Innovation through collaboration in the manufacturing industry

In an industry where time to market, profitability and meeting regulatory requirements is of paramount importance, new ways to improve working methods within life sciences are always being sought. Sean Dudley investigates how Microsoft is helping companies improve enterprise-wide collaboration to boost innovation

Sean Dudley
Sean Dudley
By Sean Dudley on 06 October 2014
Innovation through collaboration in the manufacturing industry

This article was first published in the Autumn 2014 issue of Prime

The life sciences industry has reached an inflection point. Time to market, regulatory and profitability pressures have never been more intense, and companies need to enable their workers to get the right information and collaborate across the product lifecycle to help improve decision-making and speed innovation.

“There’s no doubt that collaboration is a major driver for companies today,” says Egbert Schröer, worldwide managing director of process manufacturing and resources at Microsoft. “CIOs and CEOs recognise that the next big mega trend will involve social collaboration, covering factors such as mobility and the data centre.”

Andrea McGonigle, managing director of life sciences at Microsoft, describes her vision of collaboration in life sciences as being the ability to communicate from ‘anywhere, anytime on any device’.

“Today more than ever, life sciences companies are collaborating with so many stakeholders to help bring drugs to market,” says McGonigle. “Many of these stakeholders are no longer within the four walls of the company – they could be a partnering company, an outsourced provider or an external sponsor. ”

Wherever they are based, these diverse stakeholders need to be able to work together quickly and easily. This requires a communication platform that unites all involved parties and allows them to collaborate in the manner of their choosing.

“The faster a drug gets to market, the more potential revenue there is for the company,” says McGonigle. “They do not want to call IT and wait days or weeks for a tool so that they can begin collaborating. With more people bringing their own devices into the workplace, we can no longer dictate what equipment and platforms they use. It is important that if someone wants to collaborate that they can do it from anywhere in the world, be that at home or in the office, at any time of day or night, and on any device.”

Today’s workforce is becoming increasingly familiar with new methods of communication, and their demands for the latest tools to help them work even more efficiently will only continue to grow. As a result, Schröer believes that companies must assess their work environment considerably when looking to enhance collaboration.

“Changing demographics have a direct impact on companies,” he explains. “As do concepts such as bring-your-own-device, which pose a range of challenges, but also a range of possibilities. Workers like to use the devices and platform they feel comfortable with. Even e-mail is beginning to become somewhat outdated, as new methods of communication gather speed. Companies are having to re-evaluate the ways in which they work and the ways in which they communicate. This is a great challenge but it is also a huge opportunity.” While a flexible approach to communication is required, companies cannot afford to be careless when it comes to security and compliance, especially in such a highly regulated industry as life sciences.

“Compliance cannot be compromised or sacrificed in any way; that is not negotiable,” says McGonigle. “I do think, however, people jump to use compliance as a road blocker to innovation. There is a way to do both. A good example of this is the cloud. At Microsoft, we understand the health and life sciences business and we worked with our product teams to ensure our cloud offerings are qualified so that they can be validated. It is important to work with partners and technology that understand compliance and address those needs as part of the offering.”

One example of a Microsoft life sciences partner offering compliant solutions in the cloud is NextDocs. Its regulated document management system runs on the Microsoft Azure platform, allowing a company’s customers and stakeholders to securely access information from wherever they are. At the same time, the business benefits from a lower total cost of ownership.

Developments around business intelligence and the internet of things are also having a major impact on enterprise collaboration. “Organisations within the life sciences industry use so many ‘things’, from information systems to things like machines and pumps,” says Schröer. “By aggregating and analysing how these are used through the internet of your things, companies can enhance predictability by ensuring that valuable information is shared with the person that is in the best position to use it, who can then take a proactive approach and significantly improve operations.”

Going forward, companies will continue to invest in new collaboration technologies to help advance their workforces and find new ways of harnessing the latest and greatest ideas – inside and outside their organisations.

“Collaboration can be used as part of the innovation process within companies,” says Schröer. “Through the sharing of ideas and knowledge management, the best ways to enhance working methods and processes can be identified.” Social computing is just one area that is having a big impact on innovation in the industry, allowing people from all areas of the industry to communicate with each other across their own virtual worlds.

“Social computing is becoming part of the innovation process and is a great way to crowd source ideas,” says Schröer. “This is helped by technologies such as the enterprise social networking tool Yammer, which enables users to communicate in a more dynamic fashion within their own team, organisation or across the wider industry. These advances are pushing companies to think about how to update and advance their business models.”

“I think virtual worlds will continue to make collaboration advances and really enhance the experience at another level,” adds McGonigle. “These spaces will be powered by the cloud that will allow people to access them anywhere, anytime, and scale up and down quickly.”

One company already capitalising on the possibilities of these virtual world offerings is PPD, a global contract research organisation. Serving clients in the biopharmaceutical industry, the company implemented a customised version of ProtoSphere, called PPD 3D, from Microsoft partner ProtonMedia. The platform is integrated with both Microsoft Lync and SharePoint, giving users access to a series of virtual spaces in which they are able to collaborate through the use of 3D avatars, helping to improve clinical research associate trainee engagement and providing competitive differentiation through expanded services. Mike Wilkinson, PPD’s executive vice president and chief information officer was quoted in a recent press release as saying: “Comprehensive employee learning and development programs allow PPD to deliver value and quality throughout the drug discovery and development continuum. PPD 3D gives clinical research teams a more engaging and productive way to communicate with colleagues and clients around the world.”

With all the tools they need at their disposal, life sciences companies are taking impressive steps to improve collaboration and boost innovation across the enterprise, empowering their workers to share new ideas and take their productivity to the next level.

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