Saama’s Chief Strategy Officer Sagar Anisingaraju, recently attended the World Forum Disrupt Open Innovation Strategy & Conference in San Francisco, September 18-19, 2018, and participated in a panel on Open Innovation and Co-Innovation, hosted by Pamela Rice, FinTech Executive, Advisor and Innovator. Below are excerpts from Sagar’s discussion points on that topic.
Pamela Rice: We are at a moment where technology and strategy can no longer be separated. Where the customer expectations, the mega trends in AI, ML, IoT are changing the landscape of what we can do and what our customers expect. Companies can be outpaced or worse get caught in the trap of creating in innovation for the sake of innovation. Our next panel discussion focuses on harnessing open and co-innovation to strategically leverage partnerships and open networks for innovation. I’ll start with a brief intro for everyone on the panel. Sagar, can you give a brief background of Saama and your role there and your perspective on Open Innovation and Co-Innovation?
Sagar Anisingaraju: Sure, Saama is a global data & analytics company serving biopharma and its ecosystem. We provide a clinical data analytics platform with insights from deep learning & AI to accelerate clinical trial timelines. I run the strategy function which includes Products, Marketing and Partnerships.
With our customers who are mostly pharmaceutical companies, we see an element of skepticism, especially around innovation using AI & advanced technologies for transforming their operations. “We are different, this does not apply to us,” is the usual mindset. Saama helps change this mindset by conducting what we call innovation.AI programs. We often challenge and ask them to look at other industries and identify their own Moore’s Law for radically optimizing their businesses, just as the semiconductor industry innovated across the spectrum to bring down the costs of hardware exponentially while improving performance over the last 30 years or so, a phenomenon we all know now as Moore’s Law.
While that was happening, in the pharma industry the cost of bringing a new drug to the market has increased from $30M to $3B in the last thirty years. How can we similarly bend these cost and time curves so that a patient out there is better served? Saama believes we have an answer – by encouraging pharma to experiment and collaborate through shared platforms for data and insights and more impactful outcomes.
Our vision is to bring down the cost of drug development to $300M in the next decade using AI, technology and data sharing. Without Innovation and Co-Innovation across the pharma ecosystem, this vision is not achievable.
Pamela: Thank you, Sagar. What would you call out as the major internal barriers to partnering with other businesses and what would you suggest as tactics to overcome or minimize those risks?
Sagar: Any innovation is a quest for transformation, and internal barriers will always be there. To some extent these barriers are healthy, as they are a checks and balances to ground people to reality. Let me list a few barriers from my perspective:
1) Data Sharing:
We see a lot of internal barriers specifically in sharing data internally across functions. One statistic says that in a majority of the cases, enterprises use the data that they purchased only in one function, only once, and purchase it multiple times across functions and timelines. For example, a data set and insights used in planning and feasibility of a clinical trial study to identify patient demographics and suitability for clinical trial is the same data needed by commercial teams few years later to market the drug. In any pharma organization, sharing of these data and insights is very hard due to lack of proper process and technology backbones.
Executive sponsorship on data governance and sharing is a key requirement to reduce this risk.
2) Not Invented Here, or NIH Syndrome, is an Internal Barrier:
This is perhaps common in any organization. Protecting turf, inability to find commonality between different businesses, leads to reinventing the wheel.
How do we overcome these mindsets and mitigate risks? Fostering development of new leaders, cross-pollination of people with different expertise, and attending industry conferences not associated with your core-industry all go a long way. For example, the concept of a checklist to be used during surgery was inspired by checklists used by airline pilots, and this has resulted in reducing incidences of surgical complications.
3) Lack of Provenance is Another Barrier:
“I want our innovation to be known and be leveraged, but want to be kept informed of how it is being used and want it to be leveraged with consent and right recognition.” Here the barrier is the lack of provenance. We do not have a guarantee that if we put out what we have invented, it will not be used in solving some other problem against our wishes (“I may not want my algorithm to be used in a socially irresponsible way in future”). Using AI Deep Learning algorithms for weapons and other unintended purposes, for example. One way technology can mitigate this downstream risk is to encapsulate the process flows into a blockchain. A colleague of mine has written an excellent article in a recent issue of Applied Clinical Trials on this topic
At a macro level, we also noticed that some of the internal barriers disappear when “external” recognition and acceptance happen. For example, our internal transformation and innovation model was challenged for both right and wrong reasons by our own employees, investors and Board over the period, as the results of innovation were not always visible in the near-term. When Kellogg Business School analyzed and created a Case Study of our transformation with an outside-in perspective, it helped a lot of employees to understand the broader perspective of the innovation that we are embarking upon. So sometimes to break internal barriers you do need external forces to act on them.
Pamela: Great insights. I’m sure we have all experienced an innovation project that never seems to end, doesn’t have a clear goal, or does not have alignment across a number of stakeholders. Can you share your experience with the pitfalls of innovation projects?
Sagar: One pitfall is taking up a very hairy and audacious project for innovation and failing. Not all organizations are ready for those sorts of failures. We recommend innovation programs that need minimal cross-functional dependencies to start with. An upfront definition of success measures is key, this ensures that nothing is lost in translation. Also, monitoring measures of success and ensuring that there is universal agreement on the problem statement is essential. Stepwise approach to building trust is vital, hence taking on low-hanging problems before going up the complexity chain is key.
Pamela: Ok, let’s turn to some other external factors. How do you think of the role of government, regulators and the market in driving open innovation?
Sagar: The best example I will give on this is what the gentleman from Amazon shared of their Innovation Mantra.
“You don’t add innovation to your company – you get out of its way.”
Government and regulators should do exactly do that, get out of the way so that industries can innovate and collaborate. Government should only get involved in funding projects that are related to basic sciences. The market, via investments, academic work, etc., offers the appropriate framework and incentives for collective market forces to drive all other forms of open innovation.
Having said that, closer to our industry, the FDA is a major regulatory agency. The FDA has taken several initiatives to foster innovation across forums, and we are very happy about it. Guidance on using EHR data and Real-World Data into clinical trials, use of blockchain technologies for consented data sharing, etc., are few examples where the FDA is encouraging innovation at a macro level.
Pamela: Thank you for your insights Sagar. I know you make a personal commitment to drive strategic innovation and won a Chief Strategy Officer of the Year award in 2013 at this conference. Can you give a brief summary of your strategy and where you are in your journey?
Sagar: Sure Pamela, I will be happy to share the details and the outcomes from that strategy. By 2013, we saw the roots of Big Data taking shape with hundreds of technology vendors offering products and tools to process that data. About 4000+ new companies with good funding emerged. A new job description called ‘Data Scientist’ took shape. We, however, noticed that almost all of the initial large Big Data projects failed across the spectrum. Most of the businesses were unable to derive relevant insights from the data assets that they had. We analyzed most of those failures and came up with a blueprint to address them. A strategic blueprint on how organizations could create a modern platform combining the Big Data pipelines, mathematical algorithms, specific domain content and generate business outcomes from this combination. This loosely coupled and well-orchestrated modern platform enabled both horizontal and vertical scaling across industries. For example, in the Biotech world this strategy allowed us to create a robust clinical analytics platform to help pharma plan and conduct their clinical trials faster and cheaper. We explained this strategic blueprint at the conference in 2013, which was well-appreciated by the Jury and led to our award. Saama has been executing on that transformation strategy over the last four years, serving one industry at a time.
Pamela: Thanks for your time.
Sagar: Thank you Pamela. The pleasure is all mine.