Episode 2: Shaping The Future of Digital Healthcare with Rachel Elend
Rachel Elend is the Global Head of Learning Excellence and Operations for Novartis Innovative Medicines.
She is a former international pro-ice hockey physiotherapist who transitioned into entrepreneurship. Since moving to the Pharmaceutical industry in 2006, Rachel has been known for her ability to get things done. Today, she’s applying the art of performance excellence to capability building with some fun humour and an agile ‘imperfect’ style. Her goal is to cut through complexity for users by driving efficient, simple solutions that answer real life needs. complexity for users by driving efficient, simple solutions that answer real life needs.
In this episode, Rachel talks about how technology impacts her career and the willingness to embrace such innovations within the business. She shares examples of how technology is assisting the in business modernization and success as a result of adopting new technologies. These are just a few of the many things we discussed in today's episode and if you're interested, let's dive in!
To learn more about Rachel Elend, connect with her via LinkedIn.
Transcribed by Otter.ai
Hi, welcome to the Circus Street Podcast. I'm Jonny Townsend. Today I'm joined by Rachel eland, Rachel. Welcome.
Thanks. Thanks for having me. It's gonna be exciting.
Hope. So. Before we jump into questions, really useful to find out a little bit more about you what you do. How you got here, that's very interesting in itself, why don't you jump into that?
Yeah, cool. I, I try to explain my career quite a lot to people because it's what we call diverse, which is the way I sell it. But yeah, my current role is the Global Head of learning excellence and operations for Novartis innovative medicines, which is kind of the commercialization product distribution arm of, of Novartis. And yeah, I started life, I mean, way back when, as a physiotherapist, actually, so patient facing delving into sports because I was kind of a bit more of that. I need to be kind of outdoors running around and messing around with kind of contact sports, I did rugby, ice hockey, things like that, which, which immense fun, right being part of a team. And having just a blast with a good bunch of people that doing a job you love. So I did that for quite a while did some great britain stuff, which in Great Britain playing ice hockey, just so you know, just interesting, fun fact for you, um, we're actually pretty good at it, but, but then kind of jumped I moved countries, from the UK to Germany. And no matter, boy, that kind of thing. And when we landed here, I couldn't speak any German at all. So I had to kind of re invent what I wanted to do. The the exams over here to retake my physio licenses would have meant that I had to be fluent in German, basically. So I jumped into pharmaceuticals, because I could speak medical, I could speak English. And that was kind of a skill that everyone wanted. And I sort of loved playing with digital things. And that was also something that seems to be you could sell very well. So I and then I've landed in in pharmaceuticals now gone through life as various iterations, but mostly communications and most recently, digital communications and digital engagement, learning to make sure people could kind of get up to speed with things that I love and things that I kind of enjoy. So I have fun at work because I get to teach people about stuff that I like to do, and get passionate about it and drive that kind of thing. So that's what I do every day is just tell people have great Digitalism, and how we can use these great things that are around us today to make our experience better.
Amazing, interesting parallels as well, because we often at Circuit street talk about when you learn digital, it's it's learning a new business language. And just in the same way that your experience of learning German, you don't just kind of say, well, look, I'm in operation. So just teach me about verbs. Or I'm in this bit. So I just really need to know a few killer phrases. You have to learn the whole language. And then once you've learned the whole language, you can decide what conversations to go off and have Right. So there's a really interesting parallels. I mean, obviously, you know, we've talked a little bit there about about digital and your passion for digital it and ultimately, it comes down to technology and the latest examples of how technology and modernizing business, what's been the impact of technology on your job and your career.
I mean, without giving away details, like age and everything, but you know, I went to school, chasing digital experiences right where the BBC microcomputer was at computer club at school and you know, if you were lucky to be the 10 people that could get in the class at any one time and share this space. Like I was in there trying to get to learn to what this technology was. I thought it was fascinating. You can have these screens and playing with das now I'm not a programmer, though. I'm gonna go anywhere near there. But you know, playing with stupid das Kind of commands and stuff. It was really fun. So I've gone from trying to actively find and seek out these kinds of experiences up till now where I'm actually trying to disconnect a bit All right, it's like this paradox of it infiltrates your life, it becomes part of who you are, it becomes part of what drives you, you know, you're finding solutions to because I like it, I look for solutions that digital and technology can help me find a quicker, more efficient, whatever solution. So having that frame psychologically means that I'm automatically driven to using that. So now, you know, from floppy disks, I've been there with a three and a half inch disks, that kind of thing. To whatever goes now it's more fun. We've got Google at home, we've got Alexa at home, got all of those kinds of funky things. And my work is how do we make things really simple for people to find when there's such a mass of information? And a massive learning? How do we help them and technology is kind of really the only way now, right? It's not like you can go to a library and pull out your your reading list. We've got to try and, and recreate that. Because otherwise, we're just overwhelmed. We're overwhelmed with the number of things and I can't think of any other way to do it. Because that's the way I'm plugged. I guess that makes sense.
It does it makes perfect sense. And you've obviously got a huge appetite for this stuff. What's the appetite for embracing these sorts of things within your business?
I mean, realistically, it's everywhere, right? I think it both ends of the spectrum. So we have a strategy at Novartis where, you know, strengthen AI foundations by scaling data science and technologies in the corporate strategy, right. So it's, it's fundamentally there, it's fundamentally mentioned that every time we kind of have these kind of big town halls, and big group means anyone who comes to Novartis gets exposed to the strategy, digital and technology. So it's there. But also, there's the kind of person lead individual responsibility as well. Where we had, for example, a course that we're launching that went into digital marketing, and kind of upskilling people around digital marketing, because of COVID. And all those reasons were like, Okay, we've got to drive some change here. 2000 people signed up within six weeks, right? So more than we smashed our goal in this tiny window, because we wanted 2000 total, we got nearly 3000, in the end. So you can see that by having both ends, and both kind of individual appetite and a corporate appetite. I think we've got that sandwich nicely kind of coming together.
Right? Can you say examples of how these sorts of technologies are helping your business to modernize?
I mean, there's lots, right, because we're COVID kind of accelerated all these things. And I think the awareness of how we're actually using technology just kind of went up, right? If we look at kind of where I'm sitting in the capability, building space, there's there's two ways two ways we can look at it. One is how technology affects how we do business, how we approach our customers, how we interact with our customers, how did they want to be interacted with, right? But also then our associates, right? So if we're going to extend the same respect to our social employees, as we do with our customers, it's also looking at how do our associates want to be met? Do they want on Demand Learning immediately? Or do they want to do a big course it takes six months for them to go through? We're looking at all of that, fundamentally, to see where technology is required. So for example, we have reps there on the road, they use iPads, right? They don't have laptops, they don't sit at a desk, how do we enable things like this to happen? And how do we make sure that we're reaching them in a space or technology that they can use? So we're thinking of all of these different things and platforms to deliver more targeted upscaling? Right? We're going there. We're looking at the data and analytics of the way people use our technology to see which is worth it and which is not worth it right? Just to experiment and do things like that, where we're mapping the skills that we need, and we're taking that data to map to ensure as a company, we're moving forward with the right sort of strategic skills that we need. And you know, how does technology impact that strategic skill set that we need to work on? And then you know this The simple kind of online programs courses Coursera is all of these other types of massive MOOC type programs, as well as kind of small individual micro bites is we're experimenting with all of those kinds of things, to see which ones have the most kind of impact. And we go after that holy grail of what's the right ROI? What's the right delivery mechanism? And technologies, testing all of that?
Mm hmm. And it sounds like you've had some success there already. Are there any other successes that jumped out at you as a result of adopting new technologies?
I think I mean, it's, it's, it's hard to release a lot of data, because all of the data has been compiled the end of the year. So we've got 21 data, which is out of date, and we've got 22 data, which hasn't been released yet. So we're kind of in the middle of that. This. This course we've opened up is things like multiple people, multiple 1000s of people just wanting to join in. We, we take when I'm recording this cut this bit, but some of these success pieces where it's hard to kind of give you color on, because they're all kind of internal figures and numbers and stuff that can't be released yet. Right? So we start that one again. So yes, there's been lots of successes, I think there's lots of sort of 300 patients, for example, in 2021, which is mostly the data we have right now, patients in China using an app called an AI nurse, so that they're using and they're engaging with this app, to ensure that we can deliver the right kind of care to the right kind of people. And you know, in China 300,000 using one product is massive, right? We also have, you know, lots of initiatives with how we reach our customer, increases engagement, increase in uptake, increasing patients downloading questionnaires to help them get diagnosed quicker, we've got lots of that kind of data that are coming in to show that this technologically based strategy, or at least thinking of how you enable technology, with the face to face of a rep makes a difference. And yeah, so Well, I'd go into a lot of that detail with numbers, but it's not been released yet. So can't give you the heads up on that.
I understand the sensitivities. Are there any challenges that you see as being quite prevalent with this sort of stuff?
There's challenges everywhere, okay. So there's a global fear, the minute you start to talk about digital, there's, there's this global fear of, of kind of running away with it to the point where it's going to replace everyone's job. And if you're trying to do anything digitally, you're trying to replace a job. So one of those biggest things that we've got to look at is, is how do you bring people on with a change? How do you help them understand why this is necessary? Efficiency is that efficiency and headcount and you got to embrace those kinds of challenges. And I think the pace of change is so fantastically fast, right? It's not just COVID came and disrupted our lives, and we have to work from from home. But it's more like, yes, COVID change, but there's a new app, and then there's a new version, and then there's a new algorithm, and there's new data, and how do you analyze and absorb that data, in order to create a response, there's going to have another effect, that's supposed to be the way you go about your business. So we're fundamentally changing a lot all the time. And that overwhelm gets felt quite significantly. And that's where this kind of targeting piece comes, like, what do you need to know for your job today? This is what do you need to know? And how do you feel that pace? Do you get kind of run over by that pace? Or are you allowed to kind of absorb it bit by bit by bit in order to make it feel like it's more consumable? Or it's less of a rate of change than then you would normally feel? I think those are the biggest challenges we have. But then, you know, this technical integrations, I mean, if you go super simple, right, we've got this great platform over here. Yes, we've got this great platform every year. How do we integrate those data sets to make In a useful bigger data set, because we need big data now, we don't need, you know, third party data down the road, we can use our first party data, what does that look like? How do we integrate? How do we get the API's for all of these? And how do we just kind of adapt to that ever changing software environment that that people are going to go into and trying to figure out, you know, an efficient way with some sort of longevity? What's the return on your investment of your longevity, and trying to sell that to management? When you know, it's going to be a shelf life of months, rather than what some of them are used to? Which is like, Okay, I'll buy that for five years. So yeah, probably in five years, it's going to be obsolete. But that mindset is quite significant to get over.
Yeah, I guess this is one of the key reasons why you can't just approach this in pockets in your business, it has to be understood right across the board. Because to your point, if you're setting strategy, that's five years out, and you're setting strategy without being informed on how technologies are impacting the current and the future, then you're going to set the wrong strategy, right? So
exactly. And you know, that agile approach it is ever ever presents, it's like, Oh, what is agile? Obviously, you need your strategy. Obviously, you need a goal. You can't have investors in a company, without looking at what is your long term? Where are you going? But how do you put that into place? And how do you educate those around you to make sure they're comfortable with all these elements they're going to take to get to that long term vision? And how do you word that vision to make it feel like, you know, all of that change is worth it and a return on your investment in the end.
So in terms of encouraging people to want to embrace change, that communication strategy is key, the kind of what's in it for me, for the individual, making it really focused on what it is that's going to impact them the most, there are really good ways to encourage people to embrace change. Are there any other ways that you have discovered?
So I think the wording of want to change is really interesting, right? Because I don't know, many people who jump in again, I want to change today. Yeah, like changing that mindset of like I can make you go from I don't want to do this I want to do this is is difficult, right? It's really hard. But bringing people to the place that they need to be. It is part of what I'm trying to do mostly, which is meet people where they're at. Right? So yes, you need. You've got your standard Rogers bell curve to have your early adopters. Mr. Landon, right. Yes, you've got your tipping point type calculations of how many people you would need on board to try and make that behavior become an adopted behavior. But I think the reality of making sure you're not only catering for those early adopters, and you're not only saying like, it's a good idea, because it's great, because you believe it, right? Is like you can't just say that it's like telling a learning theorists that, you know, learning styles have debunked. Well, yeah, we know that. But like, what else are you gonna give me like, What do I do? You've just removed my dream, and you haven't given me anything in its place? Right? So we'll go okay. We'll take away this this, this misnomer that digital actually has to be part of our future. But we'll help you understand from where you sit today, and what that looks like for you. And then we'll work on those kind of hybrid solutions, right? There are still moments where digital is not the best solution. Right? There are still moments where the rep, or the person going sitting in the doctor's office is the best solution. Right? Have we armed everyone with the right information beforehand? Yes. Can we replace all these things and say, right, digital is going to replace all of it. It's not necessarily going to be the best way to do it. So are we really looking at hybrids? Or are we just sitting on a trend of digital, digital, digital, and we're trying to, you know, push too many things in there. So those are the things that I'm like, if we can meet people where they're at, if we can make sense of what they want from a hybrid solution, to make sure that that's the best way to do it, and then probably will change that kind of perception of change and I don't want to do
you think this this need to modernize business through technology is ever going to slow down or stop altogether. We talk about digital transformation. Trend, the word transformation suggested end. But technology hasn't ever stopped modernizing business. Do you think we're reaching an endpoint now? Do you think we're reaching a slowdown or stop?
I mean, no, is a very simple short answer, I think, look, Moore's Law has already been proven to go on and on and on. And if you're looking like at the actual scaling of the actual technology, then of course, we get to a point where we can't get any smaller, we go into atomic, you know, whatever it may be. There's a spread, though. But what we also need to think of is the creativity of people using some of these solutions, and the new ways in which they use those solutions. So I don't think we can ever say, we've hit the perfect solution, we've got the best way to get this product, this medicine that that patient needs, that's the best way to do it, knock nail it, and then sit there and go was done it, I think there's always going to be better, we're always going to be pushing for more and, and quicker. So people can get what they need when they need it. So even if we get that solution, the new people coming into the program will need to learn what that solution is. So from my perspective, right, I don't ever see this ending. But yeah, you're right. It's not necessarily a transformation, right? It's, there's lots of buzzwords, it's an evolution, it's an ecosystem, it's kind of this is the pace of life. Now, you can choose to be on that. Or you can choose to be the kind of Lego that's sitting there going, I'm gonna watch and see, or never pick it up. But I think in business today, if you're gonna hope to succeed, you have to adopt this as your lifestyle, and figure out how to fit it in no matter what, really. Yeah, I don't think it's gonna change.
That's brilliant insight around the creativity that technology allows people to unlock. And I guess you can see creativity right across your business, rather than just in those pockets as a result of that technology, helping unlock it and the innovation that that brings innovation tends to come from within businesses, rather than very expensive consultants that come in for 18 months and tell you how you should have been running the business for the last 20 years. Right? Yeah,
yeah, I mean, you know, we can all put models together on a page with a, you know, a two by two and a little arrow. So we're gonna move from year to year. All love to my to my consulting friends, but that it's a reality. It's like, cut people's budgets, tell them they can't get together in a group and a meeting room tell them they have to stay in their front room and work? How are we going to put together solutions? Well, you know what, that was super creative online solutions coming through COVID. Because people were forced into a situation. And we have some amazingly creative, super effective solutions that are popped up, because the need was there. And I you know, we should never underestimate just giving people some tools and go play, right? I think what what do you come up with great, hey, let's scale that that's a great thing. And that creativity is, is what sparks I think, you know, maybe maybe I'm not telling everyone to cut everybody's budget and put limits on them all. But sometimes out of out of out of that, that kind of limitation, you get the most amazing solutions. And then we scale them, you know, if you can't scale it these days, it's also it's not so useful. So get some great solutions, do lots of playing and find a way to get there. It'll always be there creativity and human humanities. It's just that right? And that's the exciting part for me about digital and how it's all progressing.
I'm conscious of being respectful of company secrets, what what factors do you think will be driving change over the next couple of years?
Um, I think, you know, one is, is how how we get people on the journey of understanding the customer, understanding the people we're trying to serve. So in the learning game, my customer is the people who do the training, right? The if we can get on board with understanding that journey, then we can filter the information that's been delivered to points that actually make a difference instead of just so many you know, everyone does it. I sit through my mailbox now and just swipe. I don't read any of them anymore. Like it's a joke, right? Email marketing is gone crazy. So We're gonna have to start thinking about, like, how do we make sure that we filter for people? How do we make sure that they can connect the dots? I think the how do we blend hybrid to get to a point in the short term, instead of just jumping all the way to these amazing solutions? And how do we get the I think, for us, certainly, it's a culture of learning, it's a culture of wanting to understand that there might be another way to do what I've done for 20 years. And that's learning as such as an experience that you do in a moment of time, to give you a bit more of an idea of a creative solution that you can come to, instead of like, here's your spoon, fed here to here, do this learning, click through this eLearning, you're good, great, now go and do a job. We need to really start to look at those experiences and how people accept that they have to keep going back, they have to keep learning, they can't just go, I'm certified and walk away, because the environment is going to change around it. So those are the biggest things that I think we should really start looking into. It's not a trend, it shouldn't be a trend anymore. It should be because it's useful.
Yeah. Yeah. Good advice. What's another piece of advice, or learning, you'd want to share with listeners and viewers? So
there's kind of one that builds up another, which is probably a funny way of saying I want to, but one is leave your ego at the door and listen, right? Not everything you think is not necessarily the right thing for the users. Right? And the second is, you can't please everyone all the time. So yes, listen, yes, take on board, but use what you can, right. Just make sure the ones who don't agree with you are not your key users. Right. So you know, you've got listening to your board, and they say we want this great, my users want something completely different. If I give them this, are we going to succeed? And I think those are the two things that that kind of build, Stop, listen. And then make sure you're listening to the right kind of advice and feedback to make sure you're delivering for your users.
Yeah, great. Rachel, this has been fantastic. Really appreciate your time. Really appreciate your insight. And thank you for coming on the secretary podcast. You're very welcome. Thanks for having me. It's been a blast.
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