Bear with me…

Neapolitan cooking takes advantage of the many incredible products that grow in and around the bay of Naples: from the gargantuan, intoxicatingly aromatic Sorrento lemons, to impossibly red San Marzano tomatoes that grow on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius, the sweet salty vongole (clams) that bask in the warm Mediterranean waters, and the uniquely flavoursome buffalo milk that is transformed into perfectly squidgy mozzarellas. I’ll stop there but there are many more.

As I discovered over the many hundred of meals cooked by my grandmother, with know-how and experience, these ingredients can be transformed into two main types of meals:

1)    Cheap Thrills: warm, fried, salty and sweet, wrapped in paper and best consumed travelling on the back of a Vespa at high speed at any hour of the day – ephemeral indulgences, these snacks are about instant gratification. Think mouth-watering street food such as pizze fritte, arancini di riso, crocche’ di patate or impossibly delicious deserts such as sfogliatelle filled with sweet ricotta cheese and candied fruit served from holes in the wall in Naples’ old town.

2)    Slow Burners: taking pride of place for the Sunday ‘pranzo’ requiring more arduous preparation, much lengthier cooking and more complex combinations of ingredients, but yielding insanely intense flavours in dishes like Ragu’ alla Napoletana and Genovese Sauce, the Casatiello of the Easter Cake called Pastiera.

A selection of pastries, roast potatoes, cake and bolaganise sauce

Figure 1. Cheap thrills and slow burners. Nom nom nom.

All of this gastronomic preamble to say that over the nearly 15 years of working with many diverse competitive intelligence functions, it’s time that these groups diversify out of the cheap thrills and enter the realm of the slow burners. (I can think of examples of more tenuous segways between food and business!).

Once you’ve stopped salivating, read on.

Traditionally, big pharma competitive intelligence functions have in fact focused on delivering cheap thrills to the most immediate centres of value; concentrating on surgically gathering insights relating to classic, near term sources of competitive advantage like product safety and efficacy, messaging, positioning, route and convenience of administration etc. etc. And it’s no surprise. These product attributes represent the most tangibly addressable sources of competitive advantage. Figure out where and how you are better than the competition on a clinical level, then go forth to craft your own positioning and messaging strategies with your medical affairs functions, spread the gospel to your MSLs and Bob’s your mother’s brother.

Not only does this approach satisfy the R&D and clinical functions and validate the many years they have spent tweaking every aspect of the clinical trial design process, but for those organisations whose senior leadership may be somewhat discombobulated by the black box of competitive intelligence, provides a very straightforward to concerns about where and how the function may be adding value. ‘Central to product strategy, innit?’ says the shaking, cornered CI manager with confidence.

The thing is…there is no doubt that the role of CI in this process is important, but there’s a chance to revisit and evolve this model. In the last 5 years I have witnessed an encouraging, growing realisation of some of the more progressive Pharma organisations and associated CI functions that they can go beyond their traditional, internal customer base. Lift their gaze, broaden their strategic horizons, and make the difficult possible and achievable.

Why (is a cross-portfolio approach to competitive intelligence important) now?

Let me start with a slightly provocative generalisation: when CI functions were first spawned (often out of scientific librarian functions), competitive battlegrounds were still very much around clinical attributes, because, in many therapeutic areas there was still significant room for improvement on this front. Gold standards of treatment were frequently being reset and blockbusters dethroned. With opportunities for clinical differentiation becoming increasingly thin over the last decade, it’s time for CI functions to look beyond their traditional realm.

As exemplified and in places accelerated by the pandemic, there are multiple macro market dynamics that are likely to play a disproportionate role in the success of pharma in the coming years. Taking an exclusively product centric approach to your CI function will mean that your organisation might miss out on truly understanding and mitigating/leveraging more subtle/less immediate sources of threat/opportunity.

The remit of a cross-portfolio CI group (in places known as ‘cross-therapeutic area CI’ or ‘pan-enterprise CI’) is in fact to explore and make sense of many of those less obvious competitive levers that exist across organisations and that span diverse functions, timelines and strategic horizons. From personalised medicine to digital health and patient services, the success or failure of entire portfolios affected by these technologies and approaches, will require deeper networks, greater foresight, broader benchmarking, more cross-functional input and more thorough planning (more below!).

A quick and not too boring note on methodology…

Before diving into a few examples let me bend your mind with a methodological tenet of cross-portfolio CI – whereas traditional product based CI looks typically at direct competitors, cross-prtfolio CI is based on the notion that not only competitors but also peers (that is to say similar companies in the same and/or different industries) merit scrutiny, in order to create a veritable feast of analogues from which insight can be distilled.

So where can a cross-portfolio CI function begin to seek new values of competitive advantage?

In the last 5 years, we have seen a surge in the scale and number of cross-portfolio groups and associated areas of interest. As you can see from the examples below these span very diverse functions, operational areas and time horizons, and each require discrete methodologies and approaches.

  • Innovation: How do we ensure that our BD and partnering function, capabilities and activities are fit for purpose when it comes to sourcing innovation? How do peer and competitor organisations identify, screen, source and engage innovation to set up the greatest likelihood of success for all of their portfolios?
  • Communication: How do medical affairs organisations tap into both head and heart of their customers through use of non-clinical data and associated approaches? How do we build trust beyond the date with prescribers in indications where there may be only minor incremental clinical differentiation? What services and partnerships can we build around the therapy to strengthen our relationships?
  • Supply Chain: Where clinical differentiation is subtle, how do our competitors leverage technology to create a slick and seamless customer experience? Where the product encompasses a large element of service, such as in the CAR T landscape, how can we gain the trust of their customers and stakeholders? What really matters for us to succeed here?
  • Innovative Access: What pricing and reimbursment models should we explore to maximise our chances of access? How do we create a win:win between us and healthcare systems? How will Value Based Healthcare shape our market position and offering as a company?
  • Incentivising R&D Productivity: How do we inject a greater degree of commercial awareness into R&D functions? How do we manage the tension between patient need and commercial opportunity? What governance and associated processes can we put in place to create the right balance between discovery and good returns?
  • Clinical Trial Speed: How can we accelerate clinical trial timelines? How can we optimise the supply chain from design to data collection and communication with the regulators to ensure strong momentum in our development programs?

These and many more are the kind of questions we have been addressing along side CI organisations that are seeking mid- and long-term growth opportunities which lie beyond individual products. Whilst the questions can at times feel abstract, we’ve seen some extraordinary outcomes from these projects both in terms of organisational transformations as well as the impact on the standing and influence of a CI function which may have historically just gone for the low hanging fruit.

‘The topics are interesting’ I hear you shout, ‘but how do we actually create or meet the demand?’

After having run dozens of projects in the cross-portfolio space, I’ve distilled what I believe to be the critical ingredients for creating sustained impact as a cross-portfolio CI function: network, collaboration, courage, patience and resilience, and stealthy promotional skills. Creating workstreams that address each of these in parallel will help ensure you can move towards creating an increasingly influential CI function.

  • Develop your Network – Having a great network for a CI function shouldn’t just be about delivering a deck to a pre-determined customer inbox every month, but about finding those deep thinkers, dreamers, moonshooters, subject matter experts that can drive you to think beyond the most tangible sources of future value. These can be in all corners of the organisation: from R&D, to Market Access, to Regulatory, BD&Partnering, Corp Dev, Manufacturing, Logistics, Policy etc. etc. Casting a bigger net across the organisation will ensure you continue to feed ideas into the cross-portfolio project pipeline. Assimilating a wider set of thinkers into your circle of influence will make your life more interesting and the competitive prospects of your organisation more textured.
  • Collaborate with the right external partners – well this, shamelessly, is where companies like Eradigm Consulting come into the equation. Partnering with external thinkers who have experience in working across innovative therapies and value centres is the starting point. In the last 5 years (partly by necessity driven by the very crowded traditional CI space, and by the motivation to identify and create new, more subtle value for our clients) we at Eradigm Consulting have become market leaders in identifying and co-creating exactly these kind of questions in partnership with our clients. It’s what we’re good at, and a good part of what gets us out of bed in the morning!
  • Be brave – So you have a network, and Eradigm by your side. Now you need to go forth and find a sponsor for your project. You. Need. To. Be. Bold. If you don’t ask you don’t get! My belief is that CI organisations should be given the time and resources to push the competitive boundaries and opportunities of their organisation, even if these are remote and not immediately tangible. So go forth, speak to your manager and to your team, put your heads together to create a smorgasbord of ideas on future sources of competitive value, then methodically pick off individuals or groups from within your corporate network to present them to. With time, as word spreads that this is how you can help, they will seek YOU out.
  • Be patient and resilient – in contrast to traditional product focused CI projects, it’s key to set expectations around the ‘pace of impact’ these types of projects can have. By their nature they may touch on multiple internal functions, individuals and responsibilities so require the ability to ‘manage a crowd’. Because of the strategic multidimensionality of this kind of work, short of getting a whole project funded, a good outcome is to constructively ‘move the conversation forward’; that is to help coalesce disconnected external and internal thinking into a next stage plan of action. These ideas often require broad input and generous budgets so a good cross-portfolio CI function needs to be able to navigate network complexity ensuring that as many relevant parties are included in the input and output. This takes time.
  • Cultivate stealthy promotional skills – finally, big ideas need a more stealthy promotional process – once you have the right network and partners, you have mustered up the courage and are clear on timelines, it’s time to start floating the ideas past key stakeholders: and when I say floating I mean start with a raft rather than an oil tanker. If your ideas are too big, bold and groundbreaking, senior stakeholders will want to feel like they actually came up with them. So even if you have a fully-fledged project plan on 100 slides in mind, start with just two or three, to get input and feedback, resist the temptation of looking like the big shot, leave this to the people with bigger egos and associated requirements. This process will also allow you to identify and piggy-back/complement existing workstreams – it’s key that you do not create strategic redundancy.

What are going to be the biggest challenges to succeed?

With the above in place, you’re a good part of the way there, but there will still be challenges along the way. Here are some of those hurdles, and how to think about dealing with them:

  • CI agencies that focus too much on TA-focused research and analysis from pre-defined scripts – the nature of cross-portfolio projects is such that they are often require disproportionate levels of commercial experience: less super-scientists, more business generalists. Having an external partner who can spar with senior commercial leaders and who operate fluidly within this project ambiguity is key. In addition to the commercial know-how, succeeding here is more about creative project design and communication skills, so make sure you select an agency that scores highly on these attributes.
  • Internal customers are more accustomed to working with ‘strategy consultancies’ on this kind of work – in the cross-portfolio work we’ve done, we’ve often come up against this push back or challenge. Our belief is that these big firms often rely too heavily on existing knowledge (or network), whereas a thorough cross-portfolio project partner will take the best research and analysis methodologies from the CI toolbox to ensure nothing is taken for granted in a robust project design.
  • Innovation Fatigue – compared to more established CI projects, cross-portfolio project design has a high MVP failure rate. That is to say that both the critical threshold of work required to fund an idea and the rate of idea rejection is significantly higher. This often makes the journey feel arduous. Our humble view is that, as long as the MVPs are driving the corporate conversation towards previously unexplored centres of value every ‘failure’ is nothing less than another opportunity to understand your business and the broader market dynamics affecting it.

So, in summary, if you’re CI function relies too much on cheap thrills which in turn may be the result of a somewhat near-termist strategic culture, consider building the capability in your team for more slow burners – a cross-portfolio CI function that delivers results. There will be challenges along the way but I’m hopeful the above will be enough to get you started. 


  • The above is not meant as a comprehensive appraisal of the cross-portfolio CI function, but a semi-structured collection of thoughts to help you consider and craft a way forward with this kind of work. As always I welcome diverse views, feedback, constructive criticisms and thoughts around your own knowledge and experience in this matter!
  • Enquiries on how to tackle any of the above issues or on any cross-portfolio CI project you have cooking are welcome!
  • Recipes for a wide range of Neapolitan delicacies are available on request!