What Are You Afraid Of, Pharma?

Pharma needs to kick open the closet and confront its digital demons

By Karen Langhauser, Chief Content Director

As a child, I put several creative spins on my monster-in-the-closet fear. Sometimes it was a vampire. Other times it was the boogeyman. One time it was even my dad’s boss (I had never met him but from how my dad spoke about him, he seemed like the scariest monster of them all).

Fears are, of course, a normal, healthy part of childhood development — they help kids to process information and make sense of the world around them. As we become adults, our fears become more sophisticated, but never entirely disappear. 

The pharma industry has no shortage of monsters in the closet. But sleep lost over issues like regulatory compliance, expiring patents, or public perception is nothing new for the industry. Some of these challenges have been around for decades and pharma has had plenty of time to adjust and formulate solutions.

The evolving and disruptive technologies that characterize this digital environment are a whole new world though — the scope of which is hard to comprehend. The World Economic Forum went as far as to say the Fourth Industrial Revolution is “redefining what it means to be human.” That’s kind of a big deal.

For the second year in a row, we surveyed our readers — equipment vendors and pharma manufacturers — in an attempt to gauge where pharma stands in terms of the industry’s digital revolution. What is really keeping them up at night?

As you’ll read in this month's cover story, survey results confirm that the pharma industry has seen great advances in transformative technology, and most believe that smart innovations can give manufacturers an edge. But it appears that after a few initial pilot investments, progress is stalling and the industry is hesitating. Now, pharma needs to go “all-in” in order to pull themselves out of what McKinsey refers to as “pilot purgatory. “All-in” means big investments on a big scale. 

Tearing open the closet door when you don’t know what’s on the other side is easier said than done. According to survey results, when it comes to digitalization, fears about integration and regulatory backlash are top-of-mind for pharma manufacturers, and concerns linger about training employees and security threats.

The World Economic Forum recently identified nine of the best factories in the world — two of which were pharma plants — based on a successful track record of implementing technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Earlier work by the Forum identified that over 70 percent of businesses investing in new technologies are not able to take the projects beyond pilot phase. To aid the adoption of technologies by other companies, all factories chosen (dubbed “lighthouses”) have agreed to open their doors and share their knowledge.

When I was a child, I recall my mom trying to quell my monster fear by buying me a nightlight. Perhaps pharma can look to these standout manufacturers, as well as additional examples from pharma and beyond, to be the nightlights in the dark world of digital endeavors. And hopefully shining the light on pharma’s digital fears will help the industry to confront them head-on, and push pharma into the most rewarding stage of digital transformation.

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