Merck and Dotmatics share how to ensure success in the journey to a digital lab

We share insights from Dr Mark Goulding and Max Peterson at our recent digitalization debate

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Pharma IQ

The journey to a smart lab

In a recent webinar, Pharma IQ brought together two sides of the smart lab industry to find out whether digitalization could really solve our challenges in the lab.

Over the course of the session, Dr. Mark Goulding, Director, Business Project Lead, Performance Materials and Early Research at Merck and Max Petersen, AVP of Chemicals and Materials Marketing at Dotmatics, shared their expertize on the topic.

With only 5% of attendees able to say that they had fully digitalized their lab, and 74% either at the start or mid-way through, it was clear that our audience were seeking guidance on how best to transform their environment. As Mark pointed out “moving from a paper based workflow to a digital system is a profound cultural change with a potentially major impact on the people in our labs”.

RELATED: Watch the webinar on demand now!


The drivers behind digitalization 

There are a number of different drivers behind moving towards a smarter research environment, these include trying to increase worker productivity, reduce the number of errors during the process, create cohesive workflows with lower operational burdens and increasing access to data across a number of experiments.

We asked our Pharma IQ audience, what are your drivers for digitalization?

                57% - Efficiency improvements

                21% - Data structuring

                11% - Traceability

                7% - Cost reductions

                4% - Other

There is clearly motivation within the industry to transform the efficiency of research environments and improve access to and the use of data. Mark points out through that there are three crucial questions to ask yourself during this process. Firstly, should you do this? If so, how effective will digitalization be? And finally, what impact will this change have on the people and processes in your lab? Without understanding this, you will fail to achieve your desired outcomes from digitalization.

Max agrees with this and reiterates that you should always be asking how much strategic advantage you will gain from pursuing digital endeavours. Successful digitalization requires a top-down, collaborative approach but this should be driven with a clear understanding of which processes are to be changed, what impact this will have on the lab’s workflow and care given to the people this will affect.

Max suggests looking towards where the deployment of digital infrastructure can help reduce the operational burden on your employees. Think about where are the opportunities to avoid repetitive tasks? How is effort being duplicated in the lab? How can you encode best practices across your teams?

Both speakers recommended taking a close look at the way people are currently working within the lab and the way they will be working once digitalization has taken place. Understanding this progression can help you to identify pinch points early on and decide on the best deployment strategy for your digital infrastructure to limit operational disruption.

Mark suggests mapping out the current digital to paper to digital journey for the workflows within your lab. For example, you may use excel to design a formulation, then record results on a paper worksheet then transcribe these on a digital system. It is these time consuming, disjointed processes which have the potential to generate errors and could be perfectly suited for a fully digital process. By improving the efficiency and ease of use for your workers, you are also more likely to see buy-in for the new process.


Overcoming the challenges of digitization

During our webinar, 21% of our audience shared that they were struggling with the digitalization process. Both Mark and Max believe that the core solution to many of the problems our audience are facing come from addressing the cultural side of the journey.

For Mark, it all comes down to taking a birds eye view of the process. Without understanding where your organization is starting, you will fail to communicate the end goal and impact of this digitalization process. Mark recommends that you “do something which shows the benefits of digitalization. It might only be something relatively minor, but it shows that it does make things better”. By making progress, even on a small scale, Mark believes that you can build confidence and trust and show your teams that this is a journey worth going on.

Max reiterates that “the journey aspect of digitalization is key”. This is not going to be an overnight change and for many companies it will be a slow progression towards their ideal environment. On this journey, Max points out that “clear communication is critical”, with work and effort given to growing your organizational buy-in. He also strongly recommends “leveraging your vendor as a partner, not just a provider”. Your partner in this journey can bring experience and expertize to this process which could help you overcome the problems you are currently facing.

Mark reiterates that “you’re never complete on your digitalization journey… the business changes, technology changes and the way you do things changes”. You should always be seeking to evolve your processes and embed digital into your company culture so your digital infrastructure can evolve with you.