I recently witnessed my three-year-old niece playing with a regular old My Little Pony figure. She picked it up, and immediately turned it over, looking for a switch or a USB port. When that failed, she proceeded to press all its legs and squeeze its stomach, hoping for some reaction. Still, the pony did nothing. I explained that technically, the pony didn’t do anything. She looked at me, confused, and said matter-of-factly, “well it should.”
We are quick to label the newer generations — the ones who never had to walk to school uphill both ways in a blizzard — as “spoiled.” But when it comes to technology, it isn’t so much that the newer generations have been coddled or pampered, it’s more that they have known no other way, because much of the “old ways” are fast becoming obsolete.
On many levels, Pharma is no exception to this, from mobile technology used on the plant floor to mHealth initiatives designed with patient health and compliance in mind. On the factory floor, off-the-shelf mobile devices are being used to remotely access equipment, commission and maintain systems and provide inexpensive machine operator interfaces. Mainstream smartphones and tablets are creating new opportunities to simplify and streamline operational tasks.
In a recent article in Pharmaceutical Manufacturing, Tom Craven, OI/HMI product manager at GE Intelligent Platform observed, “We see the younger employees of our customers walk up to an operator interface and try to manipulate the screen using the pinch and zoom movement with their fingers. When they realize they can’t control the screen and information that way, there’s this reaction of ‘why not?’”
In terms of mHealth initiatives, big name drugmakers are charging forward, collaborating with technology companies, and building robust mobile health strategies. Novartis, under the direction of a “Mobile Health Strategist,” is already working on several mobile health solutions beyond basic health tracking apps, including some that enable patients to undergo testing, diagnosis and treatment remotely. Through contests and grants, the company is helping guide mHealth start-ups in building and testing proposed solutions.
As digital technology in the Pharma sector flourishes, the less we are left in awe of these advancements and the more we simply expect the convenience of technology. Philippe Winthrop of The Enterprise Mobility Foundation warns that if you deny your plant employees mobile technology, “you’ll eventually have a harder time attracting new talent because the next generation workforce will be expecting this...and your competitors will be doing it...and hiring that key talent away from you.”
Essentially, employees and customers alike are going to start looking at your CIP system or your pill bottles as if they are nothing but lifeless ponies — and asking why they aren’t doing anything more helpful.
(An update on the My Little Pony crisis, in case you were wondering. I explained to my niece that we could supply our own pony noise, and manually move the pony wherever we wanted to put him. She seemed satisfied with this, but perhaps she was just humoring her old-fashioned aunt. We took a few pony selfies, posted them on Instagram, and called it a day.)