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The Impact of IOT Industry 4.0 to Pharmaceutical Operations

Lewis Carroll famously said, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there”. Since 2011, when the IOT Industry 4.0 term was coined, the options to digitize operations in any capacity are essentially limitless and quite frankly overwhelming for any enterprise, regardless of their size. The guiding principle of IOT Industry 4.0, to computerize operations and connect independent and contained machines and systems together so an intelligent interoperable network is used to power a business’ operations, is one that every stakeholder would be excited to implement since it’s intuitive on what the value it would bring.

Companies are spending large sums of money implementing, at a minimum, large data analytic teams and systems, digital factories, and advanced analytics attempting to tap the potential that digitalization can bring to their business, whether it’s speed-to-market of a product, sustaining quality, increasing manufacturing yields, or reducing COGs. Since there is no standard roadmap or approach to implementation, companies can potentially get lost on their journey to implementing these cyber physical systems. They are jumping in feet first without actually understanding the goals they are looking to achieve or the problems they are looking to solve. Also, they are not understanding fully the impact this may have on their organization, specifically existing business processes, people, culture, and lastly customers.

Life Sciences industries have a lot to gain by embracing IOT Industry 4.0 principles in their end-to-end supply network, with benefits ranging from process development acceleration and sustainability to avoidance of quality and compliance issues.  But how does a company begin to approach such a transformational measure that requires a large commitment from all levels of an organization? A tripartite approach is recommended to pragmatically transition from a traditional value chain to an intelligent, automated one.

IOT Industry 4.0 Impact to Pharmaceutical Operations: Optimal Ways to Approach the Journey

Step 1: Define what will be gained:
The most difficult part of any decision to fundamentally shift a company’s approach to doing business is defining what benefit it would produce. Of course, having  intelligent, machine driven systems would provide a benefit due its anecdotal efficiencies and abundant data streams  but is it worth such an investment? Many companies believe that the way to improve an area of their operations is implement the newest or flashiest system and magically all of their issues will be resolved. In all instances, this is simply not the case. Before investing in any new machinery or applications for an area in a company, fundamentally understand why it needs to be done. What’s wrong with the current approach? Can the current ways of working benefit from more continuous improvement initiatives such as better training curriculum, an improved preventative maintenance program, or a more effective methodology to collect and analyze, and trend data? There are many Six Sigma tools and techniques that can be practically utilized to uncover inefficiencies in a process that will result in value gains without investing significant resources.

Step 2: Evaluate Impact to Existing Operational Model:
If a decision has been made to invest in intelligent networks in a given area, management needs to be cognizant of its impact to existing business processes and the culture. This assessment should not be understated as the lifeblood of any operational organization are the people  who execute the tactical and management activities. People usually are resistant to change if they do not see a benefit or incentive to them or their teams they manage. It’s imperative that before embarking on any IOT Industry 4.0 principles or initiatives, that the resources impacted are fully aware of its benefits, its impact to their responsibilities, and that they have a voice in its design, development, and implementation. This cannot be a one-sided, top-down initiative from management. It needs to be a hybrid initiative, where the “voice of the customer”, that is, the executors of the process, have influence in all of its stages.

Step 3: Take a Methodical Approach to Implementation:
The lifecycle from design to sustainability of any industrial initiative is complex and dynamic. If an organization is interested in creating an intelligent network in their factory for the 1st time, do not make the project’s scope so big that it’s difficult to manage. This could lead to costly delays, low employee morale, and a perception that the journey to IOT Industry 4.0 practices is too complicated to implement, potentially curbing future investments in similar initiatives. The optimal approach is to break the initiative up into different waves or phases, tackling a process that is in need of new technology but is smaller in investment and duration scale. This way, the organization has tangible evidence on its results, both from the way the project was executed and whether the investment is generating the results expected. Future investments could be accelerated or curtailed depending on the results of the 1st initiative.

Technological change is exponential and the returns that this change brings will also be exponential. For pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, the value technology and intelligent networks bring to and end-to-end supply chain is extensive and will enable the delivery of safe, high-quality therapeutics to patients. Continuous investments in technologies by organizations to improve the patient experience is paramount and required as new therapies are developed. The journey to implement IOT Industry 4.0 principles can be overwhelming and costly but following the aforementioned multi-pronged approach can ease the transition and generate the value and results an organization is expecting.

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Tags: Life Sciences Trends