By Kim Shah
May 28, 2013 | Guest Commentary | Transform your business before it’s transformed for you. These words convey a hard truth about modern business—external forces are rapidly conspiring to unravel even the best-laid plans. From geopolitical and economic macro trends to global threats to health and the environment, business change is now maddeningly unpredictable and capricious. Absent a proactive plan to address these new business realities, some businesses are in for challenging futures.
The good news is that many established businesses have spent more than two decades methodically adding technology in preparation for this transformation. But all this investment could be for naught unless corporations make an historic stand to strategically align non-integrated, often disparate resources in ways that enable maximum agility. Over the next decade, we will see massive shifts in the way businesses approach investment, expansion, R&D spending, human resources, and other critical drivers of growth.
What has all this to do with labs and laboratory management? Everything. To push the boundaries of innovation, companies in virtually every industry must assiduously monitor performance and quality and be ready to capitalize on opportunities to transform and grow. For today’s elite companies, there are four drivers of constant business transformation: integration, innovation, automation, and business intelligence. When all four drivers are in sync, business transformation isn’t just a strategy anymore; it’s a state of being.
Adding to the complexities of business transformation is the constant pull of technology. And for a lab of any size, new technologies go well beyond instrument advancements alone; cloud and mobile computing, for example, are driving major changes that not only affect business velocity, but also lower entry barriers to increasing competition. In this way, technology is an equal-opportunity catalyst that puts even more pressure on CIOs to stay ahead.
Data is the currency of business, especially in the lab, and business transformation is inexorably linked to effective data management. Even with the best laboratory instruments and information technology infrastructure in place, there is often little difference between solutions. It is how the data is managed and applied across the enterprise that becomes the unique competitive advantage.
Businesses today must have full visibility into laboratory operations and outputs and strategies to make new insights actionable. A one-day head-start diagnosing an issue with raw materials in the supply chain or recalling shipments of tainted product could save millions. In other words, the benefits of agile decision-making are not trivial—bottom-line and top-line revenue hangs in the balance. This is why it’s so important for companies to regard a laboratory information management system (LIMS) as much more than just a data collection solution for the lab; it’s an operating system for business transformation.
Because LIMS are tightly integrated with other enterprise operation systems such as ERP, insights from the lab have the potential to be even more central to businesses seeking true enterprise-wide agility. Businesses aren’t simply capturing and collecting data; they are making data actionable across the enterprise, putting management in position to transform their businesses into agile organizations capable of responding quickly to market trends or new regulations and flexible enough to recognize and capitalize on cost-saving or margin-growing opportunities in the future.
The agile enterprise, one that is truly transformation-ready, must rest on a platform that is supported by four pillars: integration, innovation, automation, and business intelligence. The good news is that many businesses have some semblance of these pillars already, so final alignment is less onerous than many realize. But the time to get started is now.
- Integration—When people, processes, technology (and data) are stuck in silos, business agility is impossible. True visibility, to inform business decisions, is only possible when an executive dashboard is built from comprehensive, near real-time data in open digital formats.
- Innovation—From accelerated drug discovery to more efficient ways to manufacture product, liberating laboratory data in dashboard form can be a new catalyst for continuous change. And the ability to recognize and exploit pathways for innovation is as much cultural as it is process-oriented.
- Automation—Automating time-consuming tasks such as instrument calibration, compliance, user training and maintenance liberates more time for science, investing this perishable intellectual capital back into business transformation.
- Business Intelligence (BI)—In many enterprises, if a manager or executive wants to see laboratory progress or productivity reports, the IT department has to step in. Today, however, thanks to more mature BI approaches enabled by cloud computing, lab personnel can create real-time dashboard reports that are accessible to managers and executives 24/7 via desktop, tablet or mobile device
A technology roadmap now exists for building a business transformation-ready enterprise. The first step, however, is liberating insights that are stored in laboratories around the world, enabling more smart people to proactively query and use vast stores of knowledge. When that happens, a business is truly transformed, its laboratory is a growth driver, the C-suite is fully engaged and investors couldn’t be happier.
Kim Shah and is Director of Global Marketing and Business Development for the Informatics Business at Thermo Fisher Scientific. Shah has a B. Sc. In Aeronautical Engineering from Imperial College, University of London and a Masters in Business Studies from the MIT Sloan School. He can be reached at email@example.com.