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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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“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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