In our report on Digital Transformation in the Lab: Bridging Analog Islands in a Digital Ocean, we set out to understand digital transformation within the life sciences lab, from how they are implementing digital technologies to the maturity of their digital strategies. 128 leaders in the life sciences industry responded to the survey (with 69% at Director-level or higher; 55% executive or R&D management).

At the outset, we were curious to learn if our assumptions were accurate: that while today’s scientists live in a digitally connected world, when they step into their labs, they typically encounter a work environment that looks and operates much as it did in the last century. Our hope in exploring this idea was to identify some of the challenges to transformation, as well as the benefits and pathways to get there.

As it turned out, our hypothesis was correct. Of the 128 industry leaders surveyed, 40% had not embarked on applying digital to their R&D or QC labs, and 37% more seemed to be stuck in pilot mode. Most importantly, we learned that the benefit of going beyond piloting to scaling those digital initiatives is compelling: of the 23% who are scaling or have scaled their efforts, 70% say that they have been successful or extremely successful in realizing real business benefit.

This affirmation of the current status of labs reinforces the need for increased investment with a focus on transforming laboratories beyond use of laboratory information management systems (LIMS) and electronic lab notebook (ELN) capabilities to become digitally enabled, capable of breakthrough innovation at scale.

The digital truth

In the present reality, the use of digital technology is no longer a competitive advantage: it is the price of admission for doing business. By some estimates, more than 80% of the world’s population is digitally connected – digital technology is essential to meeting today’s business demands.

Unfortunately for scientists, digital transformation is lagging in many of today’s R&D labs, where the increased complexity of biologicals and new therapeutic pathways such as cell and gene therapy are met by increasing pressure to deliver these complex therapies even faster. And the struggles continue into the QC lab, where there is less time to transfer complex bioanalytical methods and to optimize those methods, complicated by higher sample throughputs. It’s a challenging paradigm: while the digital world advances around them, laboratory leaders are using technology in the lab that might make them feel as if they’ve stepped back into the 1980s.

But there is hope. We are seeing a convergence of digital technologies and advances in basic science, combined with the growing availability of a digitally savvy workforce and attractive economics for digital investments. Wearables, smart devices, the Internet of Things and a host of other innovative technologies have revolutionized how we interact, operate and communicate. This has resulted in oceans of data that can help accelerate discovery — but only if we can realize the potential of all that data.

By harnessing the ever-increasing amount of data and connecting it in meaningful ways, the value of information can be unlocked, and labs brought into the digital future. But we can’t continue to experiment with this idea – we need to figure out how to successfully scale scientific advances and bring the lab into alignment with the digital reality that exists outside the lab.

Bridging the divide: The keys to transformation

The good news is that navigating toward success in a data-driven world is possible given the right approach. New Science – the convergence of science and technology – is expected to represent 54% of sales in the life sciences industry between 2017 and 2022, up from 47% between 2012 and 2017. Leaders in this space are investing heavily in emerging technologies to improve clinical outcomes and the patient experience and connecting with an ecosystem of partners to accelerate innovation. With every advancement, New Science increases the pressure on the laboratory to adapt to these more complex discovery pathways and QC scenarios.

But what are the steps to get there? For scientists, the vision of the future is one where their workplace reflects their world outside of the lab, with near seamless integration and access to important data. I’m confident that the research and QC labs of the future can get there with the right commitment and essential investment. Take a few minutes to explore the necessary steps we’ve outlined in our report, Digital Transformation in the Lab: Bridging Analog Islands in a Digital Ocean. I’m convinced that achieving digitalization in the laboratory could drive the next wave of scientific discovery and innovation – and bring new, personalized treatments to patients faster than ever before.

And if you’d like to learn more about becoming a part of this exciting future, you can learn more about careers at Accenture and in our Scientific Informatics Practice here.

Brian Potter

Managing Director

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