GSK's tech procurement team is partnering with start-ups to make the best use of new developments in technology ©GlaxoSmithKline
GSK's tech procurement team is partnering with start-ups to make the best use of new developments in technology ©GlaxoSmithKline

Case study: how GSK stays agile – the ‘fail-fast’ way

Technology is transforming the healthcare sector, and GlaxoSmithKline knew it was time to make some changes.

While start-ups might like the kudos of working with a pharmaceutical giant like GSK, getting a foot in the door at a large corporate can often mean a significant commitment of time and money, which is where start-ups give up and big business misses out.

In an increasingly competitive healthcare market, GSK’s technology procurement team decided to make some changes. “We wanted to work with start-ups to get innovative tech companies entering the pharmaceutical space, so we knew we had to do things differently,” says Kristina Drysdale, head of tech and digital, professional and legal services procurement.

Jasdeep Sandhu, global senior manager for digital and tech innovation at GSK, explains: “There’s a race to digitise big pharma and our competitor landscape is changing. If we don’t become more agile, the competition will take our market share. Start-ups have a disruptive mindset and are passionate. It’s an energy we need to tap into. They’re not afraid to share a crazy idea or say something controversial to provoke thought.”

Market conditions – combined with the arrival of chief digital and technology officer Karenann Terrell, whose remit is to transform how new technologies are used to improve performance –compelled the team to rethink. The major driver is, for GSK to tap into these innovative ideas, it must evolve its ways of working to partner with start-ups in an agile “fail-fast” environment, explains Drysdale.

“Our contract templates can be up to 120 pages and payment terms up to 60+5 days,” says Drysdale. “Neither was appropriate for start-ups, so we set up a ‘SWAT team’ comprised of legal, compliance, technology, privacy and procurement, to consider how we overcome barriers to innovation. That team can make changes in a matter of days – not months.”

The ‘SWAT team’ shrank the contract template for start-ups to four pages, cut the typical procurement lifecycle to a few weeks and set up the use of payment cards for pilots with start-ups.

“We went from zero agile sprints and start-up engagements in 2017, to 140+ sprints with more than 15 start-ups,” she adds. The previous contracting and RFP cycle made working with start-ups near-impossible, she explains, due to risk aversion and compliance, whereas the process change has allowed start-ups to play a role in generating growth. According to Drysdale it’s removed the friction and enabled teams to work with smaller, nimbler companies easily.

Sandhu is also the procurement lead for a team called ‘The Beyond’ which looks at where GSK wants to be by 2030 and how to work on it today. “It’s an exciting time to be in healthcare. As the lines between tech and medical science become blurred, we need to co-innovate to help mankind live better for longer.”

A quarter of the tech procurement team is now dedicated to innovation and strategic partnering. “That enables them to look at innovation and bring it back into the business rather than just develop category strategies and savings. Procurement is viewed as a business partner; an enabler rather than a blocker.”

Strategic partnering

The technology procurement team has also altered the way it works with key suppliers. It has created strategic partnerships with 10 tech partners, based on a “partnership charter of trust, transparency and co-investment”. Procurement says this is revolutionary as it aims to drive value, without running traditional tenders.

“People may question ‘how can you make any savings?’ but we’re working so closely with them, co-creating and co-innovating, that savings have increased rather than decreased,” says Drysdale.

Other improvements include disruptive technology experiments with GSK and its strategic partners – from RPA to blockchain pilots; and using the partners to integrate GSK’s first crowdsourcing platform to problem-solve business needs.

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