Getting serious about digital: Takeda walks the walk with its digital accelerator model

Last year, Takeda decided to tackle digital. But the Japanese pharma wasn't interested in dabbling in initiatives here and there. Instead, it decided to spark a digital transformation across the entire company--and created the Takeda Digital Accelerator to do it.

Takeda's Daniel Gandor

"This isn't about just doing better digital marketing or doing better digital R&D, it's about embedding digital into our collective DNA, so it becomes part of doing business as usual--all toward being a leader in digital health by 2025," said Daniel Gandor, head of the digital acceleration program in the U.S.

With 34 projects now funded, Takeda is on its way. The digital accelerator acts as an incubator inside the 33,000-person drugmaker. The first year's experiments, for example, are often done in conjunction with external partners, including small and large tech ventures. The projects range across a wide swath of business practices and have taught the company that learning is doing, Gandor said, noting Takeda encourages employees and partners to immerse in the digital processes and program innovations they're creating.

One of the projects in the U.S. this year included a virtual reality experience using the Google cardboard viewer to show the mechanism of action for its new ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease treatment, Entyvio, to physicians and patients. Another ongoing effort is a data and analytics experiment with a large artificial intelligence platform, although Gandor declined to name which one.

Some of the experiments also are fielded internally--one example is through the talent acquisition team at its Deerfield, Illinois, headquarters. There they've created a campus-wide multimedia experience for job candidates visiting for onsite interviews, with iPads, beacons and software that showcase its digital acumen and get real-time feedback from the interviewees.

Digital accelerator employees come from the current pool of Takeda staffers as well as through its digital explorer program. The explorer program targets new graduates and young professionals to join Takeda through the digital door of the accelerator, but then move them into jobs in the company for the long term.

In marketing, one of the digital drives is to make sure there is a mobile-first strategy in place for communications, Gandor said, explaining that in today's smartphone-centric world, developing for the desktop is not enough.

"This is a transformative journey, we recognize it doesn't just happen overnight," Gandor said. "If our first year was setting up some of the foundational elements and getting things rolling, we hope now as we enter into year two and beyond, we can move forward to exponential innovations. … Just like our lives outside of work, digital is part of it. So how can we make digital part of Takeda's DNA? That's a transformation that's under way and going really well."