Save Money, Make Money: IT Integration and Data Exchange

By integrating data systems and processes, companies can reduce errors and human touch all the way through a product’s lifecycle

By Lane Hirning, product management director, pharmaceutical industry expert, MasterControl

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At the end of the day, all pharmaceutical manufacturers are looking to make product for less money. By integrating systems like enterprise resource planning (ERP), material requirements planning (MRP), supply chain management (SCM), quality management system (QMS), learning management system (LMS), laboratory information management system (LIMS) and the like, a company can reduce errors and human touch all the way through a product’s lifecycle. In addition, people resources can then be used for more crucial roles. All of this decreases costs and propels time-to-market.

Absolutely every time I meet with a pharmaceutical manufacturing customer or prospective customer they always bring up IT integration and data exchange: how do I stop the re-work? How do I get my data from here to there? I’m tired of printing it out here, walking it over there, and rewriting it, entering part of it into this other system.

The answer to many of these woes is better integration and collaboration between data systems and processes — this is vital because it allows processes to work faster and be more reliable and robust. Each software system should serve as an authoritative source for a specific type of info. In other words, each piece of data should have a single, official source and then these specific bits of information can flow into all the systems. For instance, the Customer Relationship Management tool would be the single source of customer demographics and contacts — all other systems would connect to it for current addresses and customer information. This way people can look up the correct, updated data at all times.

Software systems should be talking to other software systems. The delivery of a pharmaceutical should not be waiting for a person to pick up a piece of paper and carry it across the shop floor, or up to the third floor. The ability to connect software systems together is crucial to business success. Many companies strive to collect Best of Breed technologies (BoBs) in MRP, quality, document management, etc. And these companies have great silos of strong data. But now the need is to bring all those bits of information together as described earlier.

In a nut shell, the biggest concern manufacturers have with data exchange is that they’re tired of re-keying data, and tired of getting things wrong. Manufacturers know that when people re-key data in different non-connected silos (data from systems like ERP, MRP, purchasing, QMS, LMS, LIMs), this can provide a source of error. Transposing data over and over again and redundant data costs money and costs manufacturers efficiencies in their processes.

Systems like ERP and MRP contain part numbers and supplier information; having to re-key that data any place is kind of silly. It is important to get away from this and create the ability to pick a single source of that data and move it around into different systems.

Here is an example of successfully integrated data and systems; there was no need to re-enter data at any step of the process: it is discovered in a MRP system that a source material is not proper and a non-compliant process is kicked off. The batch number is confirmed, and pushed across into the quality management system. Then the quality management system manages the whole process — what needs to be done with this material; is it scrapped? Is it reworked, or is it taken out of production? Once an action is chosen, then an update is triggered back in the MRP system.

Personnel costs are budget-killers. By integrating IT systems, a company can conserve the cost of human capital: decrease human touch where it’s not needed and put people costs where they are needed — where it does the most benefit. If a company integrates IT systems a person is not needed to do certain, more simplistic jobs, like data entry. Instead, that person can function in areas that are more critical, like talking with customers or suppliers; determining problems; or following the logic through a corrective or preventative action. In other words, a manufacturer shouldn’t have to pay people to do jobs that machines can do; instead put talented people where they are called upon for their judgment, which is what machines can’t provide.

And, with today’s business processes, a person doesn’t even have to kick off a process. A process is started automatically, sometimes even based on input from another system when an exception is found based on business process rules. This means people don’t have to execute some tasks, such as running reports to find errors. Instead, people can spend their time figuring out the causes and remedies.

With integrated software systems, good people processes must be established, so inaccurate data doesn’t cascade through everything else. In other words, it is important to get the data entered right in the master (official) sources before it gets pushed out through all other systems. The good news is that this expense or commitment to have good processes around data entry to the master sources is much more cost effective than having same data entered five to six times. And there is less error.

In addition, it is important to note that once a process is validated, it is most likely error free.


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