While benchmarking clearly has many benefits, it does have some limitations and practical difficulties. The main limitation
is that while benchmarking might tell one a great deal about how current practice is achieved, it does not necessarily indicate
what is possible or what best practice might look like in the future. The pitfall here is to take a narrow view of who to
benchmark with. Comparing a C class company to B class performers will limit ambitions when A class students might be available
to learn from.
Those seeking to benchmark practices around cleanroom design and operation might compare and share with other pharmaceutical
companies. However, benchmarking with semiconductor manufacturers or automotive paint shops might result in a whole new set
of ideas and processes not found in drug production.
Foremost among the practical difficulties are the problems that can be experienced in gaining the cooperation needed to carry
out a full process benchmarking study. The development of benchmarking clubs and syndicates has helped overcome this problem.
In biopharmaceuticals, the BioPhorum Operations Group's (BPOG) role is to create a safe and structured environment in which
benchmarking can take place amongst industry players. Joint initiatives to benchmark with other industries are another function
of this consortium.
To be successful, benchmarking needs to be taken seriously and must become an integral part of a business improvement program,
either as a means of sizing the gap at the outset or revitalizing the program at a later stage. The world doesn't stay still,
so benchmarking exercises should be repeated and data should be refreshed as often as opportunities allow. It also needs to
be done largely by the organization's own people, as it is through the widening of their experience that a substantial part
of the benefit is realized.
The scope for carrying out process benchmarking against direct competitors is limited in certain areas of intellectual property
or proprietary knowledge; however for pharmaceutical companies, there are many areas where industry performance in terms of
product and patient safety, reputation, and strengthening of competition can be enhanced. Independent moderators can facilitate
benchmarking so that the participants can stay within the rules and where necessary, data can be blinded.
When embarking on a benchmarking exercise, the first thought for most companies is to seek to benchmark those processes associated
with the core manufacturing and supply-chain activities to cut cost or improve service. While this might be entirely appropriate,
consideration should be given to examining other key processes, such as process development, human resource management, and
quality compliance. For pharmaceutical companies, achieving excellence of these processes could produce similar performance
In benchmarking, companies have a systematic and objective method of assessing their performance and understanding best practice.
By doing this, benchmarking can help the company focus on key competitive and performance issues so that the drive to be
best in class can be achieved and maintained.
Simon Chalk is director of the BioPhorum Operations Group, firstname.lastname@example.org