Embracing Digital Transformation in the Pharmaceutical and MedTech Industries

Digital transformation is both an opportunity and a challenge for businesses in all industries. If you are in the pharmaceutical or medical device industries, what does digital transformation mean in the current trading and regulatory environment? What are the next steps you should take?

Digital Transformation – the Goal for Pharmaceutical and MedTech Businesses

Digital transformation involves transforming your business model by taking advantage of the benefits offered by new technologies, particularly in relation to data, communications, automation, machine learning, and predictive analytics.

What does this mean in practice, though? A good description is that digital transformation is about connecting processes, data, and decision-making.

So, at the moment you may have research, engineering, manufacturing, supply chain, distribution, customer service, marketing, and finance all essentially operating separately within your business.

There will be connections, of course. There has to be for your business to function properly. However, the links between these various operations in a typical pharmaceutical or medical device business are usually minimal. In addition, they are almost exclusively manual, i.e. using paper, spreadsheets, emails, etc.

You probably even have silos within silos. So, the manufacturing part of your business may not be fully integrated with other business units, but you may also have machines on your production lines that are not connected to the others, i.e. silos within silos.

Digital transformation is about breaking down these silos to fully integrate all aspects of your business.

The Benefits of Digital Transformation for Pharmaceutical and Medical Device Companies

The fact that everyone is talking about digital transformation isn’t enough of a reason for you to invest in making changes. Instead, digital transformation needs to improve your business. Here are some of the benefits that digital transformation delivers:

  • Save lives and improves quality of life for people around the world. Digital transformation achieves this through things like reducing the cost of manufacturing, improving quality, effectively managing output to meet demand, understanding patient/user/customer needs, and more.
  • Builds closer relationships with patients, users, customers, and partners.
  • Increases productivity in all aspects of your business, particularly in your production lines. Significant productivity increases can also come from improving the distribution chain.
  • Achieves significant efficiency savings not least through automating processes that are currently manual.
  • Enhances business oversight by giving decision-makers better, more accurate, and more up to date information they can use to base decisions on.
  • More effectively and efficiently meets the requirements of regulators.
  • Minimises human errors through increased use of automation.
  • Reduces risks in your business in a range of areas. An example includes improving product quality to reduce the financial and reputational risks associated with a recall situation.
  • Reduces time to market for new product introductions.
  • Improves health and safety in the business, particularly in manufacturing and distribution.
  • Enhances knowledge transfer within your organisation. Given the skills shortage challenge that many in the industry are facing, this is a significant benefit.

Challenges of Digital Transformation

As with any change in your business, there are challenges that must be overcome when taking steps on the digital transformation journey. Those challenges include getting agreement to move to cloud computing technologies, data integrity, cybersecurity, legacy systems and the ability to integrate them with other platforms and equipment, attitude to change within the organisation, budgets, etc

All these challenges can be overcome, however, with an approach that recognises the importance of digital transformation, sees the benefits, and embraces the fact that this is the future for the industry.

You also need the right partner to develop the solutions and implement the systems that are required.

Where Should You Go from Here?

Your next steps will depend on your business, its current operations, and the digital transformation progress you have made to date.

That said, an approach that is often effective is to start with an area of the business that could benefit most from the improvements offered by digital transformation. A manufacturing process on a production line, for example. In particular, a manufacturing process that is new or that isn’t running efficiently at the moment.

Integrating legacy equipment and systems could also be a good next step, not least because there isn’t the same requirement for capital investment that there would be if you were commissioning new machines.

In addition, integrating legacy equipment will help provide you with a good foundation for the next stage of your company’s digital transformation journey.

It’s important to stress again that you need to work with the right team – a team that has a track record of success. After all, integrating legacy equipment will enable proper communication, but this can have a knock-on effect in areas like validation and qualification. Understanding and planning for this at the outset is essential.

You will be able to improve your business to take advantage of the opportunities that digital transformation presents with the right strategy and the support of a team that understands digital transformation in the pharmaceutical and medical device sectors.

Shane McLaughlin

Shane is SL Controls’ Business Development Manager and has extensive experience and a demonstrated history of working in the regulated automation industry. His areas of expertise include Verification and Validation (V&V), Process Control/Monitoring, Medical Devices, Pharmaceutical, Bio Pharma, Failure Mode and Effects Analysis, and systems engineering. He also has experience leading technical teams and delivering to demanding schedules.

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