The use of technology in its many forms was a recurring theme in BioPhorum’s recent COVID-19 Workforce Protection Survey that was completed by the Senior BioPhorum Connect group, which consists of the leaders and sponsors from the BioPhorum communities.
The survey assessed how industry was reacting to COVID-19 to identify and share best practices that would help guide its reaction to the crisis.
This article looks at the role of technology in the workplace and specifically how the Senior BioPhorum Connect group is addressing issues such as the use of remote working technologies, cyber security and digitizing the cGMP space.
Has there been, or will there be, use of any remote working technologies other than Skype/Zoom/Teams/Webex, etc.?
Most organizations do not use remote working technologies beyond the typical ‘web meeting’ applications. However, examples of other technologies being considered include WhatsApp groups and a web radio for employees in France.
The ability to remotely monitor laboratory equipment already exists in some companies, which enables them to use a ‘hybrid’ schedule, where staff visit a site to set up laboratory work, then monitor it remotely from home.
Are innovations being seen and tools being used that might become common practice permanently?
There are many examples of technology and new ways of operating that are driven by remote working. These include online collaboration tools (e.g. Trello), digital whiteboards (e.g. JamBoard) and electronic document signatures.
One area that is gaining ground is the use of smart and virtual/augmented reality glasses (e.g. Google Glass and HoloLens) and the use of virtual content. These technologies are being used for tasks such as remote on-the-floor support and virtual/remote inspections.
A common thread in survey responses is an increasing realization that many ‘knowledge workers’ can operate effectively from remote locations.
What steps have been taken to manage cyber security risks while working from home?
Unsurprisingly, IT departments recognize that enhanced security and user training is needed with increased remote working. Improved controls are being driven by local and global IT departments, especially following increased ‘phishing’ incidents.
Many organizations have reviewed their IT controls and m improvements where necessary, including ensuring all systems and software are using the latest patches, installing the Microsoft BitLocker file encryption process and using cloud technologies.
Have plans been initiated for accessing shop floor performance data remotely?
Remote access of shop floor data and key systems (e.g. analytics) was already in place for most companies before the pandemic. However, the lockdown has increased its importance, with some companies further leveraging their existing capabilities for shop floor access.
How will practices like GEMBA, visibility of leadership on the shop floor, etc. change/be adapted?
Virtual management routines for Kaizen, GEMBA and safety visits are emerging from the need to minimize people in facilities.
Physical GEMBA walks have generally been reduced or stopped. At the same time, virtual meetings are being conducted more often with virtual dashboards and video streaming being used for communication (using products such as Microsoft Stream).
There are also layered approaches being used for management/leadership visibility, e.g. managers are allowed on the shop floor with senior leaders only being required when it is critical and then only temporarily. However, the picture is a little mixed.
Are any plans to digitize the cGMP space being accelerated?
More than half of companies plan to speed up their plans for digitization in their facilities.
Example technologies include video streaming, virtual/augmented reality, smart glasses, AI applications and automation.
However, some businesses were planning to progress with digitization regardless of COVID-19 and will continue to implement their existing strategies.
Have plans been initiated for eliminating face-to-face physical training?
Most organizations have reduced or replaced face-to-face training with a virtual approach, although some have only postponed their planned activities. E-learning was already a training option for many, but there is an increased focus on using augmented/virtual options.
Some businesses are undecided about how to deliver their future training, particularly GMP-related activities, but many recognize that face-to-face training can be more effective than virtual.
Many organizations are using common web-meeting applications to enable remote-working, but the COVID-19 lockdown is encouraging innovation in business practices.
Virtual exchanges are widely replacing many types of physical contact, while online collaboration tools, smart and virtual/augmented reality glasses are increasingly used. Many companies are also accelerating their plans for digitization in cGMP facilities with the use of technologies such as video streaming and AI applications.
And while remote access of shop-floor data is already mostly in place, virtual management routines (for Kaizen, GEMBA and safety visits) are emerging from the need to minimize the number of people in facilities.
As the lockdown has progressed, there is an increasing realization that many ‘knowledge workers’ can operate effectively away from site, often using readily available conferencing applications. It will come as no surprise that increased remote working means IT departments are enhancing security controls and user awareness to reduce the risk of unauthorized access to systems.
Technology has always played a crucial role in biopharmaceutical operations. However, the COVID-19 lockdown has meant BioPhorum members have not only been looking at how it can be used to maintain business operations, but how to innovate for the future. See the first and second articles on the survey results, which considered its overall themes and key messages, and how industry is returning to work.