Moving towards the next normal (Guest blog)

At Novartis Technical Operations (NTO), the global manufacturing and supply network of Novartis, our long-term journey of transformation had already begun when COVID-19 struck.

As countries across the world went into lockdown with the rapid spread of the virus, the situation demanded we immediately shift our focus to emergency measures to safeguard our associates, for whom it became difficult, or near impossible, to get to offices or sites. While the world grappled with an unprecedented public health crisis, unpredictability in demand, and the risk of disruption to supply chains, it was more critical than ever that the millions of patients worldwide who count on us could access the medicines they need.

Yet, amidst these challenges, the crisis has inspired solutions that are proving to be sustainable and positive. It has spurred a momentum to our transformation journey; a journey that was underway precisely to pre-empt many of the issues the crisis has brought to life. It has inspired our teams to make the most of this opportunity to accelerate digitization and innovation on our march towards Industry 4.0.

Even at the height of the pandemic, we received manufacturing approvals for numerous products, most notably our cell and gene therapy treatments at our sites in France and Switzerland. Many sites undertook certifications and audits virtually. We have adapted to new ways of working in a number of ways, and we anticipate that some of these advances will remain for the long term.

These include:

Emphasis on a robust supply chain
  • The investments made in systems to track real-time product supply information, dependencies, risks, and other important data will remain relevant in an increasingly complex and volatile world. A key differentiator will be the ability to accurately forecast demand and ensure adequate levels of raw materials for uninterrupted supply to patients.
  • We are already in the middle of a program to link our production sites to create integrated and automated supply chain planning, and improve supply readiness to become faster, more agile, and more efficient.
  • Maintaining a diverse global footprint to leverage best practice-sharing across locations will also be key. Geographic diversity allows ‘dual supply points’, which provide vital flexibility throughout the entire value chain.
 Digitization and automation
  • Novartis has long placed emphasis on strong digital capabilities, including efforts to simplify and digitize the demand-planning process by using predictive analytics and artificial intelligence to generate forecasts. It has made us less vulnerable to unanticipated change. Our digital readiness and IT infrastructure has enabled our office-based colleagues to work flexibly and remotely for the long term. The pandemic has tested our digital capabilities and, with the lessons learnt from this experience, going big on data and digital will remain a long-term priority.
 Supporting our people
  • No amount of investment in technology will be fruitful without the commitment of the people driving it. The ‘inspired’, ‘curious’ and ‘unbossed’ values, upon which our organizational culture is built, have come to the fore in the past few months. The unprecedented crisis of the pandemic has led to unsurpassed collaboration, as associates adapted working patterns to take care of one another, both at work and at home. Supporting and empowering them has been, and will always be, our priority. This includes giving our sites the freedom to decide how best to adapt to new circumstances to maintain production and supply.
  • We have found new ways to keep people engaged and cohesive when travel isn’t viable. Conversations around mental health and wellbeing have become mainstream – and with good reason. Founded in our learnings of how our people want to manage productivity and wellbeing, we have rolled out a global program, ‘choice with responsibility’. It gives autonomy to our associates to choose how, where and when they work, provided it aligns with their team’s targets. This is not just for the duration of the pandemic, but has become a longer-term policy.
  • In parallel, we have overhauled our performance management system to liberate our people from ratings-based evaluation. This new approach was underway before the pandemic, but our new ways of working have accelerated our cultural preparedness.
The severity and speed of the current crisis has taught us many lessons, but its challenges have driven the emergence of innovative and creative solutions that will enable us to keep delivering for our patients, and realize our vision for the ‘NTO of the future’. The experience is making us stronger and more resilient, and accelerating our transformation journey. As we look ahead, we are committed to reimagining medicine and having a positive impact on people’s lives, now and in the years to come.

Steffen Lang

Steffen Lang, Ph.D., has been Global Head of Novartis Technical Operations (NTO) since 2017. He is a member of...
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