My first memories of music came from vinyl. I recall being entranced by the spinning records and how, like magic, lowering the arm of the Victrola brought musicians to life in the corner of my parents’ living room. I can’t tell you how many 33s probably met their demise because I insisted on awkwardly carrying them around everywhere I went. My parents eventually wised up and made me the proud owner of a plastic cassette player, which they likely quickly regretted, as I insisted that I needed to duplicate my coveted record collection with state-of-the-art cassette tapes.
But my time spent relishing in high-tech audiophile land was short-lived, because before I could even complete my Michael Jackson collection, cassette tapes were out and CDs were in. Convinced that CDs were the pinnacle of digital recording technology, I dropped a hard-earned $300 on the appropriate player, and filled my Sam Goody basket with the cardboard-intensive 12-inch long CD packages.
With each advancement in technology came an even bigger capital (read: allowance) investment and the need to start from scratch. And if I wanted to retrofit existing technologies — say, enable the tape deck in the car to play CDs — I needed to buy adapter equipment and cobble together a tenuous, overly-sensitive-to-potholes connection between old and new technology.
Such was the case, for years, with digital transformation in pharma manufacturing. Building a foundation for digital involved putting expensive, complex infrastructures in place. And those investments came with the high likelihood that newer technology would be both better and incompatible.
But today’s pharma manufacturers have access to advanced toolsets that can be applied quickly and unilaterally to whatever data stream is needed. This improved technology has undoubtedly played a large role in increasing the digital optimism that was evident in this year’s Smart Pharma Survey.
While integration challenges have not disappeared (integration, along with regulatory hurdles, remain top concerns) our survey found increased comfort levels with basic automation and a prioritization of digital when designing or upgrading facilities.
As you will read in our cover story, data has become the new manufacturing currency. Prior to the advent of audio files and streaming services, musical “data” was massive — bookshelves lined with records, cassettes exploding from the glove box, towers stuffed with CDs — and organizing it all was an ongoing project. Inevitably, a good portion of collections were never utilized. Similarly, pharma found that much of its quickly accumulating data was dusty and unused. But now, rather than onerously stockpiling historic data that rarely brings value, pharma manufacturers have the tools to collect data in real time and then run performance analytics that yield immediate payouts.
While music aficionados may argue that today’s streaming music platforms lack the familiar charm of past musical formats and many, like myself, have nostalgically held onto collections, one can’t help but notice that technology itself has made transitioning to new formats easier and more affordable than ever before. For pharma, modern technology’s flexibility has the industry singing a new digital tune.