It’s Novo Nordisk, but it feels like a start-up

Thomas Angelius, Vice President of Digital Health IT, is excited and energized for the future of digital health. His excitement is hard to ignore when you hear the speed and intensity with which he talks, all the while keeping each sentence he speaks packed with meaning and intention.

Digital health, to Thomas, means the ability for constant health monitoring and data reporting to allow for personalized and precise treatment. The problem is, though, nobody really knows what this will look like at Novo Nordisk. “We have to build the roads while we’re driving on them,” says Thomas of the tricky task. 

So what kind of workplace does this create? Thomas describes it as a start-up within a large organization—a team of 15 working toward a future they cannot yet fully comprehend. “It’s exciting because there is no one established player,” he explains. “It’s a bit like when the internet was commercialized.”

Working in this way makes five-year plans something more like five-year aspirations and certainly presents its challenges.  For one, Novo Nordisk, a well-oiled machine in the area of drug delivery, has quality checks at every corner and for good reason. As such, Thomas explains, “Projects don’t fail...and now we work in an environment where we will fail repeatedly in order to succeed long term.” For Novo Nordisk to succeed in digital health, failing and learning is something we simply must be able to do. We’ll have to take a leap of faith. “Everyone is a little out of their comfort zone,” he explains, but this can be a catalyst for innovative solutions because it produces a lot of energy.

The company has taken steps to show it’s aligned with the cause, for one, it has removed much of the normal red tape, which Thomas explains, is often  put in place to eliminate risk and, thereby, weed out initiatives such as theirs.  Further, the program has its own one-off steering committee to manage them.

Even still, attempting start-up agility within a giant organization, is, as Thomas describes, “a constant balancing act.” That said, the first solutions being built now won’t just change the products being made, but will spur a whole new dialogue and understanding of patient care. Thomas holds, this is more than one-off innovation. This is a revolution.

Novo Nordisk is a great place to be during this revolution, he explains, because of the “many clever people,” brand new technologies—such as cognitive computing and the cause driven work—where real impact can be made. Still further, Thomas explains, while they’re experimental like a start-up, they have the muscle and quality of a large organization determined to succeed. This means if you have a good idea, you can actually push it pretty far and have a high chance of success. “Start-ups struggle to realize their dreams because they don’t have the resources,” Thomas points out. “We have the resources.”

Regardless of where you are, though, this is unchartered and exciting territory that stands to change the face of patient care. “Increasingly digital health will not be thought of as a side feature, but will actually be built into the products we create,” exclaims Thomas excitedly, “we are part of shaping the future, not just for Novo, but beyond.”

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