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Health care and life sciences have always been important industries. But today, they play a critical role in not only how organizations survive and thrive in the current business landscape, but also how society moves forward and remains safe and healthy in a post-COVID-19 world.

The research, life-saving medicines, and vaccines these industries introduce require advanced technology running in the background. It also requires IT and business teams capable of understanding how technology works, why it’s needed, and how to interpret results in a meaningful way.

Some of the key challenges affecting the health care and life sciences industries today include data integration, supply chain strategy, and managing a global enterprise in today’s environment. Just like all other organizations, those within these industries have had to learn new and creative ways of keeping operations running while also taking into consideration the health and safety of their employees—and the health and safety of the world.

New England Biolabs Pivots to Change the DNA of Its Workforce and Services

New England Biolabs (NEB), which was founded by scientists committed to developing innovative products for the life sciences, is a recognized world leader in the discovery, development, and commercialization of reagents for genomic research. Most recently, the biolab is working to support development of a vaccine for COVID-19.

Sharon Kaiser, NEB’s CIO, had a conversation with ASUG CEO Geoff Scott during ASUGFORWARD about the challenges of meeting new demands while changing the structure of its workforce, going live with an SAP S/4HANA implementation, and finding the real value of a cloud-based infrastructure, all during a pandemic. “We’re finding creative ways to get researchers back into their labs so that they can continue their research,” Kaiser said. “We’re also finding ways to add new facilities to ramp up capacity, as well as figuring out new processes in the labs to produce more products and get scalable.”

NEB’s research department has adapted to the current circumstances by only allowing two scientists in a lab meant for six, making use of open lab space at other companies and within universities, as well as allowing those that can work from home to do so. “One of the key things to being able to do this is that we've been following a cloud philosophy for more than five years,” Kaiser said. “We had just implemented an electronic lab notebook software, and it can be accessed anywhere, whether researchers are at a NEB facility or not. As long as they have their laptop, they can record the results into their lab notebook.” NEB also recently implemented a cloud-based phone system, which allows instant access to support to scientists, even if they are working from home. “Cloud technology has enabled us to adapt very quickly.”

Moving to SAP S/4HANA to Keep Vital Research on the Forefront of Innovation

NEB has been live on SAP S/4HANA at its U.S. location since 2018 and has since undertaken a project to deploy the ERP system to its other locations, starting with Australia in 2019. Kaiser and her team were getting ready to go live in Singapore when the pandemic occurred. “We made the decision not to allow our team to travel outside the U.S. to go to Singapore,” she said. “But the team in Singapore—with only seven employees—were ready to complete the go-live, so they made the decision to follow through on the project with only remote assistance from us.”

Although it was stressful for both teams, they made it work and ultimately went live on March 1, 2020. “We’re very happy we made the decision we made,” Kaiser said. “We initially thought we’d be back to normal within a couple of months, but as we now see, that’s not the case. We have more work now than we ever have, and it’s good that we went forth with the project.” NEB is now focusing on completing a go-live with New Zealand, also being done remotely.

Kaiser noted what made the go-live successful was the fact that the business users wanted to go live. “It wasn’t ideal, but it was definitely doable and workable, and we were successful.” NEB moved its supply chain and inventory planning functions to SAP S/4HANA in 2018, and as a result the company has been able to better understand where its supply chain bottlenecks are and how to adjust as needed. “We’ve been able to identify where the bottlenecks are for the components we need in our COVID-19 research and go out to find other vendors and suppliers,” Kaiser said. “We’ve been doing that for the past couple of months, and it’s been successful.” None of this would be possible if NEB had not moved to SAP S/4HANA.

Moderna Uses Technology to Create Effective Defense of COVID-19

Moderna is a name that has made national news as of late, but it’s been working behind the scenes since 2010 to build an industry-leading mRNA technology platform, which it calls the “software of life.” Most recently, Moderna has been working as one of many groups developing a vaccine for COVID-19. It is currently in phase three clinical trials.

ASUG CEO Geoff Scott had a conversation with Marcello Damiani, chief digital and operations excellence officer at Moderna, during ASUGFORWARD. They discussed how technology is supporting the company’s efforts as Moderna works to scale up its operations. Just like most organizations today, the biotech company is grappling with the difficult supply-versus-demand equation. “We built a digital landscape across Moderna and we captured lots of data,” Damiani said. “The data has helped us improve our learning as well as with scaling. It helped us drastically improve the quality of our science and what we are doing.” He added, “Technology in its truest form is working to allow us to work quicker to get a vaccine.”

Data Helps Move the Vaccine Along from Trial to Consumption

Moderna is moving very quickly in terms of designing and then manufacturing the sequence associated with the COVID-19 protein to be able to then create a vaccine that will be available for the masses. And technology is at the epicenter of everything that is bringing the pieces together.

“Whether it’s scientific or biological technology, or if it’s digital technology such as data, machine learning, and artificial intelligence,” Damiani said, “it’s all playing together to allow us to go quicker and to provide a vaccine to fight this this virus.”

Damiani and his team are using Agile methodology to keep things moving along. “We have to fine-tune scenarios every time we get additional data and improve on what we’re doing,” he said. All this is happening as the world faces a pandemic. Moderna is working on a product it did not know we would need at the beginning of the year. It simultaneously is working to scale that product at speeds never before done, and it is doing this while its workforce is remote. “This virus affects all of us, and I believe that’s what gives us the energy to be able to invest the time, resources, and planning required to achieve this challenge,” Damiani said.

The Industries That Keep Paying It Forward

As all eyes are on a vaccine, both New England Biolabs and Moderna are working diligently to navigate the challenges and come up with solutions. Technology—whether it is AI and machine learning, cloud-based applications, or an intelligent enterprise resource planning system such as SAP S/4HANA—is helping to keep the needle moving in the right direction.

Don't miss hearing from your peers in the health care and life sciences industry about best practices and lessons learned at our ASUG Best Practices: SAP for Industries virtual experience, Sept. 25, 2020. Register today.

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