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The overhead expense that comes along with each new enterprise application adds up quickly, and can be somewhat invisible to owners of the system.
The biopharmaceutical industry is one of the most complex, and disaggregated, when it comes to using Information Technology (IT). If one were to tally up the number of enterprise-level solutions available to manage different parts of the business, it would make a chief financial officer cringe. Although the large enterprise resource planning (ERP) providers (SAP and Oracle) claim to be making the world simpler by integrating more functionality into their systems, best-in-breed advocates within companies have demonstrated that the one-stop-shop model for business management systems is short of being a fully matured concept.
Simplification is a core concept of Operations Excellence that is contrary to current balkanized IT deployments. Continuous improvement requires a relentless effort to eliminate waste in all forms. The gurus of lean operations would argue that implementation of complex IT systems for business management is wasteful—why not use simple and easy-to-implement visual management tools instead? If statistical process control charting on pieces of paper worked well in the past to determine when a process was reaching an out-of-control state, why do we need distributed control systems and process historians?
Realistically, the correct balance of IT lies somewhere between today's complex mix of systems and paper-based systems. Finding that balance requires keeping the following key points in mind when developing a software strategy:
This concept also applies to customization. The fastest and most successful ERP implementations are out-of-the box (vanilla systems). An honest assessment of the real needs of the system from the customer perspective can mean the difference between a one-year and a six-year implementation
Even with the aforementioned concerns, I'm no Luddite. There is no question that the proper application of IT can be a critical component to driving efficiency and actually reducing waste.
Highly efficient companies use IT extensively, and with great success. However, the need and resulting form of the IT system were determined through systematic root cause analysis, that determined its use was the only way to drive better and more consistent performance. As companies reach for Six Sigma performance, humans involved in the process become too variable and error prone.
Additionally, information needs to be viewed, analyzed, and reacted to in real-time. Within biopharma, the most exciting waste reducing technology is process analytical technology. Can you imagine a plant with no quality control laboratories (and no laboratory information management system?) Until then, biopharma should concentrate on solving real problems that cause inefficiencies, making the difficult choices around removing waste, and minimizing the footprint of IT on the organization.
The complete schedule for future meetings of the Operations Excellence Consortium will be available soon. The next West Coast meeting is scheduled for July 20, hosted by Bayer in Berkeley, CA. Please refer to www.Tefen.com/bio for additional information.
Marc Punch is a partner at Tefen,Lt.,1065 E. Hillsdale Blvd., Suite 1615, Foster City, CA 94404; tell 650.357.1120 X117 (Office) 415.290.4580 (mobile), fax 650.372.1350, marc@Tefen.com