From Lagging to Leading: Building Capability to Meet Tomorrow’s Life Sciences Challenges

North Highland partnered with global biopharmaceutical company, UCB, to elevate its commercial performance. By driving a shift in employee mindsets and behaviors, North Highland helped UCB successfully adopt and deploy new digital capabilities that further solidified the company’s position as a leader in the life sciences industry.  

Client Situation

In a dynamic and competitive life sciences landscape, more efficient and effective commercial operations are imperative. UCB realized that to remain competitive, it needed to deliver a step-change in commercial performance. The company pinpointed better marketing and sales operations as critical to driving positive impact for patients, while also increasing revenues and margin from its portfolio of medicines. 

UCB identified four key levers with the potential to make the kind of impact it was seeking:

  1. Internalize and upgrade its data management and analytics infrastructure,
  2. Enable field sales and marketing to deliver the right content to the right customer at the right time,
  3. Lead future ways of working through adoption of an Agile approach, and
  4. Build internal capability in change management.

To pull this off, UCB partnered with North Highland to pursue Digital Business Transformation (DBT). Collectively, the goal was to navigate new, more digitally led and data-driven ways of working and adopt industry best practices in commercial operations.

Our experts helped build the company’s enterprise capability to deliver, manage, and absorb the impacts of the DBT. More precisely, we helped UCB embrace best practices in project management, Agile, and change management to successfully support this work.

“We recognized that DBT is not just about the tech. It’s the change ... North Highland understood this and helped us visualize what we could only begin to see as our next steps. – UCB Commercial Leader

Our Approach

Leveraging our Transformation Services framework, we worked with UCB’s commercial leadership to first define success. We determined that our primary shared goal was to build the company’s internal capabilities, so that it could quickly reduce its dependency on external partners and successfully carry forward delivery and adoption of the DBT. To achieve this, we focused on three key areas

  • Project management,
  • Agile, and 
  • Change management delivery.

Our team brought a unique perspective and strategy for capability building. This entailed process and tooling development, coaching, and a change management apprenticeship program based on our ‘Learn then Lead’ model. This model recognizes that knowledge acquisition and applied practice are two very different activities, but both are essential for capability building. For example, we knew that training curricula—or classroom certification programs—would not be enough to equip the UCB team to effectively plan and manage complex transformations in the future. 

As part of the ‘Learn then Lead’ model, the UCB team needed to collaborate with experienced North Highland transformation practitioners to engage in learning sessions. This was achieved by shadowing senior practitioners conducting change activities on inflight projects, and leading change activities with coaching and feedback. 

The ‘Learn then Lead’ approach also gave the UCB team an opportunity to put theoretical knowledge to the test in a low-risk environment and gradually take on more responsibility. To maintain the strength of this new network, we helped design the infrastructure to grow the team and enable continuous professional development into the future and prepare UCB for the inevitable pace of change in technologies and tools to support the business.



Value Delivered

Following our partnership, UCB has successfully continued to deliver its DBT program and realized in-year return on investment. The recurring savings from use of internal change management resources alone have exceeded several million dollars. 

More important than these cost savings is the success with which the UCB team has been able to land critical enterprise transformations using the processes, tools, and capabilities built as part of our work together. These changes have included: 

  • Releasing an advanced analytics engine to optimize marketing mix, 
  • Deploying new automation solutions to reduce manual effort, and 
  • Rolling out ‘next best action’ and ‘dynamic targeting’ tools to prompt field representative customer engagements.

The UCB commercial landscape also has newfound confidence to innovate, disrupt the status quo, and trust in its teams’ abilities to meet tomorrow’s challenges. And since embarking on its commercial performance journey, UCB has done just that: Delivering the operational and financial objectives of DBT with five percent less than the budgeted investment.

As the DBT enters steady state operations, UCB has institutionalized the capability in a permanent portfolio management office (PMO) for the entire U.S. enterprise. The new PMO will ensure that the capabilities North Highland helped UCB develop are maintained and expanded as the business flexes to achieve its future commercial ambitions.

“The value of this apprenticeship is immense! The real-world application cannot be understated, and I would never have had the same appreciation or learning without having a real change project to work on. I understand now the reality of what needs to happen to shepherd change and the activities throughout. I wish we would use it in additional areas at UCB and I would like to do more change management in the future.” – Tim Packard, Business Enablement Lead, U.S. Neurology