Leadership Skills that will Shape Pharma Transformations in 2023


Pharma is undergoing unprecedented change. Technology advances like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), vendor solution platforms, and an influx of real-world data are part of the big pharma trends driving a digital skills revolution in the industry.

In the first two posts from our three-part series covering digital transformation in the pharma industry, we reviewed the most exciting pharma tech trends for 2023 and listed 5 specific examples of pharma digital disruption

In this this post, we’ll focus on what's driving the digital skills revolution in the pharmaceutical industry, including the following topics:

  1. The digital advances shaping the pharma skills transformation
  2. The digital front door -physical to virtual patient journeys
  3. Must-have contributions from pharma leaders and managers
  4. Critical moves leaders make for an integrated digital ecosystem
  5. Must-have skills for commercial leaders and managers
  6. Levers that drive customer-centric success in pharma

Digital advances shaping pharma skills transformation

Advances in medicine and technology have converged to create all-in-one healthcare ecosystems that, when they work, help streamline patient experiences and increase access to healthcare.

For pharma industry executives, understanding what advances and digital trends drive change on a global enterprise level—as opposed to just focusing on marketing and sales—is critical to innovating. 

Compared to other industries, Pharma is undergoing transformation
that is accelerating at an unprecedented pace. Per Gartner's 2023 Healthcare & Life Sciences Predictions, there are five pharma industry trends shaping skills transformation.

These include:

  1. Industry structural change
    e.g Retailers entering healthcare services & pressure to monetise the real-world data in healthcare

  2. Total experience transformation
    e.g Patient and clinician engagement is evolving & the need to have common multi-experience  using technology is expected by patients and HCP’s

  3. Uncertainty and ecosystem risk
    e.g Supply chain issues & ongoing new regulations

  4. Medical technology innovation
    e.g AI assisted innovations, robotics, Medical innovations such as mRNA therapy developments

  5. Strategic technology change
    e.g Vendor solution platforms shifting the operating model

Understanding the potential barriers and macro pharma trends that executives face when embracing, and leveraging, the above trends enables you to leverage the skills needed to overcome barriers to digital transformation. 

Gartner's 2023 Healthcare & Life Sciences Predictions, outlines specifics around each of the above. Here’s a summary of their statistics-backed findings:


  • AI - By 2026, drug discovery will reach an inflection point where “in silico” first strategies overtake traditional bench-based research at major pharmaceutical companies.  
  • RNA - By 2025, the rising significance of new RNA products will lead half of the top 25 pharmaceutical companies to double clinical supply chain investments.

  • Retail pharmacies - By 2026, over 60% of retail pharmacies will conduct clinical research, helping to support life science trial diversity requirements.
  • Medical innovation - By 2026, a “blockbuster” therapy will bypass incumbent pharmaceutical manufacturers — and force them to partner on a digital disruptor’s terms.  
  • Low-code - By 2025, 20% of new life science technology solutions will leverage low code application platforms, diversifying business-facing offerings and speeding innovation.

  • Multi-experience - By 2026, one in five healthcare providers will replace their traditional patient portal and associated electronic health records with a “digital front door” as the primary way to engage digitally with patients.

  • Digital-first triage - By 2026, 15% of initial medical visits, e.g., "first-contact care interactions" will take place in patient homes, shifting away from emergency departments.
  • Real-time - By 2026, 20% of healthcare providers will adopt real-time health system supply chain platforms. This will be driven by the need to more closely align supply chain logistics with clinical activity. Orkestra provides script-management tools to enterprises that allow for supply chain visibility in real time.

The digital front door - patient behaviour transformation

In healthcare, a digital front door is a strategy a provider and/or practice uses when engaging with a patient online. It considers the patient's online journey across a landscape of digital touchpoints, including the process the patient goes through before their intake and the tools they use to interact with their providers.

The following chart, gleaned from Gartner data, illustrates the digital front door in its entirety, from good health to clinical investigation/diagnosis to monitoring and care management.



A digital front door strategy taps into the above patient trajectory by providing digital tools that minimize frustrations and facilitate communication during a patient's entire care journey.

The goal of a digital front door is to improve patient experiences and provide access to medical or mental health care. It often represents a health system's first point of contact with the patient. It includes features like online appointment scheduling, virtual visits, and telehealth services.

The digital front door is important because it allows healthcare providers to better engage with patients and provide more efficient—and effective—care.

Must-have contributions from Pharma leaders and managers  

Digital transformation is a neat way of describing something that's inherently messy. It is part of a collection of pharma trends that necessitate changing core elements of your business.  

“COVID - 19 accelerated digital transformation in the Pharma and Healthcare industry by 75%” - Source: Statista 2022 / Pharmaceutical Technology Feb 2022 Median Acceleration 5 Years. 

Successful digital transformation requires what Accenture calls a "high level of interoperability." It relies on connecting disparate systems and data, removing silos, and leveraging the cloud to function. It likely means you’ll need to make changes to more than one system and department, a phenomenon that Accenture calls “compressed transformation.”.

Companies with high interoperability are much more likely to succeed with compressed transformation initiatives. This kind of change requires buy-in from pharma leaders including managers, directors, and executives.

This requires three key contributions from executive leadership during the planning and execution of a successful digital transformation:

  • Creation of a digital strategy - It's important to develop a digital strategy that ensures the organization’s goals and vision are embedded and guide transformation.
  • Budget – For true transformation, leadership must champion and prioritize robust investment in technology like AI in pharma, including AI in pharma marketing and data analysis.
  • Accountability – Pharma businesses need an ownership model that allows for accountability. This requires setting performance metrics and KPIs that drive the initiative and measure outcomes.

8 Critical moves leaders make for an integrated digital ecosystem

Interoperability is what enables an integrated digital ecosystem and this is the goal of digital transformation. It’s a shift that, when successful, enables and facilitates adaptability, agility, user experience, collaboration, and growth.

Covid-19 accelerated digital transformation across the pharma and healthcare sectors by 75%. So, while you're not alone in managing what amounts to monumental change in business as usual, you are faced with figuring out how to accomplish this change.

To this end, we've identified eight critical moves that pharma leaders must embrace to succeed with a successful digital transformation project.


  1. Removing silos - Prioritize clinical solutions that include interoperability as a core feature, including APIs that facilitate transfer of content and data between clinical sites, sponsors, clinical research organizations, and other ecosystem participants
  2. Minimizing risk - Technology, including AI-powered data analysis, predictive modeling, and automated supply chain management, help minimize risk.
  3. Change management - Effective digital transformation requires a change management strategy to ensure adoption, compliance, and results.
  4. Short term gains - Incremental change helps test and validate new processes and systems, which fuels more successful long-term digital transformation.
  5. Legacy technology - Migrating away from on-premises legacy systems to cloud-based systems helps reduce infrastructure costs and improve scalability.
  6. Growing revenue - Successful digital transformation leads to high interoperability, which has a positive impact on revenue. Accenture reported that companies that achieved high interoperability grew their revenue 6X faster than their less digitally savvy peers.
  7. Increasing efficiency - Interoperability increases efficiency across an organization's entire ecosystem by eliminating data silos, better managing dependencies, and streamlining communication.
  8. Continuous improvement - Transformation is not a one-time goal. Investing in new technology and processes is a long-term commitment that relies on a continuous investment in upskilling, research, and a willingness to embrace new approaches.                                    

The must-have skills for commercial leaders and managers

According to Accenture, a company that achieves a high level of interoperability today, stands to make $8 billion more over the next 5 years versus a comparable company that is less successful at digitalization.

According to Circus Street’s research, we’ve identified six must-have skills you need to successfully achieve integrated digital transformation, as follows:


  • View of the entire digital ecosystem - A broad set of skills is required for a holistic view of the entire digital ecosystem. This enables you to continually assess how one part of your value chain performs with the others.

  • Drive marketing and technology capabilities - A focus on agility and customer centricity requires an understanding of - and investment in - digital marketing capabilities. This can only be achieved with a strong digital technology infrastructure.

  • Setting growth objectives and resource planning - Set growth objectives and undergo resource planning so you can accurately project capability requirements, establish a budget, and understand talent acquisition/training needs.
  • Investment planning for new business models - Innovation, agility, and adaptation are the core outcomes of digital transformation. You must be open to change and willing to invest in new business models and approaches.

  • Omnichannel strategy – An omnichannel customer and business strategy is what makes interoperability possible. That requires getting rid of silos, embracing trends like AI in pharma, and making data and information easily searchable and accessible to all stakeholders. This ultimately makes you a more agile company, allowing you to quickly pivot to new solutions and approaches.
  • Defining important metrics and measurements - Benchmark your current digital maturity level so you can establish metrics and KPIs for improvement. project. Base your goals on key business drivers like overall digital capabilities, customer experience, digital marketing effectiveness and organizational progress.

How the must-have skills help leaders overcome barriers

The required leadership contributions combined with the critical moves and must-have skills listed above work together to help leaders overcome commonly shared barriers which include:

1. Failing to put customer centricity first

To succeed at digital transformation and keep up with pharma industry trends, you need to communicate that a change initiative is about more than introducing new technology or processes. The focus is, rather, on improving customer experience. Upskilling will help employees embrace and understand a customer-centric approach.

It’s the only way to align your digital transformation strategy to your vision. It requires removing silos, connecting incentives to outcomes that support this strategy, and having full buy-in from executives.

2. Cumbersome technology investments

A common roadblock to successful digital transformation is investing in the wrong technology or not fully leveraging the technology you have. All parts of your technology ecosystem need to work together or you risk investing in expensive tools and platforms that ultimately make the customer and employee experience worse.

3. Failing to discard legacy systems

Change can be hard, particularly when existing processes and approaches are effectively generating revenue. But avoiding digital transformation or tackling it in a piecemeal way, will set you up for failure in the long run. Legacy systems keep data and entire departments siloed off from larger organizational change, which makes it much more difficult to scale.

4. Viewing change as a one-time fix

With any large digital transformation initiative, it’s important to set expectations right from the start. This is particularly important in pharma, a sector where new technologies and innovations are common. Make sure your entire team understands that change is the new constant and that it’s important to look at digital transformation as an ongoing process rather than a one-time fix.

The pace of change can be difficult to fully grasp, particularly in an industry like pharma where things once moved at a far slower pace. Per data from Cognizant, only about 3% of 32,000 clinical trials were digital or hybrid in 2019. Over the next four years, this is expected to rise to 25%, a staggering 800% increase.

6 years from now, the way pharma will take their products to market will have changed. If you started building your pharma company from scratch, you wouldn’t build it the way it is today.

Six levers to drive customer-centric success enabled by the six must-have skills

There are some specific levers you should consider when undergoing digital transformation. Again, at the heart of this is interoperability so you can achieve an integrated digital ecosystem. The focus should be on removing silos and unifying your data, processes, and people so everyone is working together to achieve your organizational goals.


Interoperability/data - metrics that matter

Prioritize clinical solutions that include interoperability as a core feature, including APIs that facilitate the transfer of content and data between clinical sites, sponsors, clinical research organizations, and other ecosystem participants.

Prioritize omnichannel - novel touchpoints

Create a multi-experience environment with customers and consumers that moves away from disconnected healthcare provider (HCP) engagement strategies. That means developing novel touchpoints and facilitating personalized digital experiences that matter.

Talent - skills development

Employee experience and skills development are critical for digital transformation success. Future proofing demands that you create a skills-based organization focused on one vision and business imperative.

Essential investments

Invest in new revenue models using technologies as enablers for hyper-automation and innovation.


New business models including as-a-service-models, digital front door solutions, and decentralized trials should be part of your digital transformation toolkit.

AI/technology partners

Work with AI and technology partners like drug discovery platforms and software companies that leverage AI and machine learning. Co-invest in that innovation because for a solution provider or startup, that is their entire business. They are motivated to be ahead of the curve, no matter what.

Ensuring skills-based learning is applied

Upskilling your team helps clarify to them why digital transformation should be a business imperative. Training helps communicate this throughout the organization. It also helps those who may be slower to adopt change. This is where skills-based learning comes in.

There are three keys to unlock the application of what has been learnt in real day to day business functions.

  1. Firstly, relevant learning is paramount - the first of its kind, our Pharma curated lesson content ensures relevancy and impact.
  2. Secondly, upskill your whole organization in unison - this leads to interoperability and one digital language
  3. Finally, bring what has been learnt into practice - Circus Street uses innovative methods, like our Swipe Game,         which puts learning in the flow of work while building individual and team knowledge without significantly interrupting daily workstreams.

Another example of innovative learning techniques is our Enterprise Wide Data Literacy Bootcamp. A blended learning journey that enables learning at the point of need whilst also having options for group activities, which promotes healthy discussions.

Recommend Reading: Learn about our pharma digital marketing course, Product Launch Campaigns for Pharma & Healthcare which includes three comprehensive lessons to help with digital planning and product launch, applying a customer-centric approach, and implementing a digital campaign roadmap.

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