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Reimagining and Leading the Evolution of Your Alliance Management Function

Evolving your alliance management function

April 25, 2023

There is no question 2023 is a challenging year for biopharma companies. Pipelines are being culled. Financing for early-stage companies is harder to come by. A number of blockbusters are losing exclusivity. M&A activity is picking up. For biopharmaceutical alliance professionals, it is once again the season of having to explain to the CFO wielding the budget axe, “So tell me again what you do?”

Savvy alliance leaders should welcome the challenge—and be prepared with an answer that not only explains how you’ve helped the business achieve great things by keeping its alliances on track. You must also be ready to share what you and your team are doing to advance the company’s alliance capability and help lead it in a time of scientific and technical advancement, changing economic incentives, and empowered patients that necessitates partnering happening everywhere in the organization.

Tell Me What You Do?

Corporate functions such as alliance management, human resources, and communications are essential, but it is often assumed their tasks are nice-to-have or that they are strictly cost centers and therefore should be kept to an absolute minimum. Of course, that is short-sighted. What is true is that to be essential enabling functions must:

  •  Emphasize and focus on what they do that stakeholders value most
  • Minimize the visibility of low value activities and their draw on resources—finding ways to either increase their value or potentially eliminate them
  • Digitize workflow to provide easy and even self-serve reporting customized to what individual stakeholders need and want to know, available with a few clicks
  • Focus on operational excellence in all activities and processes—in the case of biopharma alliance management, governance writ large and risk management are the two most important sets of activities to get right
  • Provide timely information and insights to stakeholders to help them optimize decision making and seize opportunities

Alliance leaders are well-served by framing the answer to the question, “Tell me what you do?” based on these five points—and using their knowledge of what matters most to the executive asking the question and how it is measured.

Start Reimagining

The traditional organization, structure, and role of the corporate alliance management function is ripe for reimagining. It is time to take on more of a leadership role in capability building in addition to providing top-notch services for a company’s critical alliances—regardless of whether those alliances are asset-based, service-related, or are new forays into digital health. As the head of one corporate team in big pharma told us, “My team needs to be leaders, not managers.”

So what needs to change? We see three interrelated areas to be reimagined with an eye towards focusing on achieving excellence as a function that enables a capability, as described above.

  1. Designing and implementing an overarching governance process for the prescriptive and consistent resourcing of and determining the service requirements of all partner relationships that meet a certain threshold
  2. Focusing on high value services, updated and made more agile for today’s business environment, together with digitized workflow and reporting
  3. Evolving the structure, organization, and roles of the alliance management function to be better integrated with the business, often in a way that has alliance professionals embedded in the business and tied together through a central operations group that is programmatically building the organizational capability to partner well

A Five-Part Program

Describes the five-part program for evolving an alliance management functionIf you are ready to get started, we’ve outlined a five-part program for reimagining alliance management— a roadmap for creating value in a rapidly changing partnering everywhere world:

1. Define your Destination – Your North Star

Think of your North Star as your guiding purpose, as defined by your key stakeholders: The executives with the ultimate responsibility for the tangible results of the alliances that will benefit patients and serve the business purposes of the partners. The North Star provides focus, helps set boundaries, and guides resource allocation and decision making.

  • Conduct a Destination Workshop to envision your North Star
  • Define how your key stakeholders, the organization, and your partners will benefit
  • Identify what needs to change to create more relevant value—and make the value currently created more visible to senior management

2. ​Build a Destination Back to the Present Plan

To know how to get to where you want to go, you have to understand where you are starting from. A baseline analysis of the current approach to alliance management provides a credible starting point from which to measure progress over time. As you work your way back from the future think about:

  • How alliance management resourcing decisions are currently made
  • What the key stakeholders who understand alliance management value most
  • The skills of current alliance professionals relative to the needs of the portfolio
  • The understanding of how to partner well among governance committee and project team members
  • What alliance managers measure and how that is reported up through the organization

Next, think about how you are going to achieve your North Star. What’s the journey? What are the major stops on the roadmap? The further out in time you go the less detailed it will be. With progress, the map will fill in.

3. Determine First Steps that Will have an Impact

The path to the North Star is multi-faceted. A balanced approach to starting the journey advances all core initiatives in an iterative, planful way that credibly describes value delivery to stakeholders. Make sure to:

  • Prioritize initiatives based on criteria that advance progress to the North Star
  • Create longer-term objectives for each initiative
  • Define immediate actions to create demonstrable results
  • Determine resources required to achieve first round objectives

4. Enroll a Small Number of Stakeholders Who are Champions for Change

As you identify the initial steps you’ll take to get to the North Star, it’s important to engage a small number of stakeholders who understand the importance of alliance management and are also champions for advancement. Clearly define the difference between today and tomorrow in terms that describe what is in it for key stakeholders from senior executives to alliance team members

5. Grab the Opportunity to Fix What’s Broken, Improve What’s Inefficient, and Own It!

As you get ready to embark on your journey you will have:

  •  Aligned on how to better serve stakeholders and increase alliance management’s value to the company
  • Have a high-level plan to guide its journey, set stakeholder expectations, and provide visibility to management
  • Clear line of sight to a set of initial initiatives and a baseline to measure progress against

The mantle of leadership beckons for all who will seize it as the path forward for biopharmaceutical alliance professionals. We’re ready to assist you in reimagining and evolving the future course of your company’s alliance capability. Contact us for a complementary assessment to get you started.


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