Image
Hannah Light

Hannah is Digital Marketing Manager at Star OUTiCO.

18 February 2022

The COVID-19 pandemic has been accountable for arguably the greatest acceleration into the digital space for business in the last 20 years, with all sectors seeing some degree of impact.

For pharma and the NHS, this manifested itself in unprecedented changes to the way the latter delivers patient care, while the former – historically a little conservative on the digital uptake – became a beacon of inspiration for what’s possible when there is a strong sense of urgency.

For us at Star OUTiCO, the pandemic intensified our own pre-existing digital journey as we explored the most effective ways of leveraging the respective strengths of Star Medical and OUTiCO to create a specialist commercial services provider for pharma, unparalleled in its capabilities.

The impact of COVID-19 also brought into sharp relief the need to look at how digital, in combination with in-person promotion, would be the key to providing a comprehensive suite of services to equip our pharma clients with the tools to not only survive, but thrive post-pandemic.

[pharma] became a beacon of inspiration for what’s possible when there is a strong sense of urgency.

A Global Data survey reports that 35% of pharma professionals think that the pandemic increased the speed of digital transformation by five years [1], and global healthcare budgets reflect this in their apportioning of spend to digital-related improvements.

The European Union’s EU4Health 2021-2027 budget, for example, allocates €5.3 billion to strengthening health data and digital transformation across the bloc [2], and it’s widely accepted that digital transformation is the most likely method for overworked global healthcare systems to be relieved as we grapple with the post-pandemic future. 

More on this: read our ‘Patient management in a digital world’ article here

Chief Technology Transformation Officer at Novartis, Elizabeth Theophille, saw 2021 as a year of solidification of the mass movement to digital systems, including within drug discovery and development, manufacturing, and patient treatment.

She said this at the beginning of 2021 [3], and if we look at the thoughts of Colin Terry – Deloitte’s European Life Sciences R&D leader – at the beginning of this year (2022), the proof of pharma’s ongoing investment in digital is here.

“Much of the gains we have seen in 2021 were driven by collaborative data sharing, investing in digital and technology talent and recognising the growing influence of connected healthcare”, he says. “These changes have benefited the entire industry as well as the cohort companies under review in our research. The ultimate benefactor, of course, is the patient.” [4]

[…] it’s widely accepted that digital transformation is the most likely method for overworked global healthcare systems to be relieved as we grapple with the post-pandemic future. 

The evidence is clear of the need for pharma, the NHS and its providers and partners, to embrace digital transformation and keep pace with it as it evolves – though this is not simply done.

True transformation of digital capability, for us as a partner to both pharma and the NHS, comes not from rebranding and ticking off a few SEO-friendly keywords on our website, but from taking a revolutionary approach as a data-driven company through our culture, instilling streamlined processes, and investing in the talents of our teams.


Digital transformation: People

Erik Brynjolfsson, Senior Fellow at Stanford University, notes that one of the reasons that companies fail to capitalise on the benefits of new technology, including AI, is down to them not investing in the skills of their employees [5]. For Elizabeth Theophille, this is essential if pharma is going to utilise the potential of digital, as well as the need to work collaboratively across the sector.

She says: “It will need true cross-industry collaboration if it’s going to succeed. This means upskilling current employees and bringing in new tech talent.”

When it comes to future-proofing new and existing sales teams by equipping them with the tools to succeed in virtual selling, our Digital In-Call Excellence (DICE), programme trumps anything else out there.

More on this: read our ‘How to assess in-call sales performance in the new normal’ article here

As well as upskilling customer-facing teams as the integral ‘people part’ of any business’s success when moving more into the digital space, you also need to invest in quality ‘behind the scenes’ tech talent to turn any insights generated from data into actionable plans to be built into clients’ commercial strategies.

For all the value of data, its interpretation is down to us humans: the ‘so what?’ part of insight generation. How will what we discover influence our advice to a client when it comes to their brand strategy, or patient care, or the service package that we put together? The success or failure of any business that decides to embrace digital transformation will always be down to its human contingent.


Digital transformation: Platform + Process

It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data”, says Sherlock Holmes of data collection in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel, A Study in Scarlet. There is no value in merely collecting it, though: data must be cleaned, refined, and interpreted correctly if it is to be transformed from simple figures into insights that can be analysed.

AXiOM – our market-leading proprietary platform – has access to over 17 billion pieces of data and processes a further 20 million pieces each month, working to optimise our clients’ investments.

Gathering this data from any project activity, AXiOM enables our intelligent agility, informs change, and allows our tech teams to perform at an optimum level – working to code these evolving improvements into the DNA of our clients’ organisations and, by its nature, creating a sustained impact.

Find out more about AXiOM here

It will need true cross-industry collaboration if it’s going to succeed. This means upskilling current employees and bringing in new tech talent.


Elizabeth Theophille, Chief Technology Transformation Officer, Novartis

Insight + Advancement

In his Harvard Business Review article on digital transformation, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic says of data analysis: ‘The results themselves become part of the new, richer data set, which will be augmented and improved with the findings of the process. In this iterative process […] you enable your insights to become more predictive, more meaningful, and more valuable, which itself gives more value to the data.’

The world of digital transformation is just that – transformative, borne from a need to adapt to environmental changes that were both in the natural evolutionary pipeline, and necessitated by the effects of an unprecedented pandemic.

It is also transforming. It is fluid, evolving with greater and greater data harvesting and interpretation, constantly refining, and improving the decisions that we make.

Digital transformation for a business is not something that is simply achieved by bringing in new tech or harvesting data, but by a change in attitude, culture, and by upskilling and training new and existing teams to ensure that the true enduring value of digital and data is not missed.


Our mission is to ensure our clients’ businesses are equipped with the right tools and solutions to capitalise on the value of data in the long-term.

To find out what this could mean for your business, get in touch today.


  1. Global Data: COVID-19 accelerated digital transformation for pharmaceutical industry
  2. European Commission: EU4Health 2021-2017 budget
  3. Pharmaphorum: No cooling off for pharma digital transformation in 2021
  4. Pharma R&D return on investment rises to highest level since 2014
  5. ‘The essential components of digital transformation’, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Harvard Business Review, November 23, 2021