By automating the laboratory and bridging islands of data, laboratories gain time and cost savings, as well as access to real-time information that can be used across the enterprise. Image: Thermo Fisher ScientificThe biggest challenges many elite enterprises face are actually external forces completely out of their control, from geopolitical and economic macro trends to global threats to health and the environment. This lack of control creates a tumultuous global business climate that conspires to unravel even the most well-thought-out strategic plans. Businesses can no longer adopt a wait-and-see approach. To have any chance of sustained success, today’s enterprises must be more agile and aggressive than ever.

In many industries, from pharmaceuticals to food, business agility is dependent on a well-funded, efficient and prolific R&D function. Successful companies tirelessly monitor performance and quality, and are psychologically and structurally ready to capitalize on every new opportunity to transform and grow. These successful enterprises have discovered that four drivers are critical to sustained business transformation: business intelligence, innovation, automation and integration. When all four drivers are in sync, business transformation isn’t just a strategy anymore, it’s a state of being.

For those businesses unfamiliar to the four drivers, all is not lost. In fact, many established businesses are closer than they think to transformation because they’ve spent more than two decades methodically adding technology in the business version of “keeping up with the Joneses”. But all this investment will be for naught unless corporations strategically align non-integrated, often disparate technology and resources in ways that enable maximum agility, and there’s no better place to start realignment than with research and development.

Drivers of transformation
The pull of technology is a constant when advancing your business. And for a R&D laboratory of any size, new technologies go well beyond analytical instrument advancements alone. Yes, technology is an enabling catalyst that can accelerate transformation, but it can also distract by putting constant pressure on laboratories and their management to stay ahead.

Technology is simply a means to an end: data. Data is the true currency of business, especially in the laboratory, and business transformation is unsurprisingly linked to effective data management. Even with the best laboratory instruments and information technology infrastructure in place, there may be little difference between one point solution and another. It is how the data is used across the enterprise to enable business intelligence and decision making that becomes the distinct competitive advantage.

A flexible data management solution, such as a laboratory information management system (LIMS), is designed to enable business intelligence and decision making. A LIMS is an invaluable tool that can be configured and integrated to transform any organization, allowing activities, both inside and outside the enterprise environment, to be automated and monitored for greater efficiency, productivity and data integrity.

Because LIMS are so tightly integrated with other enterprise operation systems, insights from a LIMS-enabled R&D laboratory are infinitely more important to businesses seeking true enterprise-wide agility than previously realized. Enterprises aren’t only capturing and collecting data; they are making data actionable, positioning management to transform their companies into nimble enterprises capable of responding quickly to new regulations or market trends and flexible enough to know and capitalize on cost-saving or margin-growing opportunities in the future.

Implementing the four pillars
To be business transformation ready, a company must rely on a platform that is reinforced by four pillars: business intelligence, innovation, automation and integration. The good news is that many R&D functions have already invested in some aspects of these pillars, so implementation is less burdensome than many realize.

Business intelligence (BI)
Many organizations declare success once they’ve acquired the ability to quickly and efficiently collect, store and organize knowledge. To be truly business transformation ready, however, companies must use BI to do more than organize; they must insist on action. In many enterprises, if a manager or executive wants to see laboratory progress or productivity reports, for example, the IT department has to step in. This extra step discourages many executives from taking advantage of the rich data that surrounds them. Thanks to more mature BI approaches enabled by cloud computing, however, laboratory personnel can now create real-time dashboard reports that managers and executives can access continuously via desktop, tablet or mobile device. They are a few clicks away from being able to make a decision. Analytical data, so critical for quality assurance, consistency and compliance, is now more useful today and it can be used to drive profitable product innovation in the future.

Innovation is tightly aligned with information. A laboratory driven by data insight—not just instrumentation—is able to discover avenues for innovation that exist only in a macro view. From improved food or drug quality, for example, to more efficient ways to manufacture consumer products or oil and gas, liberating laboratory data in dashboard form turns it into a catalyst for continuous change. And the ability to recognize and exploit pathways for innovation is as much cultural as it is process-oriented. When employees become accustomed to seeing a bigger picture—through data—business transformation becomes a cultural norm, not a discrete initiative.

Time is an ally of discovery. When staff can devote more of it to innovation, great things happen. Automating time-consuming tasks, such as instrument calibration, compliance, reporting, user training and maintenance, liberates more time for new ideas and improved decision making, investing this perishable intellectual capital back into business transformation. As businesses turn to new markets and just-in-time product innovation to compete, the ability to automate processes will become one of the most important characteristics of a business transformation-ready company.

When people, processes, technology and data are stuck in silos, business agility is impossible. From laboratory instruments to software systems and mobile devices, nothing in an enterprise should exist in isolation, unable to inform decision making and support rapid business transformation. From tracking raw material shipments at the loading dock to assimilating data from different laboratory instruments, 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.

A plan now exists for constructing an enterprise transformation-ready R&D department. When data is presented to decision makers logically and intuitively, it fuels new strategic growth, and it does so with unprecedented ease. Step one is liberating hidden 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, R&D is truly transformed, its laboratory is a growth driver, management is fully engaged and the entire business couldn’t be happier.