Home Insights The Value of AI, The Value of People: Perspectives from Putnam’s CEO

The Value of AI, The Value of People: Perspectives from Putnam’s CEO

With an increasing demand for innovative healthcare solutions, the pharmaceutical sector has transformed significantly in recent years. The effective ongoing incorporation of AI has emerged as a pivotal force, reshaping the traditional paradigms of drug discovery, development, and commercialization – further enabling Putnam’s mission to strategically support clients in making confident decisions and building value.

We sat down with Remco op den Kelder, Putnam’s CEO, to delve into the current landscape for AI within the life sciences. As a pragmatist and problem solver, Remco strongly believes AI is a critical enabler in our toolkit to help us solve some of our most challenging projects.

How do AI and strategy consultants fit together?

The essence of our mission at Putnam remains unwavering; we support our clients in making better, more confident decisions. Yet, the winds of change undeniably shape how we approach our craft to deliver this. At the heart of this evolution is the indispensable role of Artificial Intelligence (AI), which, over time, we believe, will seamlessly complement the skill set of our consultants – and it’s continuing to be a core differentiating factor for us.

  1. Intellectual curiosity as a core differentiator
    Our teams are driven by an insatiable intellectual curiosity by nature. They are experts in a specific sector, which is becoming increasingly important in a world where AI becomes intertwined with our daily operations. In a paradigm where rigid, process-oriented teams risk losing touch with the intricate concepts at play, intellectual curiosity sets us apart. It powers our teams to explore beyond the conventional, ensuring that boundaries are not just recognized but continually pushed.
  2. Strategic framing and AI: A synergistic partnership
    A crucial aspect of our consultancy’s ability lies in strategic framing, a skill set harmoniously complemented by AI. This partnership extends beyond the realm of mere brainstorming; it digs into the nuanced art of problem-solving. While AI serves as a formidable brainstorming partner, our focus remains on how we, as humans and teams, navigate through challenges. The paramount goal is not just ideation but ensuring that the solutions conceived are not only visionary but also pragmatic, fit for purpose, and ready for seamless implementation and presentation to senior management.
  3. Client-Centric engagement at a strategic level
    The third vital component hinges on our ability to listen attentively to our clients, engaging with them at a strategic level. The evolving client landscape demands that we look deeper into their issues, working collaboratively to find bespoke solutions that resonate with their unique challenges. This client-centric approach remains critical as we navigate the intricate pharmaceutical terrain, shaping our company’s role as a trusted strategic thought partner.
  4. The rise of emotional intelligence (EQ)* in consultancy
    As AI increasingly supports/assumes tasks associated with intellectual ability, the spotlight shifts to a different dimension of skill — emotional intelligence (EQ). The human-to-human interaction becomes the touchstone of our profession, where EQ emerges as the vital bridge connecting consultants with clients. In this context, the consultancy skill set evolves, emphasizing the nuanced understanding of emotions and human dynamics, ensuring our profession remains indispensable in an era dominated by technological advancements. It’s an area with which we have a long-standing history and track record at Putnam – we go further with our understanding to gain a comprehensive perspective and bring teams together to help clients make informed, confident decisions.
What are the core components of Putnam’s AI and consulting offering – the value chain of consulting?

There are two distinct ways that we’re approaching AI: how we integrate across the value chain of consulting and how we support our clients to better understand where they can integrate AI into their business, whether it’s helping prioritize use cases for AI or developing proofs of concept. We support clients to think through a strategic approach to algorithms and validation.

Our strategic approach to algorithms is a good example of our journey into AI. Here, the expertise of our seasoned consultants intertwines with the computational capabilities of AI to chart a course through the vast landscape of possibilities. The strategic approach is twofold, with the scientific lens focusing on evaluating existing algorithms for specific diseases. We don’t simply identify algorithms; we provide a structured framework to assess them, ensuring our clients leverage the most effective tools for optimal patient outcomes.

With Navigator.ai, Inizio’s proprietary AI platform, we’re able to rapidly build and deploy custom tools to offer unparalleled insights in a compliant environment. One example is our product pipeline tool, AssetNav, that enables quick identification and prioritization of assets to power decision-making.

The validation process illuminates the path from data to actionable insights. In a world inundated with information, our consultants’ work is complemented by AI tools to draw nuanced insights. Our medical insight platforms are an example of collaboration, where the convergence of scientific rigor and statistical assessment ensures that only answers with a 90 to 95% probability of being accurate are considered. It’s a scientific dance, validating outcomes and shaping solutions that resonate with unwavering accuracy for our clients.

Moreover, the exploration of AI extends into qualitative research analysis, where technology augments our capacity for nuanced comprehension. By coupling scientific expertise with AI capabilities, we envision a future where the arduous task of reviewing interviews and generating summaries becomes a seamless, insightful process. It’s not about replacing human engagement; instead, it’s about empowering our teams with the tools to dig deeper, ask clarifying questions, and extract profound insights from the data sets at their disposal.

What are the biggest challenges and requests for Putnam’s AI-enriched services from clients?

As we embark on the transformative journey of AI integration, the stage is set with challenges that echo the complexities inherent in our pursuit of innovation. The questions reverberating through our corridors revolve around the ‘how’, ‘what’, and ‘when’ of AI. For example, how do we leverage AI to identify rare disease patients, and what strategies can we employ to build robust bridges for data, laying the groundwork for informed decision-making?

Identification of rare disease patients: A crucial quest for accelerated clinical trials
The quest begins with identifying rare disease patients, where the power of AI can potentially revolutionize the landscape. Imagine a scenario with an array of AI tools—each claiming to be the solution. The challenge lies not just in selecting a tool but in discerning which one aligns most seamlessly with treatment paradigms and patient needs. This challenge has become increasingly prevalent, especially in the context of clinical trial recruitment. Identifying the right AI tool holds the potential to accelerate clinical trials, ushering products to market with unprecedented speed. The inherent value of this identification process resonates not only in efficiency but in the tangible impact of bringing life-changing treatments to those who need them most. However, we know that when developing AI algorithms to identify undiagnosed patients, we still need to consider a variety of factors to ensure the tool is unbiased and can overcome a variety of implementation challenges.

Building bridges across diverse data sources: The conundrum of information overload
The second challenge unfolds in the expansive realm of data. In a multifaceted industry, where data flows from diverse sources—from advisory boards and expert consultations to physician interactions—building bridges across this information mosaic poses a formidable challenge. Historically, sifting through this wealth of data has been a Herculean task. Questions abound on synthesizing insights from disparate data sets, discerning challenges and opportunities, and ultimately creating a cohesive narrative to inform strategic decision-making. Enter AI—the catalyst capable of traversing these intricate data landscapes, providing a panoramic view that eludes human limitations. The unique capability of AI to synthesize vast volumes of information ensures that insights are comprehensive and consistent, transcending the variability that human interpretation may introduce. On the other hand, we have seen how human training and iteration can optimize results.

Multi-disciplinary Problem-Solving
Tackling these challenges requires more than just technological capability—it demands a multi-disciplinary approach deeply rooted in expertise. Our success narrative in overcoming data challenges hinges on three pillars: (1) the strategic expertise that underpins every facet of our consultancy, (2) the unwavering focus of our teams on fully understanding the clinical and scientific landscape, and (3) our profound track record in delivering analytics and AI capabilities and solutions.

What are your predictions for AI as we head into 2024?

As we peer into the future, the horizon is ablaze with the transformative potential of Artificial Intelligence (AI). The upcoming years bring an era where AI becomes an integral part of our daily operations, a tool not just embraced but actively complementing the course of our strategic discussions.

  1. A symphony of AI integration internally: Building the foundation
    The orchestration of AI within our internal landscape is already well underway, guided by a dedicated team of experts meticulously crafting the infrastructure to securely harness the benefits of AI. The challenges posed by large datasets and the need to navigate the flood of information necessitate a coherent strategy. Our team is not merely adopting AI for the sake of innovation; instead, they are strategically evaluating tools, ensuring compliance with regulations, and working within an environment where AI seamlessly augments our capabilities. This journey has not been without its complexities, and there have been and continue to be failures along the way. Establishing a team of internal experts – data scientists, data architects, visualization and data engineers, and analysts who share knowledge across statistical programming, algorithms, datasets, and more – to support the integration of AI into our daily operations was a feat once deemed ambitious. However, after a year and a half into this venture, the team is not only up and running but also proving to be a vital asset, offering productive support for our projects. The focus remains on delivering value to our clients while upholding the highest standards of compliance and strategic rigor.
  2. AI as the catalyst for process evolution: A radical shift in approach
    The anticipation is palpable that, in the foreseeable future, I predict nearly 80% of our processes and analyses will, over time, become seamlessly supported by AI. This isn’t just a technological shift; it’s a fundamental transformation in how we approach every step of our projects. The aim is to have AI complement our consultants to allow for more focus on strategic thinking, in-depth analysis, and pushing the boundaries to elevate the value we bring to our clients.
What advice would you give to companies considering implementing AI plans?

As a sailor, I see the AI journey as navigating with a map from the 1800s: there is plenty of guidance, yet a lot remains to be written. The journey will offer a realm of immense promise and potential pitfalls. The key will be to not be afraid to experiment; however, do so in a safe, transparent environment to ensure no unintended harm is done.

Keep AI at the forefront: Unleashing the power with caution
The foremost counsel is to keep AI at the forefront of your strategic considerations. Recognize the discomfort that may accompany this technological shift and approach it with a sense of mindfulness. In an industry where consequences directly impact patients and healthcare professionals, the imperative is to tread with caution. By keeping AI at the forefront, we can leverage its potential while safeguarding against unintended consequences.

Engage rather than rely: A nuanced approach to AI integration
A critical distinction lies in how companies approach AI—engage with it rather than relying solely on its capabilities. Full reliance may breed complacency and blind spots, potentially leading to oversights that can have far-reaching consequences. Engaging with AI involves a symbiotic relationship where human expertise collaborates with AI capabilities. This nuanced approach ensures that while AI augments processes, human expertise remains a crucial factor in decision-making.

Try fast, fail fast: Embrace iteration and learn rapidly
The mantra of “try fast, fail fast” encapsulates the essence of iterative experimentation. Embrace a culture of experimentation, where trying new approaches and technologies is not just encouraged but integral to progress. The dynamic nature of AI demands a hands-on, exploratory mindset. By trying fast, companies can swiftly identify what works and where value lies. The act of failing fast implies a rapid feedback loop, enabling quick adjustments based on real-world insights. In the ever-evolving landscape of AI, the ability to iterate rapidly is a key driver of success.

Recognize when you’re not ready: Prudent decision-making
Equally important is recognizing when you’re not ready for full-scale AI implementation. This humility in acknowledging the limitations of readiness prevents premature adoption that could lead to suboptimal outcomes. Deciding when to wait a little longer is a strategic move that aligns with the principle of measured progress. In the fast-paced realm of AI, strategic patience becomes a virtue, allowing companies to align adoption with their preparedness and maturity.


Fusing intellectual curiosity with Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a distinctive advantage. Driven by insatiable curiosity, our teams navigate beyond conventional boundaries, setting Putnam apart.

Strategic framing, where AI is not just a brainstorming partner but a strategic ally, becomes pivotal. This collaborative approach transcends ideation, ensuring that visionary solutions crafted are not only groundbreaking but also ready for seamless implementation. Client-centric engagement, augmented by emotional intelligence (EQ), remains paramount, reinforcing the indispensable nature of the consultancy skill set.

2024 will be seen as the year where we migrate from experimentation to full scale implementation; however, it will be critical to maintain diligence to ensure we capture the full potential, in a responsible manner that ultimately will help our industry better address some of the key unmet needs.

Learn about AI at Putnam.