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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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Undivided Attention: The BMS-Concerto Story

Posted By Michael J. Burke, Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Nontraditional alliances took center stage (literally) yet again today as the opening session at the ASAP BioPharma Conference 2019 got under way in Boston. Titled “Building Value in Non-Traditional Pharma/Biotech Partnerships: BMS and Concerto Health AI,” the session was moderated by Stu Kliman, Partner at Vantage Partners, and featured David Anstatt, Executive Director of the Center for Observational Research and Data Sciences at Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Jeff Elton, CEO of Concerto Health AI.

            The big pharma company and the oncology data, platform and artificial intelligence start-up have formed a unique partnership—or in Kliman’s words “a super-cool, super-impactful, super-important alliance”—that may well be a harbinger of things to come, not only in terms of linking a large pharma company with drug-related and commercial expertise to a technology company with data-crunching capabilities, but also in terms of the closeness and “intimacy” of the partnership, with its necessary higher-than-average levels of trust and transparency.

            According to Elton, Concerto’s mission is to “think about unsolved problems in oncology” and then to acquire, integrate, and engineer real-world data in order to solve those problems for the benefit of patients. Anstatt described Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) as “a conservative company interested in agility”—characteristics which led it to look for agile partners with unique data and platform capabilities that BMS could leverage to drive analytics and insights across R&D, and eventually Commercial and Manufacturing.

            While it wasn’t clear from the outset where the agreement would eventually land, the two companies ultimately created a tight-knit relationship and working together model built around integrated working teams, “early and often” iteration, and highly collaborative co-development. “We have plenty of relationships where you throw it over the wall and [you get] what you get,” said Anstatt. “This [isn’t] that kind of relationship.”

            Both stressed that each company has its own specific interests and objectives within and outside the partnership—and are also committed to making the partnership work for both companies. In other words, they started with a philosophy and indeed created a contractual structure where there is literally “no out.” Or as Elton said, “I don’t have exit provisions.” The implication is that when problems arise, they will quickly be put on the table for discussion and jointly addressed. This generates unusual frankness and directness in communication, and by extension a “super high degree of alignment,” according to Elton.

            It also means that when, for example, the contractual minimum has been delivered but more is needed to solve the target business objective, team members from both companies remain focused on driving things forward.

            “We want more heads looking at it, more experts,” said Anstatt. “It has challenged our organization to do things differently.”

            So what could have been merely a vendor-customer type of transactional relationship became a means by which both parties have worked to innovate, with BMS getting the “best of” Concerto’s thinking and expertise and working with this rather unique partner to build something and develop things in an exploratory way.

Additionally, as part of their dedication to making this work, both firms are supported by Vantage Partners, which serves in a “Strategic PMO” role—developing and managing a project plan with a laser focus on value, surfacing and proactively addressing key challenges, issues and risks, and enhancing collaboration at all levels.

            As Kliman noted, like all alliances, nontraditional collaborations can fail if they are not launched in the right way—with teams aligned not just on deliverables but also “what’s the business value and what will it entail to actually deliver it?” The two parties must understand each other’s sometimes differing objectives and thus what’s driving their behaviors, and must also institute a leadership model that goes beyond governance, is focused on effective change management, and allows for continual “co-creation in an iterative kind of way.”

            Finally, Elton observed that the business terms of this alliance were rigorously grounded in business objectives; with business unit leaders highly engaged in the process and Business Development, Alliance Management, and key other groups also frequently consulted. This model may quickly become more common in the life sciences space, as he noted—and that should make for more products and solutions that enhance patient health outcomes. 

Tags:  alliances  Bristol-Myers Squibb  Concerto Health AI  David Anstatt  Jeff Elton  nontraditional collaborations  strategic PMO  Stu Kliman  transactional relationship  Vantage Partners  vendor-customer 

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The Rugged Biopharma/Tech Topography—What Alliance Managers Need to Know (Part 2)

Posted By Cynthia B. Hanson, Wednesday, October 24, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, October 23, 2018

This extremely well-organized session, “Non-traditional Partnerships:  The Changing BioPharma Alliance Landscape and the Implications for the Alliance Professional and Alliance Management Community” held by Stu Kliman and Ben Siddall of Cambridge-based Vantage Partners, started off by outlining the multiple challenges the biopharma industry faces today, many of which are financial. One major solution to those challenges lies in building more relationships across the lifecycle, specifically with tech, the pair pointed out. They described the complex ecosystem of partnerships that are emerging today and how to determine if it’s right for your company to jump into the trend and/or continue to engage in multi-partner collaborations. Also on the docket was a discussion on effective partnering, which requires the capability to make good choices and the ability to execute.

All major biopharma companies are following the route of building a greater partnering base, they explained. Some of the deals are very large—in the hundreds of millions. Some involve very big players that are exploring and investing in the digital health tech space, such as Apple and IBM. Some are much smaller, or combine large and small companies. No matter the size of the companies involved, when entering the field, “You need to be purposeful and execute quickly,” explained Siddall.

And you need to consider “What makes relationships work—what are the leverage points?” added Kliman.  “As we think about this new landscape of partnering, we are already seeing our clients making mistakes.”

One of the really important areas where companies are struggling in this ecosystem is the process of thinking through whether they should be partnering at all. “Should we just have a vendor relationship? What does partnership mean? Through what process are we making that decision? Where does partnering make sense?” said Kliman, ticking off the kinds of questions that naturally emerge.

“To achieve maximum value, biopharmas must select the right partners to address specific needs and manage these relationships in a way that acknowledges these differences,” Kliman emphasizes. It’s very important in the process to consider the differences between pharma and tech, he said, while flashing a slide.

The pharma cycle has:

  • High levels of regulation
  • Very long (five-plus years) “product” development
  • Management and investors familiar with longer development
  • Purposeful and predictable innovation and co-creation
  • Strong functional stakeholders (medical, legal, compliance, finance)
  • Contractual, asset-based alliances with fixed lengths
  • Well-defined commercial negotiation models with “customers” with significant regulation

The tech cycle has:

  • Variability—many markets are not regulated
  • Short to moderate (1-3 years) “product” development
  • Management/investors who tend to expect quick ROI and steady growth
  • Rapid and agile innovation and co-creation
  • Moderate or weak functional stakeholders (legal, compliance, finance)
  • A blend of formal/informal alliances, often with no fixed length
  • Flexible, market-driven customer engagement processes

Also of great importance is the process of thinking through the best possible partner choices and evaluating them according to the meta-criteria of capabilities. Both presenters recommend considering the marketplace and size of the deals and evaluating potential partners from multiple dimensions that go beyond just the financial impact. Vantage recommends doing this with a four-quadrant methodology that analyzes strategic, financial, operational, and relational fits.

“On the back end, we have challenges during execution to consider,” Kliman added. “Pharma and IT are significantly different. If your core expertise is to identify and manage alliance models that manage different partners, that needs to be brought into upstream activities as well.”

“If you are going to enter into this new world, you want to make sure the relationship is purposeful,” Kliman added. A purposeful relationship contains the following criteria, he said. It should be:

  • Purposeful (focused on a well-defined market; meets patient, partner, and company needs)
  • Choiceful (partnership is worth the effort; has the right answer, among other things)
  •  Designed and developed collaboratively (based on a shared vision; focused on joint gain, among other things)
  • Actively managed (with joint oversight; systems reviews; robust metrics)
  • Building over time
  • Assessed

See part one of this session coverage blog and stay tuned for more ASAP Media team coverage from the 2018 ASAP BioPharma Conference. 

Tags:  alliance  Ben Siddall  healthcare landscape  licensing-type alliance groups  partnering  pharma  Stu Kliman  tech  Vantage Partners 

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The Rugged Biopharma/Tech Topography: What Alliance Managers Need to Know (Part 1)

Posted By Cynthia B. Hanson, Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Business partnering today requires know-how to negotiate nontraditional collaborations for purposes that are different from those of classical business development and licensing (BD&L) alliances. The partnering landscape for biopharma firms is evolving to include a variety of these new kinds of collaborations, according to the session “Non-traditional Partnerships:  The Changing BioPharma Alliance Landscape and the Implications for the Alliance Professional and Alliance Management Community,” led by Stuart Kliman, CA-AM, and Ben Siddall, both of whom are partners at Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Vantage Partners. The two took to the floor at the 2018 ASAP BioPharma Conference to provide key insights on the value and challenges these partnerships bring, especially in the area of biopharma/tech collaborations, which are resulting in very different business models. I had the opportunity to talk with Stu Kliman before the session. Here are some of the insights he provided on this hot topic.

ASAP Media: What is the impetus for your session?

Stuart Kliman: This session is about this ongoing theme of new types of collaborations happening in the healthcare ecosystem. It’s really all about how biopharma and tech are doing more and more together—so new and different kinds of relationships. Those relationships have different purposes. They might differentiate the value proposition of a product or a drug or support outcomes-based deals within the healthcare system. Or they might provide real world evidence and value-based pricing models. This session is about some of the differences between pharma and tech and the different kinds of challenges that organizations need to deal with. About the upstream, how do you start to think about creating these kinds of relationships and the key success factors for doing so? This also raises the question about if and how classic business development and licensing-type alliance groups need to evolve to deal with the changed environment.

We can see from the lineup at this year’s ASAP BioPharma Conference that the biopharma/tech partnering relationship is a very hot topic. How pervasive is the interest on the tech side?

Every tech company that’s out there is trying to figure out how to get into healthcare. It’s this world of FitBit. It’s this whole world of software, hardware, and device companies exploring the healthcare world.

This session is an extension of some of the topics you’ve been discussing and advising on for some time.  What’s different in this session?

There is a lot of focus on understanding the healthcare landscape, defining the problems that the healthcare landscape is creating.  For example, there might be things related to better data, trial efficiency, or the context of a specific therapy, or the need to track value. The first thing you need to do is make sure you have thought through what the different problems are, what capabilities you need to partner with, consider different kinds of players that are out there, and be thinking about the right kind of business model to work with them, and how to design overall relationship around that shared vision.  We will spend more time talking about this notion of problem definition and think through tentative problem types. Does that lead to something that feels like an innovative alliance relationship or a more traditional one?

Stay tuned for more of the ASAP Media team’s coverage of this and other sessions at the 2018 ASAP BioPharma Conference. 

Tags:  alliance  Ben Siddall  healthcare landscape  licensing-type alliance groups  partnering  pharma  Stu Kliman  tech  Vantage Partners 

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Building and Sustaining the Alliance-Enabled Enterprise—Through the Lens of Vantage Partner’s Stu Kliman

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

Building broad-based organizational partnering capabilities that are strongly embedded within and across your firm’s partnerships can be daunting in the face of an increasingly complex web of multi-industry alliances. Take your partnering capabilities to a new level with advice on how to manage just this kind of challenge 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, Calif. USA.

 

Stuart Kliman, CA-AM, a founding partner of Vantage Partners LLC, and co-author of Vantage’s 2015 study, “Transcending Organizational Barriers—A Cross-Industry View of Alliance Management Trends and Challenges,” will build upon this research in his two-hour long workshop, “Building and Sustaining the Alliance-Enabled Enterprise.”  Kliman manages Vantage’s alliance practice area and is a regular speaker and writer on alliance and key supplier relationship management.

 

This year, Kliman will be co-running the workshop with Julie Shirley, executive, strategic alliances for financial services and technology at Equifax, who will share how the concepts highlighted by Kliman have enabled Equifax’s alliance success. Shirley leads a team of alliance partnering specialists that strives to maximize value from Equifax’s partnerships and to institutionalize partnering and alliance management capability at Equifax. Previously, Shirley was deputy general counsel for Equifax.

 

Organizations need to remain agile to effectively engage in key alliances as new technologies appear that can disrupt as well as assist. Alliance managers, in particular, can help enable an enterprise-wide mindset for driving innovation through partnerships to maximize value for all stakeholders. The session promises to be a highly interactive workshop that addresses a range of challenges while exploring both normative and sub-par organizational approaches for partnering. It will also focus on a framework to assess an organization’s partnering capabilities.

 

The creation of a sustainable, “alliance-enabled” enterprise is key to succeed. “If you have an alliance-dependent strategy, then your entire organization, including, of course, your management team, needs to be focused on supporting it,” according to Kliman.

Organizations must shift from their traditional, inwardly focused foundations to embrace externally focused strategic assumptions for winning, and in the process, embed an operating model and culture befitting a world-class partner.


“A framework for assessing your organization’s broad-based partnering capabilities would look at those aspects of an organization that ultimately lead to behaviors and results—such as core assumptions that the organization has about how it wins, organizational design, key processes and tools, explicit and implicit incentives, roles and responsibilities, and skills,” he adds.


The discussion will focus on the difference between organizations that are designed to succeed at external partnering and those that are not. It also will drill down on how the partnering capability of an organization might be designed in a meaningful and impactful way, and the role that alliance management organizations can play to ensure that their companies are truly prepared to execute a partner-dependent strategy.


“Alliance management organizations far too often are focused on the mechanical aspects of making individual alliances work,” Kliman states. “Instead, they need to be more focused on ensuring that the organization itself is designed to support its alliance dependent-strategy, if indeed that is the strategy the organization has.”


The session also will include roundtable discussions and sharing of ideas across the broader group, during which participants can engage with their colleagues to discuss barriers they've experienced to building a true alliance-enabled organization and brainstorm changes necessary to reach that goal.

Tags:  Alliance Management  alliance managers  cross-industry  partnering  strategy  Stu Kliman  Trends and Challenges  Vantage Partners 

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