Winter 2017 Newsletter ♦ Why St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, The Mayo Clinic, and Leading Pharma and Medical Device Companies Have Digital Advisory Boards

By Sherri Douville, CEO, Medigram, @SherriDouville

Digital Transformation Is Hard For All Companies

In our work leading a digital health IT company, we are intrigued by the stated digital ambitions of leading health systems. We look at the actual path to execution for digital transformation. We are fascinated by this challenge, which affects all companies, including technology companies. Difficulty driving digital transformation is not unique to healthcare. For digital leaders, the ability to drive transformation shows how much leadership is actually required of their teams, together with their innovation partners to overcome the biases that digitally challenged firms will impose to defend against the changes of digital transformation.

We are working to understand what the structural requirements within organizations are to drive further what IDC calls the “Third Platform” and sometimes referred to as SMAC (Social, Mobile, Analytics) digitization in healthcare. One theme that becomes crystal clear is that driving a digital strategy requires full C-Suite and board support especially that of the CEO. If the CEO is not passionate about the need to become a digital enterprise, then the likelihood of successful digital transformation could be low. 

90% of Executives Across Industries Report Digital Challenges

In a 2015 global survey of managers and executives conducted by the MIT Sloan Management Review and Deloitte [1], 90% of respondents reported a proliferation of digital roles. Despite this fact, most executives across all industries recognize that their companies are not preparing for what is expected to emerge from digital trends. 

Thankfully, Kane et al. [1] describe the picture of a digitally mature company. "Digitally maturing organizations have organizational cultures that share common features. These features consistently appear in digitally maturing companies across different industries.” The authors state that the main characteristics of digital cultures are an expanded appetite for risk, rapid experimentation, heavy investment in talent and developing digital leaders. Further, the authors advise executives to "embrace what is called digital congruence - culture, people, structure and tasks aligned with each other so that executives can effectively address the challenges of a constantly changing digital landscape."

It Takes A Whole Leadership Team

Organizations that recognize these additional leadership requirements find that they can benefit by enlisting the support of a multi-functional team of digital natives to help them realize their digital ambitions. 

The Special Challenge to the Nonprofit and Public Sector

One challenge specific to nonprofit and public sector organizations is the asymmetry between the concepts of innovation juxtaposed to the concept of legitimacy. The latter is what Professor William Barnett of the Stanford Graduate School of Business discusses in his “Where Great Companies – and Leaders – Come From” lecture on leadership and innovation. He points out that aiming for legitimacy as a nonprofit or public sector organization is in the service of attracting grants and funding.

The challenge with striving for one definition of legitimacy is that different stakeholders define the concept of legitimacy in many ways. For example, below are two diametrically opposed pools of investors, donors and their goals.

  • Legacy company goals that defend existing or past businesses - they may be grantmakers and donors.
  • A startup investor/individual, entrepreneurs, or philanthropists who drive innovation, improvement and relevance.

How Do Companies Become Digital Leaders?

Through the leadership of organizations such as Medtronic, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and The Mayo Clinic, we learned about the concept of the digital advisory board. Outlined below is a definition of a digital advisory board and topics that they help influence that is adapted from Josh King of Ridgeway Partners [3]. The digital advisory board is crafted to support the Chief Digital Officer by acting as a team and as individual collaborators, "proxies", to the CDO by interacting with the C-Suite and assigned board members tasked with digital transformation. Such an audacious, big, hairy goal as digital transformation truly requires a team working with and under the leadership of the CDO.

Our observations with highlights from Josh King’s “What is a Digital Advisory Board?” below:

Organizations such as Medtronic, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, The Mayo Clinic and Cello Pharmaceuticals have all appointed digital advisory directors in order to refine their digital strategy and improve ROI. A digital advisory board is a group of 2-8 individuals who help organizations refine their digital strategies by:

  • Improving patient experience through mobile technologies
  • Providing assessment and advisement on networking, storage, and compute requirements for specific digital use cases
  • Brainstorming emerging big data/data analytics to identify clinical and consumer insights, demographics, sales opportunities etc.
  • Providing cybersecurity expertise and best practices
  • Providing expertise on ways to cut costs using technology
  • Providing new ideas on ways to improve digital marketing and social media efforts

In addition to providing digital advice, digital advisory board members can become brand ambassadors and strive to introduce sales, partnership and fundraising opportunities.

Questions that a Digital Advisory Board can Help Answer

How can we better use our mobile platforms to improve patient experience?

What are the networking, storage, and compute requirements for specific digital use cases both today and tomorrow?

  • In which areas do I need to seek new vendors with new skills?
  • What are the latest marketing software platforms in order to improve our customer and key stakeholder engagement?
  • What IT functions and services can we outsource to cloud/web-based services in order to save money?
  • How are leading organizations refining their brand through thought leadership pieces?
  • How can we ensure that we are capturing and storing all possible user data in order to analyze trends on consumer sales, user engagement, consumer demographics, etc. down the road?
  • What marketing methods are most effective in acquiring new users to our patient portal?
  • How are leading digital companies transforming their internal structure in order to be more agile? What new positions are they creating?
  • Does our company have a sound cybersecurity strategy? What legal implications would there be if we were hacked? Do we understand who we are legally obligated to notify if we are hacked?

The Chief Transformation Officer – Same Goal, Different Approach

McKinsey [4] describes a different approach in defining the role of the Chief Transformation Officer as someone who “augments the CEO and has clear authority to push the organization to its full potential. They possess the skills, experience, and even personality of a seasoned fighter pilot."

McKinsey [5] states, "The transformation discipline is not a comfortable, consensus-led approach; the Chief transformation officer should be willing to be confrontational when managers don’t meet their commitments. Meetings should be characterized by honesty and transparency, allowing the organization to diagnose its situation and align on not just the problems but also the solutions. The transparency is important to helping everyone understand the company’s decision-making processes and priorities."

We hope this is helpful in providing a talking point for the kind of support and resources required to bring your digital strategy to life. As any company approaching its fifth birthday, it is not too early for Medigram to already be thinking about scalability and constantly evolving for continued relevance.

Sources Referenced:

[1] Kane, Gerald C., Doug Palmer, Anh Nguyen Phillips, David Kiron, and Natasha Buckley. "Aligning the Organization for Its Digital Future." MIT Sloan Management Review. July 26, 2016.

[2] Barnett, William. “Where Great Companies – and Leaders – Come From.” Stanford Graduate School of Business. October 21, 2016. [Video File] Retrieved from:

[3] King, Josh. "The Growth of Digital Advisory Boards." LinkedIn. June 2, 2016.

[4]  Bucy, Michael, Stephen Hall, and Doug Yakola. "Transformation with a Capital T." McKinsey & Company. November 2016.

[5] Bucy, Michael, Adrian Finlayson, Greg Kelly, and Chris Moye. "The 'How' of Transformation." McKinsey & Company. May 2016.

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