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Digital disruption in the lab

Digital technology is transforming the R&D function of chemical companies to drive innovation.


The research and development (R&D) function within chemical companies has traditionally set its sights on finding the newest material. Recently, there has been a shift to focus on two areas: developing new applications for existing molecules and new materials, and, secondly, using information and digital technologies as a foundation for new smart products and associated business models. Accenture chemical executives have considered these innovation areas and developed a viewpoint on the R&D of tomorrow—an interconnected innovation ecosystem.



Digital technology can be used to disrupt and change the R&D function. The transformation will be critical to driving effective, profitable innovation in the future. Led by digital, R&D can move out of its traditional role to become a vital part of an innovation ecosystem. The ecosystem brings together ideas and capabilities from an extended network of internal and external partners and allows R&D to become customer-centric.

In the future, chemical companies might approach six key areas in R&D to reap the benefits of digital innovation.

Ideation- Uniting the right research project with a developmental problem will allow for innovative ideas. Internal boundaries will be blurred as companies grow their ecosystem.

Organization- Digital technologies will act as the glue to enable collaboration among partners, while R&D will be the center of the innovation ecosystem. This allows for repetitive tasks to be bundled and outsourced, increasing overall efficiency.

Process- Automating and focusing on process excellence will allow for innovation methods to be optimized for flexibility and agility.

Connectivity- Helped by the Internet of Things (IoT), paper-based information will be replaced with virtual platforms to enhance the flow of information.

Analytics- Merging digital technologies with the human mind opens new doors for chemicals. From automatic trend sensing to digital molecule design, virtual experiments are changing the time to run experiments.

Skills- A variety of skill sets are necessary in the new R&D ecosystem, ranging from network managers to analytics experts and even entrepreneurs.