Let’s face it – community pharmacy is in a knowledge transfer bind. It can no longer function under its own self reliance.
It is bogged down because pharmacy leadership has developed hardening of the arteries and finds itself immobile inside each of its traditional infrastructures.
The primary cause is twofold:
* Information is being collated and processed at ever increasing rates and volumes, with no specialist pharmacy innovative systems developed to provide clarity and direction i.e. knowledge confidence to generate productive self-funding pathways after an initial investment of “seed” funds.
* Leadership has become dependent on external influences that control money flows into the profession (both government and private enterprise) with their accompanying biases creating competing directions (and confusion).
Confusion, stagnation and immobility are terms that best describe the feelings of the people populating each community pharmacy no matter the size.
There is a feeling of “incompleteness”- a sense that even though some “local leaders” are pushing against the tide with some degree of success, it feels as if it is an incomplete success caused by a range of “knowledge gaps” across the landscape, which simply erodes confidence.
Decision-making becomes tentative at best or “no” decision at worst.
On the scale of decision-making the entire profession is tipping towards the “no” end of the scale.
Therefore, it is time to establish a continuous Open Innovation Program to generate the knowledge required to create productive management decisions.
Open Innovation is a concept best thought of as recognising that the best ideas are rarely concentrated in a single organisation.
This means that in each pharmacy, managers at all levels should all be looking beyond their own four walls to create and accelerate their research and development processes.
Open Innovation has four facets that need to be understood.
They are simply defined as:
* “outside in”
* “inside out”
* “bottom up”
* “top down”
“Outside in” is when an organization brings external ideas and technologies into its processes, and “inside out” is when it shares its ideas with others.
“Bottom up” or “top down” describes how much knowledge will be delivered to industry/professional bodies under instruction to politically support it (“bottom up”) or how much primary information will be drawn from the same industry/professional bodies as an addition to the primary knowledge mix (“top down”).
The more reliance on “top down” processes, the more ability for manipulation and stagnation to occur at the “bottom”.
It is more productive to be “bottom up” in your relationship with your industry/professional bodies and insist that they perform under your instruction.
This way, majority control remains collectively with individual community pharmacy units and the paradigm shift that must occur where these organisations act as knowledge “clearing houses” and provide platforms for “open sharing”.
For correct balance, 80 percent of the information flow and direction must come from the membership (as per Pareto’s Principle).
Leadership direction is thus stimulated by a member and the executive of these leadership organisations must be elected on broad knowledge skill sets rather than political compromise abilities.
Both the internal and the external flows of information can accelerate the innovation process.
Your business model may determine what knowledge and information you choose to bring in, or share with others.
And your model can be based on some of the conventional approaches for acquiring technologies, such as licensing, joint research and development, and crowdsourcing.
However, it may require an additional form of infrastructure that has not been generally seen in community pharmacy, and that is an internal education format that fosters primary creativity and innovation stimuli.
It has at its centre the objective to promote health literacy as the catalyst for the stimulation of clinical services (for a fee) within community pharmacy.
Some community pharmacies have begun to tentatively shift away from self-sufficiency to open innovation, for several reasons:
* It can reduce the costs and risk of research and development. Your pharmacy can reap the rewards of innovation without “bearing the brunt” of going it alone in R&D.
* Knowledge is rarely concentrated in any one organisation. The number of highly educated people has increased enormously over the years, and they are located in many different places. And when people leave their job, they take their specialist knowledge with them to their new employers.
* The venture capital market has encouraged entrepreneurialism and the growth of start-up businesses generating new ideas and technology.
The number and sophistication of external suppliers has increased as a result.
* As business becomes more global, companies have a wider reach and the Internet has made it easy for them to collaborate around the world. Foreign partners can often provide cheaper labour and materials, and different forms of technology.
How to Set up an Open Innovation Program
There is no one right way to launch an open innovation program, but following the steps outlined below can improve your chances of success:
Pick a team that truly represents the decision-makers and influencers within your own pharmacy.
They must be representative of the whole pharmacy and not be segregated into pharmacists and non-pharmacists.
The team must be integrated and open to self-criticism and comment from others (internal and external).
The switch to open innovation can create a culture shock in organisations that are used to being self-reliant and keeping knowledge internalised.
Some people may be reluctant to accept external ideas or technology.
Others may be unwilling to share information that they have developed realising that it gives an advantage to their team (compared to other pharmacies, even within the same ownership structure).
The key to breaking down barriers to change and fostering an environment that welcomes open innovation is to get top-level managers onside.
Once they support the concept, they can champion your efforts, and their enthusiasm will trickle down the pharmacy’s hierarchy.
The infrastructure format is to locate the team into a reasonably-sized room suitable for delivery of “round table” workshops, either within the pharmacy or externally, for use inside or outside of working hours.
By keeping your team to be as small as possible, (but still remaining representative), will improve consensus while simultaneously reducing costs.
One way to convince your managers or team members about the benefits of open innovation is to highlight the success stories of your industry peers.
And when your own innovation team achieves a win, let people know about it, inside and outside your organisation.
As people recognise the benefits of open innovation, they could become more willing to forge external partnerships.
Carefully evaluate what can be shared, and what should remain confidential – this will need to be decided at a senior level, as intellectual property is a core asset of many businesses. You risk losing competitive advantage if you share too much in the wrong circumstances, while others may be reluctant to share with you if you share too little.
Extending the internal team
Open innovation involves more than your management representatives.
To this mix you must add a workshop facilitator who has a good sense of humour and skilled in keeping a workshop program moving forward efficiently.
To the mix we add researchers and developers who may be sourced from staff, but generally are recruited from outside the pharmacy
By inviting key colleagues from various departments and levels to join your team, you will speed up acceptance of any new initiative.
An essential person will be a pharmacist designated as “clinical pharmacist” who may already be on staff, but preferably be an external person incorporated as a service provider and regarded as a primary alliance partner.
Others, embracing a broad range of experience can also be invited casually or permanently.
For example, someone from a legal or accounting background could spot potential issues in licensing deals with potential partners, or a member with a communications background could broadcast your successes to a targeted demographic.
But first, Identify Key Problems to Solve
Your first task is to define what “innovation” means to your organisation.
What is your overall goal?
Do you want to collect new ideas or technologies, for example?
Once you identify your goal, it will be easier to determine what projects and partners can help you achieve it.
Clearly, not all projects are suited to open innovation. For example, if a project is progressing well with your internal resources, and you don’t need any external help, then little would be gained from working with an outside partner.
And some core technologies may give you competitive advantage, and you may not want to share these.
Then Decide Who to Approach
Your choice of potential partners depends on your goals and strategy. If you want to protect sensitive information, for example, you should limit your search to organisations or people that you know you can trust.
To build your product portfolio or enable a flow of ideas, you could create a portal on your website that advertises your open innovation program and asks people to submit their ideas.
And that opens the workshop up to pharmacy consumers as important participating partners.
Some pharmacy consumers already belong to self-help organisations, particularly in the area of chronic health.
These people are already motivated to self-help and may find your pharmacy workshop an interesting alternative to what is on offer with other health professionals or organised groups.
Keep them to relatively small groups (generally not exceeding 12), do charge a membership fee and deliver targeted information relevant to their condition.
Allow them to ask questions in a de-identified manner (submit them in writing prior to a workshop) so that they can receive targeted responses from the internal pharmacy team while simultaneously educating the consumer patient as to the scope and personality of the professional services available.
And yes, do invite them to make appointments for consultations within the pharmacy and explain the scope and fee structure that would suit them.
Future workshop content would be developed for medical conditions or wellness strategies to be delivered on a rolling basis (say once a month initially).
Suitable content providers and education specialists will be required generally as external alliance partners, and will embrace education of the team to engage with patients or systems education to deliver core “product” e.g. health literacy
If popularity created an increased demand, the membership fees and consultation fees would create a revenue stream that would support the system economically.
The workshops would be attractive to strategic partners who have specialist software or other products, that could underwrite some systems within the pharmacy or its workshops.
These strategic partners could provide sponsorships for the workshops and help underwrite the operational costs.
You could also involve social networking sites to recruit consumers or strategic partners, and properly managed, those sites could generate goodwill and spread the message.
Make sure, however, that participant comments fall inside the formal guidelines for pharmacy advertising standards.
Some other criteria to look for in a partner include whether it is a good fit with your business culture, and the potential to build an ongoing relationship.
But these will be less important if you are looking for a short-term collaboration for a speedy turnover of ideas.
Adopting the Right Business Model
Open innovation differs from other models e.g. collaboration on open source software.
While both strive to use diversity and participation, there are far fewer restrictions on the use of open source material, but open innovation retains a traditional and diversified contractual element.
When you’re choosing which business model to use for an open innovation program, it’s important to consider how permanent the arrangement will be, how you will exchange knowledge within the internal management team, and how limited your use of intellectual property will be, plus how the knowledge can be adapted to the interests of consumer patients.
Some standard models and variations exist in the business world outside of pharmacy that can conceptually be incorporated as part of your expanded pharmacy model:
* “Conventional” models.
These are tried-and-tested methods of sharing technologies and information, such as crowdsourcing, licensing, joint ventures, joint R&D agreements, and acquisitions.
* Product platforming.
With this approach, an organization shares a partially completed product with contributors, who come up with ideas to improve it and complete its development.
* Idea competitions.
You could offer rewards for successful contributions by setting up competitions, sometimes known as “hackathons,” which are common when developing software. These are short-term events, usually lasting between a day and a week, but organizations can access a large number of ideas this way.
* Consumer immersion.
In this model, you consult extensively with a large number of your consumers, being part of (or conducting your own) local trade fair.
Ensuring good consumer feedback can improve your business model’s final design and usability.
* Innovation networks.
Much like idea competitions, an organisation can create a network of contributors to the design process by offering rewards or incentives.
The difference is that the network is asked to come up with solutions to existing problems, rather than provide ideas for new products.
* One major form of an innovation network would be to sponsor or licence your open innovation program to another pharmacy and then share information as a networked alliance partnership leading to a chain of co-operating pharmacies
When you form a strong relationship with the right partner, open innovation can offer many benefits.
For instance, it can lower the risk and cost of continuing research and development, and it can speed up the delivery of new products and services to the market.
Research needs to be a formal component that can independently be funded through grants or sponsorships.
Alliance with tertiary institutions will be essential.
To set up a successful open innovation program, you’ll need to build a receptive culture, establish a strong internal team of champions, select the right problems to solve with external help, choose the right partners, and adopt a workable business model.
Add clinical pharmacist to the internal team and encourage duplicate teams to form up in other pharmacies.
Then amalgamate the pharmacies into a regional workshop per health area and keep sharing information to set up and sponsor adjacent health areas until you have a national movement in synchronisation.
Utilising health literacy programs with a one-on-one or small group presentation as the “core”, determining the ongoing needs of the core and then moving to provide solutions for those needs will stimulate rapid culture change, particularly as more pharmacies and their innovation teams become networked into the program and provide a stimulus that can feed into a group open innovation extension.
By evolving the correct business model progressively you enable broad changes that are mutually agreed with all participants, and avoid disruption (and costs) that are often associated by adopting revolutionary business models.
Thus culture change and continuous adaptation to patient needs become perpetual activities that occur at a manageable pace.
Shared knowledge is required to harmonise the total professional direction of community pharmacy, but that same knowledge can be adapted and individualised to create the competitive “difference” that allows consumer choice to be serviced to high levels of satisfaction.