ANALYSIS & OPINION

Mind the gap

7 June 2012



Scientific innovation is being hindered by a productivity gap. Max Carnecchia, president and chief executive officer at Accelrys, explains

During the past 20 years, science-driven innovators have enjoyed some incredible achievements. Advances in polymer chemistry have led to new, high-performance materials in the aerospace and automotive industries. New drugs now manage diseases that were previously fatal. Improvements in photovoltaics have made solar power cheaper and more efficient. While these accomplishments merit accolades, there is a looming sense of frustration among companies that rely on scientific R&D to innovate. Quite simply, these same companies that have revolutionised industries such as aerospace and alternative energy are finding it increasingly difficult to push innovative products past the finish line. The science is there. The creative ideas are there. The competitive drive remains strong. Yet innovation is slowing at the very time we need it to accelerate to remain competitive.

Consider this statistic from IDC Manufacturing Insights: nearly half the resources allocated to new products are wasted; only 25 per cent of projects in industries ranging from pharmaceuticals to aerospace result in the commercialisation of new products and of those 25 per cent, 66 per cent fail to meet original design or consumer expectations. Product quality is diminishing; profitability is lagging. So how did we get here? And, more importantly, what can we do about it?

For those of us who rely on scientific R&D to innovate, we know the trends all too well. Externalisation has expanded the scope of collaboration in unprecedented ways. More stringent government regulations and increasing cost pressures are the new normal for everyone involved in scientific innovation. These trends are forcing businesses to make their innovation cycles more predictable and cost effective.

In listening to our customers and partners, we’ve come to realise that there is a ‘productivity gap’ across the innovation to commercialisation cycles. In large part this has been caused by the inability of traditional IT solutions to adequately manage the massive volume of complex, unstructured scientific data generated in today’s scientific R&D enterprise. Scientists are unable to access data that is siloed in multiple systems across an enterprise. Critical insights and context from discovery and development are lost and never transferred to the commercialisation operations of a business because downstream software such as PLM systems can’t handle the data. The insights that could bring novel products to market more quickly and cost effectively are simply never realised.

In short, this productivity gap is slowing innovation, increasing time-to-market, diminishing product quality and causing products to be more expensive. We are not just losing money; our long-term competitive position is threatened.

When it comes to the scientific innovation lifecycle, an information management solution that provides an end-to-end framework for automation and governance is important, but it also needs to be able to support the unique requirements of the R&D function. A crucial first step is enabling the integration and deployment of broad scientific solutions spanning the range of R&D that streamlines innovation management, yet respects its complexity. This will allow R&D organisations to innovate more efficiently and effectively while minimising wasted resources and cycles that hurt the bottom line and prevent new, needed products from coming to market.

In a recent Accelrys-commissioned whitepaper, Joe Barkai of IDC writes: ‘Companies must rethink their entire innovation and R&D processes, especially science-led activities, and strive to manage scientific data experimentation the same way and with the same rigor and precision that they manage engineering, manufacturing and supply chain disciplines. Specifically, they need to facilitate an enterprise approach to R&D informatics to manage all critical scientific data and make it available in a usable, structured format, to diverse stakeholders, to exploit it efficiently through the design-test-manufacture pipeline.’

Every company with a stake in scientifically-driven R&D – from the organisations responsible for developing and manufacturing new products to software and hardware vendors that provide tools that enable innovation – needs to ask the question: ‘How can we innovate differently?’ The way R&D has been done over the past 30 years simply cannot be the way we do things over the next 10 years. To advance new product development, we must work to close the productivity gap that is hindering innovation today.