This paper is the second in a three-part series examining digital transformation in biopharmaceutical and MedTech organizations. The first article sought to define ‘digital’ as a mindset and way of thinking that goes beyond specific platforms, tools or solutions to enable strategy and strategic thinking. The purpose of this article is to examine three models that modern industry organizations have taken to structure digital within their Medical Affairs departments. For the purpose of this article, we are defining structure as organizational hierarchy, identifying how roles and responsibilities can be organized so a company can meet its objectives.
Many factors are combined with structure and strategy to create an organization’s digital presence and purpose including people, processes, ways of working, culture, management responsibilities, human and technology resources, operations and evaluations. Ideally, digital is interwoven into the activities of Medical Affairs and the organization so that it becomes difficult to tell whether the structure of the organization is driving the implementation of solutions/technology or whether the organization’s digital approach is driving the organization’s structure. On the other hand, digital initiatives implemented on their own, without considering how they may or may not resonate with the structure of the organization, run the risk of being piecemeal implementations, never fully understood or implemented within the organization, and often eventually abandoned. We think of this use of technologies like the arcade game “Whack a Mole,” in which technologies are adopted reactively to solve emergent problems, but never implemented proactively to drive an organization forward. As such, technology and the organization must resonate and reinforce each other; but on the other hand, there is considerable flexibility in pairing organizational structure with digital strategy and technological enablers, such that (nearly) any structure can be symbiotic with any (nearly) any technologies, with careful consideration of the strategic priorities.
Organizational structure depends on vision, objectives and strategy, and aligns parts of an organization so it can achieve its maximum performance. Structure defines how tasks are divided, grouped, led and coordinated in organizations; it helps teams work together efficiently, sequencing and prioritizing the work that needs to be done in order to meet the goals of the organization. In other words, digital tools add the “how” to structure, while structure provide the “why” for digital tools. In this way, structure can be the bridge between digital solutions and strategic accomplishments.
This article provides top-level framework and broad conceptual categories for understanding digital structures within Medical Affairs and biopharmaceutical/MedTech organizations, helping leaders to make organizational decisions to drive their digital strategy with intention and purpose. That said, each organization will undoubtedly personalize its structure such that any implementation will be unique, likely drawing on visions/strategies and methods from multiple models.
Functional Areas & Roles
Part three of this paper series will dive deeper into the digital roles and competencies required for a modern digital Medical Affairs organization, however, for the discussion in this article, when we refer to ‘digital teams’ within an organizational structure for Medical Affairs, we are broadly referring to the following four general digital functional areas identified in the previous MAPS paper Elements of a Successful Medical Affairs Digital Strategy Framework: Omnichannel scientific engagement, advanced data generation, foundational systems/capabilities, and people/culture.3 For example, Omnichannel engagement roles may include channel-specific roles such as web strategy and content strategists; advanced data generation may include natural language processing leads and data scientists; foundational systems/capabilities may include CRM managers and data analysts focused on metrics reporting; and people/culture digital roles may include digital capabilities leads whose remit is to upskill digital competencies across the MA organization.
Integrated, Centralized & Decentralized Models
Three general models of digital structure within organizations exist, namely Integrated, Centralized and Decentralized models. Each can be equally appropriate depending on the broader organizational ecosystem. There are, of course, also other models that fall in between or represent combinations of these three. Broadly, in ‘decentralized’ teams, people have ideas, try them out, and ideas that prove useful or successful may be adopted by other teams. In the centralized model, Medical Affairs created dedicated digital teams or digital roles within teams such that digital capabilities may be centralized by function. However, digital and particularly the data underpinning the activities of digital, are unlikely to be siloed by function, prompting many companies to reconsider centralization by function in favor of digital ‘centralization by capability’ (i.e., digital roles housed within centers of excellence). In the Integrated model, companies seek to establish digital capabilities serving the core business, such that innovation is primarily conceptualized at the organizational level, while digital centers of excellence may continue to provide services by function or capability. Hybrid models certainly exist, for example a model that is decentralized for efficiency and fast outputs (MVPs) but with a centralized mindset that allows teams to tap into established systems.
In the attempt to describe how the majority of pharma companies structure their digital organizations, the authors informally surveyed colleagues and members of the MAPS community to get a sense of how their companies are structuring digital for Medical Affairs. What became apparent is that although each company has a unique approach to digital, the structures of their digital teams largely fell into integrated, centralized, or decentralized models. The following is our attempt to describe some of the advantages and challenges with each of the models, and to enable the reader to identify where their company fits within this framework.
Neither the centralized, decentralized nor integrated model will perfectly define the digital structure for any single Medical Affairs organization or biopharmaceutical/MedTech company. However, keeping the general benefits and drawbacks of these models in mind can help Medical Affairs leaders proactively design digital structures to maximize pros while putting processes and expectations in place to minimize many of the cons. The authors hope these broad models provide language and a starting point for the structure of ‘digital’ across organizations.
- Clark S., et al. How Digital Thinking Enables Medical Affairs Strategy, Elevate, 2022, 1-6.
- Waterman, RH., et al. Structure Is Not Organization. Business Horizons, 1980, 16-24.
- Chong, KW, et al. Elements of a Successful Medical Affairs Digital Strategy Framework. Medical Affairs Professional Society, 2022, 1-11.
- Ji, H, and Jin Y. How Team Structure Can Enhance Performance: Team Longevity’s Moderating Effect and Team Coordination’s Mediating Effect. Frontiers in Psychology: Organizational Psychology, 2020.