Why data silos are determining the future of pharma 

Why data silos are determining the future of pharma 

Raman Bhatnagar, Vice President and General Manager at Aspen Technology, speaks to us about the company’s latest research, revealing that many large pharma businesses are hindered by data silos.  

Aspen Technology (AspenTech) is a global leader in asset optimisation software, helping companies better utilise their operation. For years, the company has served various industries – such as oil and gas, enabling innovation for its clients. Recently, though, the enterprise decided to establish itself in the pharmaceutical space, once it noticed the interest that had been generated within this sector. 

In order to meet interest, the company acknowledged the industry’s unique position: while it was so far advanced, technologically it was behind. So, initially, its offerings were product-heavy. 

It also noticed that employees tended to jump between different industries, which aligned with the company’s primary mission; to provide industrial software to businesses in multiple verticals. As such, it knew how to leverage its expertise across the various verticals to enable many pharma companies to undergo Digital Transformation journeys.  

To better understand pharma, AspenTech asked 400 industry professionals across the US and Europe about the future of Digital Transformation and manufacturing. The report found that data silos were derailing the efficiency of cross-functional collaboration in organisations. The report also sought to discover the future of pharma and what direction it was heading in regard to Digital Transformation.  

Here, Raman Bhatnagar, Vice President and General Manager at Aspen Technology, speaks to us about the recent report, Aspen’s offerings and the future of pharma… 

What does your average day look like at AspenTech? 

I think it’s easier to say what my average week looks like at AspenTech! Having a global responsibility at AspenTech means I’m constantly following up with teams in different time zones. For example, I had a call at seven recently with a client in the APAC region about the latest pharma trends and what’s happening there. Our head offices are based out of Boston, USA, which is six hours behind my office in Norway, so it’s common to have calls late at night (usually at midnight). Due to the nature of the job, I also travel a lot! 

Content-wise I am involved in everything from customer calls to market research. I frequently take part in discussions about where we currently are in the market and how we can expand our reach. I am also a huge proponent of frequent interaction with my team whether it’s regarding career guidance, general help or just a quick catch-up – your people are important! 

Can you tell us more about your recent research and the key findings from it? 

For us to be perceived as a key player in this space, we need to keep close connections with pharmaceutical companies and the industry. Only by doing that are we able to match our offerings with what customers are looking for – and our research reflects this.  

I’m constantly connecting with senior executives from various pharmaceutical companies, with most of our discussions touching upon the key pain points of the industry. This feedback allows us to offer better solutions to them. So, we specifically asked the respondents what is hindering the progress of their digitalisation. Ultimately, trying to understand why pharma’s progression is so much slower within this area.  

Pharma is around 10 years behind with leveraging digital technology – which the industry has recognised. So, our questions focused heavily on what is actually happening in this space and why things are not progressing more quickly.   

Why are pharma businesses more likely to see data silos hinder internal collaboration efforts? 

Throughout our survey, we discovered that the value chain of the pharma industry is very broad. It has lots of different divisions that don’t always consider themselves to be part of the same industry. This complicates things and makes sharing data difficult.  

If you look at drug discovery, for example, you have the discovery itself, where scientists are figuring out how to resolve the challenges that humankind is facing. However, you also have production and accessibility, which includes everything from availability to pricing to distribution. Lots of companies are multinationals. They have their development sites in one region and their production and distribution channels elsewhere in the world. Historically, these sites do not communicate incredibly well, especially when it comes to sharing data. However, to connect value chains these silos need to be broken down. 

Companies also fall into these data silos due to ‘cultural inertia’. For a long time, having a shared culture was not something pharma did. Individuals and their teams accumulated their own data for their own purposes. Only now are we beginning to see this evolve. But people are still very much driven by their own motives when sharing data within the value chain.   

Why are they commonly found within healthcare? 

Pharma is a large, complex industry where people work in total isolation. If you look at the traditional production cycle of a new drug, it takes between seven to nine years to produce. Hypothetically, the scientists who discovered this drug could be working on something completely different by the time it hits the market. The timescale can massively hinder the sharing of data.  

I think the second part of it is that pharma wasn’t compelled to share internal data before, so why bother now? This industry has been allowed to perform as it always has. Before, it didn’t feel the pressure or a need to do something differently, but now it does. 

How can companies break down barriers in a data ecosystem, enabling better-informed decision-making? 

The starting point will always be to prove the value of your product to every stakeholder involved. Until people see that, the value chain will not change. The individual needs to understand that what they do now will benefit them eventually, due to all your employees being connected through this value chain. What goes around, comes back around.  

Also, introduce an ‘ecosystem of solutions’ that are leveraging common data sets. We see customers trying to do this, where they go from paper to digital, but remain in isolation due to their systems not being connected. You’ll be much more successful if there is connectivity and accessibility.  

There is also a huge demand for Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) – specialist software that allows for documented, guided execution of SOPs, which minimises human error and greatly reduces risk of deviations. These systems drastically reduce review times which means product is ready to go sooner. And this can be a critical factor in getting medicines distributed to the patients that need them. 

What technologies will help businesses keep up with increased market demand and external pressure? 

Sometimes lagging can be a good thing because you can learn from other industries. These newer technologies afford pharma the opportunity to ‘leapfrog’ ahead. I think the pharmaceutical industry is already recognising this because they are hiring experts from other industries to help them get ahead.  

Pharma, at its core, is an integral manufacturing sector. And in this industry, products need to be held to the highest quality standard, while still delivering expected margins to shareholders, and at a pace that keeps up with demand. So only by capitalising on pre-existing technologies and experiences will the pharma industry be able to stay ahead of external pressures.  

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