Dirk Reinhardt is Senior Vice President, Director of Strategic Planning.

From the international geopolitical environment to the status of your weight-loss program, big data makes it possible to understand the current state and address events more rapidly and efficiently than ever before. This isn’t news. “Big data” is a term that’s been used so much that it’s already a cliché. What’s exciting, though, is what comes now: the opportunity to use data to understand not only where we are, but where we will be, and to proactively, preemptively address and affect those conditions.

As we discussed during the recent South By Southwest Interactive festival, it’s no longer an issue of how to gather data; it’s an issue of what to do with it to learn the most possible from it.

Below are two big data opportunities where pharma should be focusing efforts.

1) Predictive analytics — We’ve recently expanded our data-science capabilities at Intouch and are building tools to turn raw data into useful information like never before. We can model data and distill actionable insights that inform segmentation, content/messaging and channel decisions; for instance, the ability to identify physicians most likely to prescribe based on their projected/future prescriptions, as well as physicians who are more likely to switch brands.

2) Behavioral interventions — Since just about any patient behavior can be tracked now, the data produced (both on an individual basis and at the population level) provide actionable insights that can inform when and how a brand should intervene to improve outcomes. Even when data is de-identified, much can be learned from it. At Intouch, we’re working on a concept to help a certain patient group “outsmart” their disease and manage it better using only the devices they already own.

There are many opportunities like this, in which patients can use their own data and be cued to take positive behavioral change to manage their conditions. Chronic conditions, in particular, usually have a significant lifestyle component (e.g., exercise, sleeping, diet, etc.) that can improve outcomes if well-managed. And since they comprise 70% of healthcare costs, this is enormously important.

Data is nothing fancier than the result of an action that someone takes, like entering a number, watching a video, clicking a link. But all of the data points gathered about behavior are what can be powerfully predictive and give us the ability to do much more for patients than we ever could before. We can identify patterns, causes and effects that would never before have been visible.

Previously, patients were required to actively journal their health behavior — to jot down their food consumption, their symptoms, their activities. Then we got apps that could hold those journals digitally. But increasingly, sensors in everything from shoes to thermostats, clothing to jewelry, chairs to utensils, are integrating into our lives to make it possible to track passively. The burden of having to measure and log actively is gone — and this is where it becomes very interesting.

Don’t Be Afraid to Let Data Transform Your Business
But the main point here is that behavior tracking and behavior interventions can ultimately transform business models. When you think about Nike+ (from running shoes to the sports entertainment community) or Nest (from thermostat to home management), these are great examples of transformation. They’re moving outside the established lines of their business — making and marketing sneakers or thermostats — and moving into the realm of creating apps that drive positive behavior change.

This is a large and disconcerting shift in business strategy, but it’s one that pharma needs to embrace, as all industries will. Understanding how to use customer data to not only sell to customers, but also provide customers with benefit, is indeed “the new black” in business.