Every day, organisations in pharma, life sciences and healthcare give their best to deliver treatments to patients in need. Product flows, information and financial flows all play their part in the smooth delivery of these treatments. But the COVID-19 involves fast scale up, new types of customers and logistic challenges, which are pushing all these flows to their limits and exposing vulnerabilities. How do digitisation, digitalisation and digital transformation help fight the challenges faced by pharma, life sciences and healthcare?
Digitisation is the large-scale transformation of data into a digital format, and enables the spread of data on a global scale and at the (near) speed of light. Storage of digitised data is cheap and easy, therefore digitisation tends to explode the volume of data to be managed. To tackle this issue, software tools are deployed to support the processes that are involved to manage all that data. This is called digitalisation, i.e. the transformation towards software tool-supported processes.
Digitisation and digitalisation also change the relationship people have with data and information. ‘Knowing facts’ is replaced by knowing where to find the correct data and how to interpret it, or, who to contact if lost. Because of digitisation and digitalisation, availability of data has become abundant, therefore the processes and people involved are gaining importance. The idea of owning or paying for volatile data is replaced by acquiring skills and guidance on where and how to access or find it. This also means that, if the value proposition in the business model of your organisation can be digitised, the business model should be redesigned to match the new relation with data. This is called digital transformation.
In this digital age, the answer is clearly yes. But it’s still worth exploring the reasons why.
First of all, more control can be exerted as more detailed data is captured on the execution of processes, sometimes even in real-time. As a result, full checks and audits can be automated and performed more thoroughly and more often. This results in less errors in production, capturing errors earlier, getting the correct product to the correct people at the correct time, with less risk for patients and less recalls. Secondly, processes will run more efficiently and can be measured more accurately, supporting detailed analysis for monitoring and continuous improvements.
Although digitisation, digitalisation and digital transformation may already be high on most companies’ agendas, the cultural shift to ‘think and act digital’ throughout all levels in the organisation and in the business model is often not achieved. The speed at which this will develop in pharma is difficult to predict. The main obstacles are data literacy and reservations about the unknown. The sometimes abstract topics, technologies and processes are often outside people's comfort zones, resulting in resistance to change. This data illiteracy will be resolved over time, and can be accelerated with clear guidance on how to link the digital world with real life. To quote Hemingway, “Gradually, then Suddenly” may well apply. At first, change may take much longer than everyone expected, and then will happen suddenly, much faster than anyone could have ever imagined.
The goals of the pharma and life sciences industry are still to develop and deliver treatments, but the way to achieve them does. The volume of data to be managed increases and the nature of data changes. Data characteristics such as accuracy (e.g. consistent spelling), correct formatting, definitions and structure become more important in a digitised world. For specific advanced applications, new technologies allow organisations to capture and use data on a level of detail and scale not possible before. The main business areas impacted by a digital transformation exercise are the supply chain, quality and research & development.
Running successful digitisation and digitalisation projects in a digital transformation exercise is not an easy task. Many hurdles need to be jumped to achieve success. A heads-up on the most common hurdles will help prevent those hurdles from becoming major obstacles. A lack of vision and strategy, ignoring the soft and business sides of projects, trading off control for convenience and toxic scope creep are all potential pitfalls to be confronted and overcome.
In this whitepaper we focus on the information flow within the pharma, life sciences and healthcare sector, and explore how digitisation, digitalisation and digital transformation can help fight the challenges they face today and tomorrow.