Even before Covid-19, the pharma sector was already faced with a range of challenges, including the increasing cost of sourcing and product development, data security, and compliance with safety and quality standards. Furthermore, a number of unprecedented global and economic events have also had a serious effect on market dynamics, for example reforms in pharma imports in the US, the economic slowdown in China, and, in Europe, the UK’s exit from the EU.
Now in the post-pandemic world, the pharma sector has been under a continuous spotlight, given its role in developing vaccines and tests for the virus, while under intense pressure from governments around the world. Added to this, the sector is grappling with material and resource limitations, cash flow issues, and constantly changing client and patient demands.
Business continuity through robotic process automation (RPA)
As it confronts these challenges head on, the pharma sector is leveraging and integrating RPA across all its business functions to aid with business continuity and transformation. Here are just a few of the ways that the technology is driving the strategic agenda and delivering significant ROI:
- Finance Shared Service Centre (FSSC): Automating accounting and reporting functions including payables, receivables and pay-outs
RPA can reduce the cycle time for monthly book closure by at least 25 to 30 per cent, by automating logic-based accounting and reporting activities. Accounts payable, invoice booking, and payments all involve repetitive, transactional processes, with employee time required for data entry. RPA therefore brings significant ROI with the possibility of saving employee hours by 75 to 80 per cent, freeing staff up to focus on more strategic, value-add activities. In addition, deploying RPA in global payroll processing, a highly repetitive and time-sensitive activity, can also bring dramatic time, cost and accuracy benefits.
- Supply chain management
In an unpredictable world, organisations are demanding an end-to-end view of their supply chain, from planning to material receipt. RPA is the ideal solution, with the ability to monitor and track the whole process, while carrying out a deep dive assessment of vendors and distributors, highlighting excess and short stock scenarios, and providing customised reports on stock movement and reorder needs. Having this bird’s eye view of the whole supply chain enables pharma organisations to minimise one of their biggest business risks, by identifying, and mitigating, potential supply issues before they become a problem.
- Regulatory and compliance
Pharma is a highly regulated market and organisations must stay up to date and compliant with a web of constantly evolving industry standards and best practices (GxP). One such area is pharmacovigilance, or drug safety, which involves a huge amount of data collection and monitoring on potential adverse effects of pharmaceutical products. RPA, along with machine learning (ML), can streamline this process dramatically, by facilitating the end-to-end management and monitoring of patient complaints, grievances and adverse events. By automating pharmacovigilance processes, organisations ensure that all issues are effectively assessed and resolved, as well as reported to compliance teams and management, ensuring employees spend maximum time on strategic tasks.
How to embrace RPA and get it right
It might sound complex, but RPA is, in fact, straightforward to implement and easy to use, with the ability to integrate with all legacy systems. However, it still takes planning to get right:
- The economic value proposition – tangible and intangible: When deploying RPA for process, compliance and audit automation, ensure that you are clear on the return on investment (ROI) you are hoping for. ROI can bring a mixture of direct and indirect monetary benefits, for example employee hour savings and reducing costs, as well as strategic advantages, such as higher levels of compliance, adherence to service level agreements or detailed and timely reporting.
- Process discovery and building automation pipeline: RPA bots can be used to quickly identify the processes where maximum automation is possible, avoiding a time-consuming manual exercise to map the automation pipeline.
- Selecting the right partner: Select a robotics partner who has an agile and flexible approach, broad experience working with a range of client needs, and who has subject matter expert in-house, so as to provide specialist and customised RPA solutions.
- Set up governance: Define key roles and responsibilities within the internal team. For example, who will oversee, monitor and report on RPA projects and progress to stakeholders?
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This article was written by Allen D'Souza, Partner at Mazars, and Snehal Shah, Director at Mazars.