Big data and disruption

C&I Issue 10, 2018

‘Embracing digitisation from start to end’ could help to reduce costs and improve productivity in the pharmaceutical industry, according to Mike Houghton, MD of Process Industry and Drives (UK & Ireland) at Siemens.

‘Data are the new oil, but they need refining to be useful,’ added Marco Mohwinckel, chief commercial officer of healthcare company COMPASS Pathways, another speaker at the Pharma Integrates meeting in London in November 2018. In some businesses they are now considered ‘equally valuable’ as the product itself, Houghton pointed out, though increasingly customers are no longer satisfied merely with having data but also want to know where they come from, by using new blockchain technology to help source and validate them.

Big data, AI and 3D printing or additive manufacturing, and even existing technologies such as automation and continuous manufacturing processes, could all bring about a ‘massive step change in cost reduction and quality’ in pharma drug development, discovery and manufacturing, Houghton believes. In the oil and gas sector, digitisation, AI, blockchain, satellite imaging and remote sensing are already being harnessed to improve productivity ‘with amazing results’, said Dominic Emery, BP’s vice president of long-term planning.

‘Quantum computing is another area that businesses should keep a close eye on, he added, as it ‘could speed up [what we can do] by so many orders of magnitude. The possibilities are mind-blowing; it could allow us to do experiments that would take millions of years now.’

Organisations such as Siemens and BP actively scout for emerging technologies that could present both a threat and an opportunity for their existing business models. At BP, for example, distributed off grid power could have ‘a massive deflationary impact on our ability to trade’ in the future, Emery said, as people start trading renewable energy among themselves. As Houghton pointed out, meanwhile, ‘turkeys don’t vote for Christmas. Disruption is not going to come from inside your own business. So we need a different way of thinking – to start investing in things outside.’

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