Using Technology as a Vessel for Empathy

Working for one of the largest players in the pharmaceutical industry, employees are often asked by external spectators if they genuinely feel that their contribution makes a difference in such a dynamic and complex corporation. In response, Matt Dugan, Business IT Manager for Central America & Caribbean at Novo Nordisk Panama, shares his story on how a creative idea, which began as a casual conversation over a cup of coffee with a fellow colleague, developed into a global game changer:

“I have quarterly talks with different Product Managers in the Panama office to discuss opportunities we can take in digital, what we can do with these emerging technological trends, and how they can be applied in Novo Nordisk. One day, I was having coffee with Adriana Caruso, Product Manager, and we were discussing the challenges her team was facing. I was poking around to see if there was anything interesting where we could incorporate new technology. Our discussion turned to the topic of low bloodsugar (hypoglycemia) and the lack of proper understanding by non-patients. Very few people can imagine what it is like, let alone, know much about it.  For most of us, it is only through personal experience that we can begin to understand with compassion, what someone else is truly going through.

I happen to have a virtual reality headset on my desk, so we grabbed it and started brainstorming. We then made a story board and involved medical personnel and internal patients in our idea. With our then small team, we pitched our idea of using virtual reality as a vehicle to create a concrete experiential moment for those who do not suffer from diabetes, to our local management. With our ambition to create a tool for empathy, the confidence I had in our team, and the support from our managers, I was inspired to turn the seemingly impossible, into a reality.

The process went relatively quick and what started as an idea in June 2017 was launched that same year in September, and scaled rapidly thereafter. Since then, the VR headsets have travelled to Novo Nordisk offices around the world to spread our hypo virtual reality experience, and are now implemented in 12 countries with a growing list waiting to try it out. It has been incredible to see so much cross functional global support across the entire organization, and we now have many more ideas in the works.

Due to the rapidly changing nature of technology, the speed of execution and the tone and timing in which we as a company approach a creative idea, is changing. Today, if you have an innovative idea that supports business progression or serves a business purpose, you can put a plan together quickly and get the necessary support and resources in place to implement, with little resistance and red tape. In general, the market has significantly become more concentrated; therefore, the barriers to entry have significantly decreased.  Respectively, Novo Nordisk has become notably more agile than it has been in the past, which I attribute to the incremental value digital solutions can provide overtime. This especially allows for individuals at Novo Nordisk, such as myself, to exercise their creative freedom and have room to innovate.

With a background in technology and agile project management, it has always been my desire to identify new opportunities utilizing innovative digital technologies. With this project, I wanted to prove that innovative initiatives, such as virtual reality, are imperative to the health and growth of our organization at Novo Nordisk, and that we should continue to invest in emerging digital commercial technology. When we look at how we can utilize these applications, the possibilities are endless and can have a huge impact on our future. Within technology, there is a never ending mountain to climb in regards to digital innovations.  As for my digital journey thus far, there are still many interesting unknowns to discover, of which I am excited and ready to explore.”

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