With all the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic has added to the life-sciences field’s already formidable pile, professionals in the industry are increasingly turning to advanced technology to help keep their R&D work going. One of those technologies of growing interest is artificial intelligence (AI).
Outsourcing-Pharma (OSP) recently spoke with Rohit Vashisht (RV), CEO and cofounder of WhizAI, a technology company offering AI solutions specifically targeted toward life-sciences applications, about the technology, and how its use is evolving in the industry.
OSP: Please describe the evolution of use and understanding of AI in the life sciences
RV: AI means different things to different people. Some believe it is an elixir that will cure everything that’s wrong with software and take human productivity to the next level; on the other hand, some think it is all hype and will never work.
The life sciences industry, however, has always been intrigued by AI, given its highly science-driven nature and constant search for an edge in bringing new therapies to the market quickly and cost-effectively. While life sciences R&D teams have steadily been adopting AI for a few years, of late, the commercial side has also been dabbling in AI to gain efficiencies, reduce cost and win market share.
On the commercial side, we are seeing the initial euphoria settling into a practical knowledge of AI and how it can be used. Commercial teams now understand that AI is not going to end all their problems and that it won’t take over human jobs anytime soon; they’ve also learned that when used effectively, it can automate laborious and repetitive tasks, mine billions of records for actionable insights, and provide an edge over the competition by making business truly “intelligent” and data driven.
Life sciences companies are using AI solutions to augment their sales and marketing to find opportunities to gain market share, which were otherwise buried in terabytes of data. Gone are the days when sales reps were asked to sit through hours of training on how to use data and complex software; now, AI-powered applications learn user preferences, adapt to their needs, and even understand natural language for frictionless interaction with data.
All jobs have become data-driven, including sales and marketing, but it doesn’t mean they all need to become data scientists; AI fills this skills gap by automatically processing data for them and presenting actionable opportunities. Pharma is learning the power and becoming savvy at using AI to leverage it effectively.
OSP: How is such technology especially useful in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic?
RV: COVID-19 upended the way we typically work and live. Pharma, a highly regulated industry, was behind other markets in trends, such as remote work, collaboration applications like Zoom and Teams, and on-the-go access to information.
We were amazed at how quickly the industry adapted to the new normal. Everyone worked remotely without missing a beat, collaborating with their colleagues online and even calling HCPs via Zoom.
However, this pace also requires applications to keep pace with new needs. AI-powered applications like Whiz.AI can be accessed from collaboration tools like Teams or via text messaging so that users can simply chat with the software to get the data and insights they need.
AI automates many of the mundane yet repetitive tasks to free up time to balance work and life balance when everyone is working remotely. For example, a rep can make an update in CRM in only a second by simply texting it, rather than spending hours filling in forms.
Users can also access most of the information they need, automatically delivered, eliminating the need to call their colleagues. Reps can get their territory performance, a list of HCPs to call or even which message to deliver.
AI automatically delivers virtually any insight or information to their phones, iPads, or laptops, just when they need it. The alignment between teams is seamless as AI monitors and analyzes usage and surfaces missing elements and new needs to Ops and IT in real time.
Finally, with the competitive landscape and marketing priorities evolving every day, the C-suite can adopt AI to stay on top of everything happening in their business and address it immediately. They gain access to the right insights, the ability to drill down into details in seconds and intelligence that allows them to make decisions quickly.
Overall, we’ve seen expedited adoption of AI during COVID-19 times.
OSP: Can you share any reasons why life-sciences professionals might be a little reluctant about adopting AI?
RV: We have seen reluctance in adopting AI for a few reasons:
Too many failed implementations
For the last few years, AI has been oversold and underwhelmed life sciences companies, leaving a bad taste in their mouth. They are skeptical of “AI” products and don’t want to do yet another pilot; this is the biggest challenge we’ve seen in last few years.
However, we are seeing this tide turning as companies are now more educated and pragmatic on what AI can deliver and how it can be used effectively.
Many users feel AI will take away their jobs
Often, in our meetings people feel threatened that AI will take over certain tasks they do on regular basis. However, savvy users are realizing that AI won’t replace humans but, rather, will amplify their productivity.
Our users love it when they don’t have to keep generating the same report multiple times for different regions or fields. By asking yet another ad-hoc question, they can quickly get the insights they need and then focus on more productive and value-added tasks.
Too much power for end users
Some business leaders are skeptical of AI products because they view them as providing too much information. They speculate that if an employee can easily access all data or ask any question, then they may become confused, seek more clarifications, or be misled.
Many of our clients started small but quickly got over this hump when they realized the efficiencies, self-reliance, and multiple kudos from the sales team.
OSP: What would you say to those professionals who are a bit hesitant about taking AI on?
RV: AI is not replacing humans anytime soon. Also, AI is inevitable; we believe everything around us – applications, appliances, software, and anything we use will be AI-enabled in the next few years, including enterprise software. It is time to learn, experiment and adopt AI in your business to get the edge over the competition.
Rohit Vashisht's background is available at https://www.linkedin.com/in/rohitv