What digital skills do pharma leaders need in order to drive transformation, deliver success at scale in the business, and prepare for next-gen customer engagement? Sarah Gilchriest explores the critical capabilities and must-have skills for senior leaders, looking at the levers that drive customer-centric success in pharma and healthcare, and where to invest time and resources to maximise results.


This coming year is going to be one that could put many pharma businesses under the microscope. The economic downturn means that budgets will be under pressure. At the same time, the commercial landscape continues to rapidly evolve as the digital bar keeps getting higher. The sheer speed, scope and impact of technological change are challenging businesses in fundamental ways, and companies that can’t keep up the pace risk falling by the wayside. Consumers and customers have higher than ever expectations of the digital capabilities of the businesses they use, and have come to expect a more personalised and instant service. Businesses therefore need to look at how they can ensure they are positioned to take advantage of the technology available to them to best support their customers in 2023.

Many pharma businesses typically lay the foundations of digital capabilities in technologies and third party partners, but to truly scale this needs to be driven by leadership. Whilst the sector is filled with highly skilled scientists, chemists and engineers, the reality is that many do not have the digital technology skillset that is needed in this day and age. Investing in upskilling means giving employees opportunities to gain the knowledge, tools and ability they need to use advanced and ever-changing technologies in the workplace and their daily lives. This can have an important knock-on effect with customers who quickly pick up on the competence of your people and this can make the difference between winning and losing a sale or contract. Read on for five of the essential digital skills for pharma leaders in 2023.


A Data Critic 

Data is everything, and businesses desperately need the analytical skills required to effectively turn information into profit. At the root of this is the critical evaluation of data. The willingness not to take convenient shortcuts to insights, but instead work with the rigour necessary to come to the correct conclusions. Success lies in considering the tasks that you want to perform, the data that you will need, how you will safeguard information, and how you will leverage it to build business cases and inform decisions. The more data expertise you can require the more future-proof and attractive your skill set becomes. At the very least, the leadership team need to have a basic understanding of statistics to apply data insights to their daily work thoughtfully.


Getting to Grips with AI

We are living in a new age of AI and automation, and the continued development and uptake of AI is going to be a big part of the story over the coming year. The use of it will become increasingly sophisticated, starting to really transform the way we do business, as every day, new techniques are developed to automate and augment processes through AI. Businesses are increasingly adopting these technologies to aid and scale deep thinking and analysis. With this comes a requirement for businesses that want to be at the forefront of innovation to furnish their leadership team with a proper understanding of AI and new techniques such as machine learning, and the way it can support and empower a modern team. Colleagues need to be made aware of the possibilities that AI offers and its evolving changes, in order to understand potential AI applications in pharma.


The Power of Social Media

More and more users are becoming aware of products, making purchasing decisions, and consuming brand media via social media. At the same time the space is constantly evolving in terms of the relative popularity of platforms and how they are being used. These channels can not be fully understood simply by reading research or blogs – they need to be experienced. This means becoming an active user. Younger marketers who use high growth sites like TikTok, Reddit and Instagram have a clear advantage over their older colleagues who may have restricted their online presence to the likes of Twitter or Facebook. Being a well rounded digital expert means understanding every available social channel – even if you are not the target demographic.


Digital Leadership

To be an effective team leader it’s necessary to be able to adjust to the new digital environment that we work in, and the changing expectations of employees. Remote and flexible working is here to stay and this has brought about fundamental changes to the management experience. Understanding how to best use technology to manage tasks, monitor productivity and engage team members is critical. As is determining the best way to structure workflows, assess results and enable the equal development of remote and in-office workers. In short, to be a modern manager you need to be able to lead both in the office and digitally.


An Environmental Advocate

With the sheer volume of monumental news over the past few years, it can be easy to forget that we’re also in a major climate emergency. Environmental concerns are not going to go away and will continue to rise up the corporate agenda. In all likelihood, a combination of social and legislative pressure will eventually compel all businesses to act more sustainably. As a result, understanding factors such as sustainable sourcing, ethical supply chains, and carbon neutrality will be important for every marketer if they want to effectively protect their brand’s reputation. The more knowledge and practical experience you have of running green-focused marketing campaigns, the better.


Digital upskilling has to be made relevant to the business, and the needs and abilities of the team. Not everyone needs to learn to code, but those leading pharma businesses, which pride themselves on innovation and development, need to understand and manage artificial intelligence, data analytics, and other technologies we can’t yet predict, and be prepared for how to use them to drive their teams forward. People in these enterprises also need strong digital leadership skills: the ability to inspire and empower others to take on the challenge of continuous learning, and to make effective decisions about the use and implementation of technology.