2021 ASAP BioPharma conference debrief: About people, digitization and alliance leadership

For the third year in a row, allianceboard again proudly sponsored the 2021 ASAP Biopharma Conference produced by our knowledge partner, the Association of Strategic Alliance Professionals, on 27-28 September 2021.


On a personal level, it was great to see so many familiar faces (albeit virtually) and to reflect on how the last year and a half has fundamentally changed how alliance management is done in a remote-first world, I offer three lessons from the conference that stood out to us.


Lesson 1: Capacity and digital infrastructure matter for great alliance outcomes


Louis Rinfret, Founder CEO, and I presented the initial results of our Alliance Management Digital Maturity Index.


We created the Index to help our clients assess how partnering capacity and digital alliance management infrastructure affect four key alliance management outcomes.


Initial results indicate that firms investing more in both partnering capacity and alliance management digital infrastructure achieve an Index score that is 47% better than other organizations.


The Index is perpetual, so please contribute to the Index to see how you measure up.




Early findings from the Alliance Management Digital Maturity Index - fig 1
Early findings from the Alliance Management Digital Maturity Index - fig 1

Lesson 2: Investing in people and digital infrastructure is key for alliance management impact


In our invitation-only Executive Roundtable during the conference, we discussed the impact of our Index findings with a selected group of life science Heads of Alliance Management.

We concluded that a remote-first or hybrid-first world is here to stay. Yes, we will travel again selectively. Yet for the foreseeable future, our day-to-day will continue to be carried out primarily in suburban homes and apartments, not in office parks to which people travel each day.


Nearly all of our participants have experienced high turnover in their alliance management function. Besides the “normal” stresses of remote work, unsustainable work loads are one key reason. Successful remote or hybrid alliance management operation requires wise investments in its people.


Investing in people wisely means at least three things:

  1. Investing in headcount allowing sufficient capacity for alliance managers to do justice to the many strategic, tactical and operational aspects the role entails.

  2. Investing in sufficient training and on-the-job development and career advancement so that alliance managers can excel in their roles. Separate from our Executive Roundtable, one conference session focused specifically on career planning for alliance management.

  3. Providing the right digital tools to the alliance management function.


I make this argument not just because allianceboard is the alliance management digital platform. Our Index shows that fit-for-purpose digital infrastructure matters (see Lesson 1). A combination of Sharepoint, Teams and Dropbox are simple and cheap ways for people to talk or share documents and timelines, but band-aid solutions of general application simply aren’t adequate anymore. For example, general office tools:

  • Fail to provide the necessary KPIs, analytics, scorecards and the like to help understand how well alliances are performing, which alliances are worth investing in, and which aren’t.

  • Fail to capture learnings from alliance successes and failures that will allow best practices to develop.

  • Exacerbate the key person risk that already looms large in most alliance management functions because the little institutional knowledge that has been gained is lost.


Lesson 3: Alliance leadership means giving executives what they should want


One Executive Roundtable participant explained how he restyled his organization from “Alliance Management” to “Alliance Leadership”. This can make an important difference to how the function is perceived in the organization. More importantly, it makes a huge difference to how the function perceives itself and the priorities it sets.


Two examples illustrate.


First, alliance leaders don’t wait to produce reports of information that is asked of them. They take their executives by the hand and show them the information that should matter to them:

  • How each alliance performs across key strategic, innovation, financial and other outcome measures

  • How the alliance’s financial model and current risk assessments impact upcoming decisions or inflection points

  • How the health of each partner relationship is evolving

  • How the alliance portfolio overall is performing and contributing to organizational strategic, innovation, financial and other aims

Second, alliance leaders are obsessed with excellence within their alliance function. Only excellence earns permission to nudge the organization towards becoming a partner of choice with those alliance partners who really matter. For that reason, alliance leaders assess how lessons learnt impact on the organizations strategic alliance playbook and develop next practices for their team.


What does alliance leadership mean in your alliance function? I look forward to hearing your thoughts.