Gyan Pandey, Global and Group CIO, Aurobindo Pharma, explains that digitalisation is not a one-time process, but an evolving journey. In an exclusive interaction with Sanjiv Das, he also shares more details about his company’s digital journey and its various milestones
How is the pharma industry navigating Industry 4.0?
Industry 4.0 solutions are helping the industry to reach new avenues in terms of transparency, quality, safety, efficiency, and adherence. In the pharma industry, we have to follow complex processes and meet stringent requirements. Intelligent manufacturing will help organisations in the pharma sector to adapt to the highly dynamic market environment.
The pharma industry has more regulations and compliance laid out as compared to other industries. All these changes in the production, machine, processes have to make sure that the end product is a high-quality and compliant product. Technologies like IoT, AI, blockchain, RFID, etc can help manufacturers and distributors to have end-to-end visibility of the whole process and thus, making sure that the highest quality product reaches the customer at the right price and in the right condition. A few years ago, we decided to embark on our digital transformation journey keeping in mind the constant evolution taking shape in the sector.
Is the industry ready for an era of AI and connected devices?
There have been many perceptible ways in which technology has driven success in the pharma industry. AI and its subsets like automation, ML are changing the face of the pharma sector like other industries. Here, I would like to state that AI is not meant to replace humans but to provide additional support in a certain course of action. However, the constantly emerging technologies like AI and ML have shaped up trends with each passing era. The most common use of AI in pharmaceuticals is in drug discovery, where AI is mobilised to scan through all available data on a particular molecule for a drug. In addition to streamlining the process of drug discovery, the application of AI in pharma offers additional advantages such as identification of both tangible and intangible enhanced parameters of growth. It customises sales and marketing messaging for greater customer engagement and automation of sales and marketing messages across channels. AI-embedded Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications help utilise AI to automate pharma supply chain management.
What are the major challenges which hinder the adoption of technology in the pharma industry and how can they be overcome?
Digitisation has a great impact on the pharma manufacturing sector as the industry is stepping up towards complete transformation. As an industry, we deal with sensitive information that is required to comply with several regulations. The law impacts the participants of the entire supply chain which includes the manufacturers, repackagers, wholesale distributors, and retailers. Adoption of technology seems more of a necessity to obtain greater transparency throughout the supply chain as these supply chains are complex in nature. ERP solutions have proven to boost business processes resulting in improved communication with advanced features.
Our supply chain is highly dependent on the changing regulatory requirements which makes it highly challenging to put complete trust in technology, avoiding any barge in the overall mechanism.
The pharma industry is a bit too conservative to make bold choices like adopting technology. Best way to overcome the bespoken obstacles one should choose swift modes of adaptation giving out a material impact on the businesses.
Tell us about Aurobindo Pharma’s digital journey? What has been your strategy and focus areas?
Our key strategy has been to bring in digital technologies to achieve and sustain the required efficiency. Digital technology will reduce the costs in the long run, thereby bringing new ways of doing business. However, to ensure the successful outcome of digital, there was a dire need to have a checklist that included IT infrastructure, the skillset of the IT team, technology partners, and cybersecurity. Most of our plants had physical infrastructure that lacked redundancy and availability at every level. We decided to move to virtualisation, and today, 90 per cent of our servers are virtualised.
What are the major lessons learnt from the journey so far? What have been the most significant benefits?
As the pharma sector is highly regulated, we decided to create two buckets – activities affected by regulations and activities that are not affected by regulations. The second category consists of common operations majorly like finance, HR, Admin, etc. It is comparatively easier to implement technology and manage changes. The other set of activities, which fall under regulatory, includes operational technology. Here the decisions will be owned by Operations, Regulatory, QC, and QA teams. These people will do a comprehensive study of the solution, successful proof of concept (PoC) – a bit more difficult than the other category.
Digitalisation is not a one-time process, it is an evolving journey. You should start slow but have a bigger vision. Already matured processes will be easier to digitalise. You should leverage the existing technology as much as you can. However, above all, you need to have a plan on how you will manage the change and adoption of digital, in accordance with your organisational culture.
The significant benefits that we have seen are – efficiency and transparency of the processes, quick decision making, analytics to bring the business insight across the process, cost optimisation, and higher level of collaboration and hence better compliance and a single source of truth.
How has it affected your human resources? Do they need to upskill or reskill themselves?
We had to mix and match manpower. Going digital has hugely impacted our workforce. To obtain certain efficiency in execution, there have been constant efforts to reskilling the old ones and bringing in the new ones. We also leveraged senior people experience and knowledge for better solution design and project execution. We had to revamp our entire HR operations to match the requirements while bringing in trusted technology partners. We witnessed the overall end-to-end communications for B2B sales taking shape flawlessly.
We also received constant assistance from our technology partners to guide our business at each step while we made conscious efforts in upscaling the overall functioning and gauge optimum benefits out of the quintessential transformation.
How do you plan to take this journey forward?
As a next step, we will be start automating repeated and redundant tasks in Finance, HR, Supply Chain etc with the help of RPA technologies. We are trying to enhance collaborations and data sharing so that there is no duplication of data. We will be basing our decisions on data-driven insights, so we will be using more and more analytics by integrating internal applications (MFG, Quality Management Systems, LIMS, SCM, CRM)
What are significant benefits Aurobindo Pharma has accrued through technology? What has been Oracle’s contribution on this front?
Supply chain management in the pharma sector mission-critical. The medicine can go waste if there are oversights in the supply chain. The whole bottom line in pharma business depends upon the supply chain management in terms of efficiency, cost and complian