With Søren Bekker CIO, Octapharma
At Octapharma, VP of Corporate IT Søren Bekker constantly measures the digital ambitions against the regulatory reality and constraints of the pharma industry. Instead of revolutionizing the game, Octapharma focuses on the day-to-day opportunities for innovation and on optimizing the collaboration between business and IT.
Octapharma is one of the largest human protein product manufacturers in the world, developing and producing human proteins from human plasma and human cell lines. The company was founded 1983 and the product line targets bleeding disorders, immune deficiencies and critical care.
As VP of Corporate IT, it is part of Søren Bekker’s mission to enable the organization to promote collaboration and innovation and thereby develop digital tools to link patient and product closer together. Both to gather data and to provide a more complete experience for the patients.
Besides it’s Swiss-based headquarter, Octapharma’s global organization is present in about 35 countries with production facilities in Sweden, Austria, France, Germany and Mexico. Driving digital innovation in a multinational pharmaceutical company like Octapharma is not without its challenges. According to Søren Bekker, the answer is to break down the barriers between IT and the rest of the organization.
– It’s about modernizing your business without turning everything upside down. In a company with 8,000 employees across the globe a complete revolution simply just isn’t an option, Søren Bekker says and elaborates:
– Instead, we’re continuously working on implementing what we call a “business partner” model that focuses on pinpointing the digital ambassadors in each part of our different lines of business. In the last couple of years, Octapharma has undergone a digital maturation where the larger well-defined projects run smoothly through a traditional waterfall approach. This leaves more room for the small, pilot-like projects that can be injected into everyday operations.
However, the innovation task isn’t complete by just identifying the ambassadors outside of the IT department. You also need the “digital evangelists”.
– You need people in your IT organization who think fast, take initiative and get things done while also communicating the details of the process and results to the rest of the organization. Without these key employees, the innovation process will be difficult to kick into gear, Søren Bekker explains.
He touches on a general problem in the world of IT – the shortage of competent personnel.
– The biggest hurdle facing not only Octapharma but every organization is a lack of competences, resources and attracting the right people. For us, part of the answer is also to look outwards towards external partners and ecosystems that can support our own efforts.
Another of Octapharma’s initiatives when it comes to progressing a digital mindset within the company has been to reorganize the IT team. Now, part of the staff has a deep technical focus while other staff members have a more process-oriented role and act as liaisons to the rest of the business, where they focus on innovation and business pains. The purpose is to keep talks about digitalization from getting bogged down by technical details and create an easy outlet for new ideas.
– It is key that we identify the small, but valuable, ideas that can streamline a line of business or make a part of production more cost efficient. If your non-IT personnel don’t have a place to go with their everyday IT related ideas, we risk losing out on these insights instead of utilizing them, Søren Bekker explains.
While most tech companies strive to be technology leaders, this can be difficult in the pharmaceutical industry, which is heavily regulated. Living up to compliance and regulations can make it a challenge to take the lead on implementing new technologies – or integrating technologies “ahead” of the compliance curve.
Instead, focus must be on maintaining a balance where compliance neither dictates innovation or slows it down, Søren Bekker says. And even though Octapharma is not digital front runner, he, as CIO, sees a great value in keeping updated on new technologies to prime the organization towards digital transformation.
– Right now, there is a great potential for integrating analytics in our production lines. This will make it possible for Octapharma to optimize our daily processes but also push the innovation process – and with this in place the natural next step is AI capabilities, he states and elaborates:
– If we look at “new” technologies, blockchain could offer great potential for traceability. Octapharma will not, however, be the first to implement it. At the end of the day we have a responsibility to deliver data in the specific formats and contexts that different regulators require, which limits our possibilities to innovate in that area. So even if we come up with something truly innovative it’s a matter of either living up to current regulations or convincing the entire industry and markets like the US, China and Europe to conform to our new technology, which would be a tough sell to say the least.
In collaboration with a startup partner, Octapharma has developed an online platform for the Canadian market, where key stakeholders and opinion leaders such as doctors can discuss the different types of treatment that Octapharma offers.
Octapharma’s website is currently undergoing a major overhaul, which will result in a brand-new customer interface with a patient focus instead of the previous inside-out approach.
Octapharma have several ongoing app initiatives to facilitate use of their products. For example, patients can follow their daily dosage, physical wellbeing and activity.
Identify and recruit digital evangelists, both inside and outside the company. The ones who think fast, take initiative and get things done while also communicating their process and results to the rest of the organization.
Don’t divide the organization into individual departments where IT is separated from the rest. IT must be a part of the day to day business decisions.
New ideas and inspiration must come from the entire organization – and you must master the span between innovation and compliance. IT should support and guide that innovation, not try to shut it down over fears of shadow-IT.
This year's Expectation Barometer delves into the opportunities awaiting Danish and international companies, and their readiness to scale their digital initiatives. What differences are there? And where? And what does it require - strategically, technologically and organizationally - to scale such digital
initiatives? We call this Digital at Scale.
Fill out the form below to download the report, and read more about the results and the other CIO articles.