and even accelerated. It’s largely a combination of three factors, she noted:

  • New technologies: including platform therapies, artificial intelligence (AI), and the Internet of Things (IoT)
  • Shifting economics: more value- or outcomes-based models, changes in government and payer reimbursement policies creating pricing pressures, and a shift in focus from treatment to prevention and cure
  • Empowered patients: reflected in greater consumer experience expectations, the rise of mobile technologies, and the ups and downs of public perceptions of the biopharma industry

In addition, new business models have been emerging due to all of the above factors, plus a declining return on investment in research. These models, according to Twombly, tend to be more patient outcomes focused, more predictable, at lower cost and higher volumes, and—similar to tech industry initiatives—easier to terminate or iterate early (which applies to both programs and partnerships).

“At every step of the way, we see that it is a significantly partnered model that has emerged,” Twombly said.

A Silver Linings Playbook of Coping Strategies

This represents an opportunity and part of the “silver lining” for those like Twombly and Shuman who believe that partnering is a key route to innovation and better patient outcomes, but there remains a thorny problem: resources. More to the point, the lack thereof for alliance management. Limited resources can result in alliances that are essentially “unmanaged,” or managed by people who have no experience in the role, and adds significant risk and potentially lost value to the equation as actual alliance managers are overwhelmed and forced to develop various “coping strategies,” including becoming reactive rather than proactive in their activities.

“If you’ve got 10 or 15 alliances that you’re managing, you can’t possibly have your finger on the pulse of the alliance,” Twombly said, before putting out polling questions online to the audience to canvass their experience of unmanaged alliances, alliance managers having to be reactive, and the like.

“Across the board there are challenges,” she summarized, as these unhappy conditions seemed to resonate with much of the audience given the poll results that were appearing in real time. And now such issues have become magnified as the number of partnerships—and new partner types—focused on tackling COVID-19 alone has multiplied, and at speed.

“New Urgency” to Reimagine Alliance Management Practices

Given these developments and the economic and societal uncertainties that accompany them, “It really becomes clear,” Shuman said, “that there is a new urgency to rethink how alliance management is done and by whom. When you throw COVID-19 on top of already busy schedules, it’s really time to reimagine alliance management.”

So how do we do that rethinking and reimagining? First we have to understand the big picture of our organization’s alliances, Shuman said. What is the portfolio? What alliance management services are required for the various alliances? And what resources are available to them?

“In 20 years of being involved with ASAP, one of the refrains we hear all the time is, ‘We don’t have enough resources,’” Shuman said. “That’s a real challenge.”

To meet that challenge, Shuman and Twombly said, alliance managers need to apply agility to their alliance practice. Not exactly software agility, but agile principles: what matters most now. There are various elements of this process, but the overarching one is to focus on the North Star: “What is it we’re really trying to do?” Shuman explained.

Three key areas Shuman highlighted in this regard were resourcing the alliance portfolio, increasing the agility of alliance management practices, and adapting the alliance management organization to these new requirements. “By this time we know what works and what doesn’t, and what we want to do is take time out of the process. With all the pressure worldwide to develop a [coronavirus] vaccine, there’s bound to be myriad changes to the processes we have always used, to do a faster job of getting to that North Star,” he said.

Journey Through the Front Door

Resourcing decisions need to be part of a coherent and transparent governance process, according to Twombly, “across the board.” The profile of a given alliance then dictates what services are needed. “We call this a front-door process—part of the stable backbone, and collaborative leadership process, that any alliance requires,” she said.

Alliances can thus be segmented into complex, typical, and simple. A “simple” alliance might be a research alliance that doesn’t need a lot of management per se, but can be overseen by project managers. More complex alliances with many moving parts and requirements might then get the lion’s share of attention from more experienced alliance managers and leaders. Twombly recommended applying expertise and alliance management focus to each segment as needed, and having a standard way to resource each segment.

The bottom line? “We have to do things differently and smarter,” Twombly explained. She also referenced the first day’s keynote and panel led by CEO Rusty Field of Upsher-Smith and his colleagues, which described alliance management as a “mindset” rather than merely a group or department.

“Partnering is an organization-wide initiative, not just for the alliance management team,” Twombly elaborated. The key is for alliance professionals to work to engage the rest of the organization and get them involved. “No doubt about it—it’s a journey,” Twombly added.

There’s No Going Back

So what are the steps toward reimagining alliance management? Shuman outlined five:

  • Define your destination, i.e., your North Star
  • Build a “destination back to the present” plan and work backwards from that goal
  • Determine the first steps that will have an impact
  • Enroll a small number of stakeholders who are champions for change
  • Grab the license you have now to fix what’s broken, improve what’s inefficient—and own it!

Alliance management must be rethought and reimagined because the older processes within organizations—and not only for alliance management—were created for “what used to be normal,” Shuman concluded. “We’re never going back there to the way business was done. We’re going to go to the next normal. So stick with it. Make it happen. The one thing you don’t want to do is continue with business as usual.”

Tags:  alliance  Alliance Management  collaborative leadership  governance process  Jan Twombly  Jeff Shuman  Rusty Field  The Rhythm of Business  Upsher-Smith 

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Mashup or Culture Clash? When Biopharma and IT Meet Up in Digital Health Alliances

Posted By Jon Lavietes, Monday, August 3, 2020

It’s generally accepted that the alliance management profession is entrenched in IT and biopharma more deeply than in other industries. In these vertical markets, no business can sustain significant growth without developing an alliance practice and a deep portfolio of partnerships. No one company could develop a full stack of hardware, software, and cloud services on its own and still keep pace with the blisteringly fast tech sector, nor could a single pharmaceutical entity complete the entire drug life cycle solo for an entire portfolio of drug candidates.

Yet for many years these industries have operated largely in separate spheres based partly upon vastly different alliance principles. This is starting to change with the advent of digital health, an umbrella term that encompasses a variety of initiatives that utilize digital technologies to advance and streamline patient care in the form of preventive treatment, hyperpersonalized medicine, more accurate drug discovery, and a more efficient patient-provider relationship, among other applications. (See “Digital Health at the Crossroads,” Strategic Alliance Quarterly, Q4 2019, for more on this rapidly expanding area.)

Suddenly, cross-industry alliances are popping up everywhere, from GE Healthcare’s Edison intelligence platform (see “It’s the Data—and a Lot More,” Strategic Alliance Quarterly, Q1 2020), to the alliance between AstraZeneca and Flex spinoff BrightInsight, to the myriad data-driven pharma collaborations hard at work today. Now, Big Pharma, biotechs, and academic medical researchers are increasingly mingling with tech-industry startups, midsize companies, and Global 1,000 enterprises, necessitating the coalescence of these two alliance cultures.

Mind the Gaps

In their on-demand 2020 ASAP Global Alliance Summit session “The Alliance Management Mashup: Bridging a Digital Divide,” the proprietors of alliance management consultancy The Rhythm of Business laid out a common alliance framework that would help digital health partners on both sides better understand each other and function together more successfully.

Or course, to close gaps, you must first identify them. According to Jeff Shuman, CSAP, PhD, principal at The Rhythm of Business, the most glaring of these disparities is the timeline in which these industries innovate and bring solutions to market. In tech, companies develop products iteratively through agile processes in order to bring offerings to market in the tightest of windows—the “next big thing” can become yesterday’s news in a hurry. By contrast, it can take up to a decade to commercialize a therapy thanks to a stricter regulatory climate and pharma’s more methodical drug-development processes, although Shuman noted that today’s exceptional circumstances have led to some COVID-19 research being conducted in an “accelerated manner” using iterative techniques.

“‘Move fast and break things.’ That may help promote innovation, but it’s not a good principle when people’s health and lives are at stake,” said Shuman, referencing the famous operating philosophy Mark Zuckerberg used to take Facebook to stratospheric heights. Not a great recipe for pharma, to say the least.

Tech and biopharma differ in many other ways as well. Generally speaking, tech is solution-centric while the pharma market revolves around products. Tech solutions are code-driven, while pharmaceutical offerings involve complex manufacturing processes that are “highly customized for each drug and drug formulation, often requiring a dedicated cold chain to get from factory to patient,” said Shuman.

Technology products are peddled in large part through channel sales and collaborative selling efforts, while pharmaceutical firms spend lots of resources comarketing and copromoting joint products. Tech companies—particularly software vendors—can sell and distribute products through distributors, resellers, and system integrators,  or by “white labeling” their products­ via OEM agreements. Patients buy drugs from pharmacies, while pharma companies often rely on combination therapies. Where new subscription-based business models are predicated on the “land, adopt, expand, and renew” approach, pharma’s product-based life cycle management is usually expressed in the form of “new indications and new formulations.”

Disparities Extend to IT, Pharma Alliance Practices

Alliance portfolios, partnerships, and alliance manager roles look much different in these industries as well. Pharma alliances are negotiated individually and often underpinned by detailed long-term contracts with multiple subagreements, while tech partnerships can often be grouped along a particular area of focus and covered by blanket contract terms that apply to an entire partner program. Today, technology companies partner on platforms around common APIs, while pharma companies license individual assets. The pharmaceutical industry banks on partnerships at all stages of the drug-development life cycle, from research to commercialization, while tech usually partners when it is time to go to market.

Just about everything a tech alliance manager does is in the name of driving revenue—in fact, alliance practices are expected to generate new streams. Although revenue generation is a major imperative to pharma alliance managers, it is secondary to risk mitigation and maximizing the value of joint assets; pharma managers spend more time monitoring contract compliance—determining when amendments or entirely new agreements are necessary—than their tech counterparts do.

Tech alliance managers must earn the commitment of partner resources, while pharma contracts usually spell out resource obligations. Instead, biopharma alliance managers focus their energy on giving higher-ups “all the data they need to make smart decisions,” according to Shuman. Given the distributed nature of tech alliance management, the alliance division must actively engage field sales to get salespeople to actively shop an alliance solution. In biopharma, the field “doesn’t have choice,” in Shuman’s words.

Reconcilable Differences

How do you actually reconcile these differences? Jan Twombly, CSAP, The Rhythm of Business’s president, illustrated the answer with an anonymous case study where a Big Pharma corporation and a technology outfit leveraged the latter’s IoT platform to codevelop apps and medical devices and collect real-world evidence (RWE) from patients that would ultimately enable highly personalized care. Their business model rested on software subscriptions paid for by the biopharma entity to the tech company, which is “different from what biopharma companies are used to,” said Twombly. A collaborative framework was established in several key areas—the two organizations settled on joint development, cocommercialization, and revenue sharing arrangements. However, the pharma company was tasked with deciding what it wanted in the device, what the device would do, and what outcomes it would produce, while the tech company determined how to take the platform itself to market.

On a broader level, the companies needed to align on the intended outcomes, regulatory pathway, decision-making processes, and go-to-market messaging. This turns out to be easier said than done. Pharmaceutical companies are used to applying software to internal processes but not to product development, nor are they well versed in working with tech companies in a true vendor-relationship capacity. On a practical level, IT and pharma alliance managers have drastically different titles and functions.

“It may be challenging to engage in stakeholder mapping and getting the right people in the meetings,” said Twombly.

Extensive regulatory-, safety-, and quality-related processes are new to tech, which forced the IoT vendor in this case to rely on the pharmaceutical company’s expertise.

“[Pharmaceutical companies] should be in the lead when it comes to determining what the regulatory pathways are going to be,” said Twombly.

Lighter and Leaner Governance, Stronger Champions, and More Listening

Both entities needed to reimagine the governance process and the role of their joint steering committee (JSC).

“Governance-through-committee doesn’t work all that well in a lean tech company,” said Twombly, before noting that this presented an opportunity for the biopharma alliance managers to try on a lighter, “more agile” governance where teams met more frequently but for less time.

Governance is especially important in ensuring transparent decision making; it may require especially rigorous stakeholder management and a different decision hierarchy from what either side might be used to. In particular, the parties must devise a governance structure that helps partners align on evidence standards so that the tech company can produce data that will “pave that [regulatory] pathway” to meet the biopharma entity’s standard.

Senior leadership champions are especially important in getting stakeholders to understand the value of digital health partnerships and engage in the new modus operandi required for their execution. To foster collaboration, Twombly spoke of “listening to understand,” a process that involves creating a “common language with shared meaning” that helps leverage each party’s strengths. 

Follow the North Star—and Respect Culture’s Hearty Appetite

Twombly urged partners to boil down their discussion of desired outcomes to three points: 1) Align on a North Star—“know what it is that you are trying to produce, know what the outcome is that you want from this partnership, and keep everybody focused on achieving it”; 2) Agree to milestones and metrics; and 3) Make status against plans visible to all.

Twombly also reminded the audience of the old saying that “culture eats strategy for lunch.” To remedy cultural differences, she recommended that tech alliance pros assume the best of intentions on the part of their biopharma counterparts and speak up and provide alternatives when something won’t work in their environment. On the flip side, pharma companies need to explain their world, with visual aids showing how their organizations work, wherever possible. As with all alliances, everyone must celebrate successes and learn from mistakes.  

Twombly closed with a series of “tips and traps.” For the former, she outlined the following:

  1. Take time to understand how each partner innovates, goes to market, and what partnership looks like to them.
  2. Understand your counterpart’s focus, job, and core responsibilities.
  3. Use the alliance management foundation to decide how to bridge differences—the toolsets provided by ASAP “give you a common baseline which you can work from.”

The three traps to avoid?

  1. Allowing stakeholders to think that a digital health partnership is like all the others—“you’re really going to have to adapt new behaviors and ways of looking at things” because the status quo will not suffice, warned Twombly.
  2. Make sure each side appreciates and leverages what the other brings to the alliance.
  3. Don’t fail to champion your partner and partnership.

Above all, Twombly exhorted companies on both sides to recognize the high stakes and the game-changing potential of these collaborations.

“The promise for digital health is significant for both technology and biopharma companies, never mind the patients,” she said. “Allow these new therapies, applications, and ways of developing drugs to thrive.”

If you registered for the 2020 ASAP Global Alliance Summit, don’t miss out on the bounty of career- and partnership-boosting tips and tricks from some of the profession’s most senior practitioners. The three days of live Summit sessions, plus more than a dozen prerecorded presentations, are available to you on demand until Aug. 18. Log on to the Summit portal soon to access them before they’re gone! 

Tags:  Alignment  alliance practice  alliance principles  Biopharma  biotechs  cloud services  cross-industry alliances  Digital Health  digital technologies  drug candidate  Jan Twombly  Jeff Shuman  metrics  milestones  North Star  partners  partnerships  pharmaceutical  software  The Rhythm of Business 

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Closing the C-Suite's Collaboration Gap

Posted By Contributed by Jan Twombly, CSAP & Jeff Shuman, CSAP, PhD | The Rhythm of Business, Thursday, January 24, 2019

Earlier this month, we presented and recorded a webinar to expand upon our mini e-book that we wrote together with our partner Alliancesphere, Own Your Transformation: A Five-Point Agenda for Creating Your Organization’s Collaborative Leadership System. The key message of the presentation is to urge alliance professionals to take charge of closing the gap between the happy talk about the importance of partnering and the actual ability of organizations to collaborate and partner well in a digital world.

Yes, this is our soap box and it has been for many years. The difference today is all the data reporting C-Suite executives really do believe partnering is important and a core pillar of their growth and transformation strategies. They also think their organizations collaborate and partner effectively. Their employees disagree. Take a look at some data from a recent Capgemini study.[1]   

We’ve witnessed this gap in our work for years and years. For example, in a recent project assessing the current state of an alliance management practice and charting a course for its future, a senior executive told us how important alliances were to the future of the business. We then interviewed one of his senior people ostensibly responsible for an important partner. He told us he’d had only a one-hour call to familiarize himself with the role of an alliance director. No surprise, he didn’t think this was sufficient to allow him to be successful in the role. This may be an extreme case, but it illustrates the gap that exists between the belief that alliances and partnering are critical for growth and the failure to recognize that a system of collaborative leadership must become part of the organization’s culture and operating norms. It is an Achille’s heel of business transformation.

Here’s another example: A company that is remaking themselves to focus strictly on downstream go-to-market activities has outsourced all upstream research and development capabilities except project management to oversee the outsourced service providers. Outsourcing a capability is not about managing a series of projects. It is engaging with third parties to build collaborative relationships that leverage the resources of each party for mutual benefit—to achieve a synergistic relationship where 1+1>3. In other words, the reason for—the essence of— partnership.  

During the webinar, we discussed our five-point agenda for creating a collaborative leadership system that starts with owning your own transformation. You can’t expect to drive change in your organization without demonstrating how you’re changing. Every alliance professional has something in their job description and potentially in their goals and accountabilities, to “create an environment for collaboration with alliance partners,” or something similar. Specifically executing on this piece of the job has always taken a back seat to immediate revenue generation or ensuring a co-development project happens smoothly. No longer. Today—when partnering everywhere in an organization is the recipe for growth—creating that environment becomes an essential part of the job. The collaborative leadership system—the mechanism through which leadership is exercised—is what enables it.

Closing the gap between the partnering and collaboration capability CEOs think their companies have and what they actually have is essential to the digital business transformation powering growth for legacy companies and a core capability for entrepreneurial ventures. Alliance professionals are typically part of the powerful middle of the organization—the Rosetta Stone of the organization—translating senior leadership directives into operational objectives and understanding from the field and other customer-facing personnel the successes and challenges at an execution level, scaling or adjusting accordingly.  Who other than alliance professionals should be leading the charge to close the gap between what CEOs think about their organization’s ability to collaborate and the reality?

[1] Capgemini Digital Transformation Institute, “The Digital Culture Challenge: Closing the Employee-Leadership Gap,” 2018 

Tags:  alliance management  collaboration  collaborative leadership system  digital culture  digital transformation  Jan Twombly  Jeff Shuman  partnering  The Rhythm of Business 

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Twombly & Shuman’s Next Generation Partnering Capability Workshop to Explore How to ‘Think Horizontal: Reimagining Partnering Practices’

Posted By Genevieve Fraser, Tuesday, February 28, 2017
Updated: Monday, February 27, 2017

Ecosystem partnerships everywhere are confronting the brave new world of the fourth industrial revolution. Join the discussion at the 2017 ASAP Global Alliance Summit, “Profit, Innovation, and Value for the Part­nering Enterprise,” Feb. 28-March 2 at the San Diego Marriott Mission Valley, San Diego, California USA, to explore the transformational landscapes emerging on the horizon.

In their interactive presentation Think Horizontal: Reimagining Partnering Practices as Digital Business Transformation Becomes Reality,” Jan Twombly, CSAP, and Jeff Shuman, CSAP, PhD, principals of The Rhythm of Business, reimagine the alliance governance process and introduce an approach common in design thinking to move from where you are today to where you need to be. The session is based, in part, on their recently published eBook, The Power to Partner Everywhere: Why You Need It, What It Is, How to Build It, which was also written by Lorin Coles, CSAP, Alliancesphere.

 “The new challenge for companies is to master the speed, scale, and scope of partnering in the fourth industrial revolution, but many are not prepared, according to Jeff Shuman. “Though technologies of this new eraarti­ficial intelligence, robotics, biotechnology, nanotechnology, the Internet of Things, to name a fewmay be utilized, companies need to reimagine how they do business. To be effective, alliances need to develop a strategic way of working both externally and internally.”  

“Most people think vertically, but the key is to also think horizontally, thus creating a holistic perspective. They need to reimagine partnershipreimagine a new way of partneringbut not just the technology that will inform the change. The governance structure is the horizontal that stretches across the entire organization and allows collaborative interactions in a frictionless manner,” Shuman emphasizes.

“Collaboration is key if an organization is to gain access to currencies each party brings to a relationship. By creating an overarching governance process, you provide the mechanisms that allow partnering activity to flow freely. But to effect that, there’s a need for a cross-functional, interlocking process. It’s imperative to build a system of governance that goes horizontally acrossfrom ideation all the way to go-to-marketa partnership development and execution process that moves seamlessly, frictionlessly from function to function to enablement in the field,” he says.

Designing and building this capability is an iterative, data-driven process that will reshape an organization and how it empowers employees to engage in the ecosystem, creating value for customers, partners, and stakeholders.  The Think Horizontal: Reimagining Partnering Practices” session is designed to help identify and articulate the challenges a company faces in transforming its partnering practices to the horizontal approach needed to support the speed, scale, and scope of partnering required today.  

Tags:  artificialintelligence  biotechnology  Jan Twombly  Jeff Shuman  nanotechnology  partnering  robotics  the Internet of Things 

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ASAP New England Chapter Holds Well-Attended, Practical Meeting on Alliance Management Skills and Competencies

Posted By Cynthia B. Hanson, Tuesday, February 21, 2017
Updated: Monday, February 20, 2017

Neither snowstorm, nor sleet, nor freezing temps can keep Jeffrey Shuman, PhD, CSAP, principal at The Rhythm of Business, from a New England ASAP Chapter meeting. And apparently, it couldn’t keep four other panelists and about 40 attendees from the discussion on “Alliance Management as a ProfessionSkills, Competencies,” at the Charles River Accelerator and Development Lab in Cambridge, Mass., on Jan. 31.  

The panel talked about the basic alliance management foundational skills recognized by recruiters, career paths, adapting to the evolving ecosystem, soft skills that are key to performing the job, and other related topics in a dynamic, one-hour meeting. In addition to Shuman, who moderated the discussion and is also professor of management at Bentley University, the panel members included ASAP’s own President and CEO Michael Leonetti, CSAP; Marc Silber, founder and president of Crossover Consulting Group, a life sciences headhunting and recruiting agency; Mark Coflin, CSAP, head of alliance management, corporate planning & program management, Shire; Michelle Gardner, business development executive, cloud service providers, at IBM, who arranged the practical meeting.

The complexity of multi-industry, multi-partner alliances with a global reach has made alliance management training skills increasingly important. “Not everybody needs to be an alliance manager, but it’s our view that everybody increasingly needs to have some alliance management skills because alliance capability needs to extend to the perimeter, to the edge of the organization,” Shuman says. For example, scientists increasingly are working with other scientists in other organizations on tech solutions or drugs, whereas previously, most of the innovation was done internally. “What we see happening is folks in those areas are coming to their alliance folks and asking for advice,” he explains. “More people are interacting in these collaborations, and they really need some understanding of the skills and toolset.”

“Given that the speed, scale, and scope of partnering has increased, companies can’t afford to build an alliance management group that can manage all of the different parts of their business. When partnering with external entities, many people need a better understanding of the skills and tools.”

Among the topics that surfaced from the discussion were:

  • How to progress to an alliance management role from another area of the company
  •  Areas alliance managers are recruited from
  •  The various career paths and roles alliance managers can move into
  • Ecosystems, multi-party networks, hub-and-spoke models, and two-party relationships
  • The differences between being an alliance manager in biopharma/pharma and high tech

The topics likely will resurface in various sessions at the 2017 ASAP Global Alliance Summit, “Profit, Innovation, and Value for the Part­nering Enterprise,” held Feb. 28-March 2 at the San Diego Marriott Mission Valley, San Diego, California. Some of these topics also appear in a newly released ebook “The Power To Partner Everywhere: Why You Need It, What It Is, How To Build It,” by The Rhythm of Business Principals Jan Twombly, CSAP, Shuman, and Lorin Coles, CSAP, co-founder and CEO of Alliancesphere, LLC. Their two companies joined forces to form the SMART Partnering Alliance.  For a copy of the ebook, go to http://rhythmofbusiness.com/.

Tags:  alliance management  alliance manager  biopharma  career path  ecosystem  high tech  Innovation  Jeff Shuman  Marc Silber  Mark Coflin  Michelle Gardner  multi-industry  multi-partner alliances  partnering  Partnering Enterprise  pharma  Profit  SMART Partnering Alliance  The Rhythm of Business  tools  training skills 

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