GSK uses bots — and they're thriving because of it. Source: Shutterstock

GSK uses bots — and they’re thriving because of it. Source: Shutterstock

Is RPA the magic pill for pharmaceutical companies?

ONE of the things that organizations pursuing digital transformation find incredibly useful is the fact that technology allows them to focus their energies on their core business — and this is critical to pharmaceutical companies.

In a world where drug-makers are constantly battling patents, improving formulations, and researching new treatments, repetitive tasks are an unnecessary distraction.

The solution? Robotic process automation (RPA).

The idea isn’t as novel as it sounds to outsiders. Pharma executives have been exploring the idea of using RPA to improve operations for a while now, but not many have been vocal about their progress.

Slow and steady wins the race

Among those that have, GSK explains that the journey to RPA is rewarding but slow.

At the Computing IT Leaders’ Forum in the UK, GSK Director of Global Applications Development John Johnstone revealed that the company first implemented its RPA platform at the beginning of last year.

In 6 months, the company’s Chief Digital and Technology Officer (CDTO) expected to have 300 bots running — but Johnstone was taking it slow, ensuring that the company’s adoption was carefully planned and optimized.

“We kicked off with a decentralized model. That is to say, the platform is there, and the businesses [within GSK] can come and use it. In the first half of the year, we were really finding our feet. We were asking, ‘What does it take to build a robot? What is the GSK process for prioritizing what should be built first going to be?”

However, once the team had learned a few of the fundamentals about RPA and bots, GSK’s CDTO ordered Johnstone to speed things up — who decided to shift to a centralized model to accelerate adoption.

“We said, ‘business, give us your ideas. We will build the bots centrally, support them for you and you take the benefits’. Another thing we did was establish some full-time teams around this. If you’re serious about doing this, I don’t think you can do it part-time. You need a full-time team dedicated to doing this.”

At the event, Johnstone shared many insights about GSK’s RPA implementation, but one important thing was companies need to get the fundamentals right when diving into such projects.

After all, that’s how you make sure you target the right processes (to automate) and get the most out of your investments.

Why pharmaceutical companies stand to gain from RPA

Pharmaceutical companies stand to gain from RPA significantly because these businesses have a lot of repetitive tasks to do.

Right from periodic regulatory filings and reports to replicating notes on multiple systems to ensure work done by the labs are recorded and reported appropriately — and saved for future reference.

Deloitte, for example, worked with AstraZeneca, for example, and created new efficiencies that were previously unexplored in the pharmaceutical industry.

RPA has allowed AstraZeneca to free up resources to focus on value-adding activities, and manage future workloads without increasing costs, compromising quality, or jeopardizing compliance.

The solution has improved job-satisfaction for AstraZeneca patient safety teams, and is believed to improve response rates from healthcare professionals.

At the end of the day, it seems as though RPA is a great solution for pharmaceutical companies — and GSK’s Johnstone hit the nail on the head when he showcased why finding the right business processes to automate can make all the difference.