CXO Bytes

How RPA (Robotic Process Automation) will evolve in 2023


Many of the processes and tasks across industries take up a huge bandwidth of manpower and time – the direct consequence of which is reduced and slower productivity and smaller profit margin. This is where automation of processes can come in handy. The usage of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) has seen a great rise in the past few years, with many industries actively seeking and implementing effective pre-programmed software bots to handle processes that are repetitive, time-consuming, and more prone to errors.

Speaking of the pharmaceutical industry in particular, some of the primary bottlenecks it faces are the high costs of drug testing, regulatory expenditure, supply of new drugs into the market, and a lot more. Add the aforementioned people-intensive tasks to this, the expenses only rise even further. This is why RPA has already made inroads into the industry, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, the pharmacy automation market projected to reach $8.2 billion by 2027, according to MarketsandMarkets. With this in mind, let’s take a look at the different avenues RPA will impact the pharma industry:

Clinical Trials

Clinical trials are a critical stage before a drug or a healthcare treatment can be made available to people, and the extent of data to be handled for this can come in the way of researchers focusing on the crux of their work. RPAs can free up their bandwidth by automating time-consuming and repetitive tasks.

The clinical trial industry has a lot of scope for improved efficiency when combined with RPA. This would include the streamlining of processes and enabling remote data reporting – potentially helping reduce clinical trial variability and invariably improving patient outcomes. Combining that with higher accuracy, and having a clear auditable trail while also removing the element of human error, the application of RPA is sure to hasten the clinical trial process at a lower cost, thus improving efficiency and profitability.

Supply Chain And Inventory Management

By now, it is firmly established that the automation of routine processes with technology can drastically bring down operating expenses, and supply chain management is no exception to this. Yes, the pharma industry is still quite behind when it comes to incorporating RPA in its supply chain and inventory management. But this is something that is expected to change in the future.

RPAs can automate a lot of the processes in the supply chain including supply and demand planning, purchase order and invoice management, and processing of returns and refunds. Supplier onboarding can become much easier as the software can do the tasks of screening vendors and suppliers, requesting references, ensuring their compliance with the latest standards, and so on. When it comes to inventory management, the RPA bots can keep track of the stock, give notifications when it is running low, and even place orders for the restocking of materials.

Customer Service, Sales, And Marketing

Harnessing the power of RPA integrated with Artificial Intelligence (AI) will allow for better forecasting of sales. AI has the capability to analyze big data sets to derive trends regarding sales, market demands, and fluctuations. Speaking of sales, chatbots can assist sales representatives by taking on the basic tasks while the reps can direct their focus on driving better customer engagement.

The aforementioned analysis of data by AI can help create customized experiences for individual customers, essentially creating virtual medical companions for them. This will only serve to improve better healthcare, reduce response times, and better the patient experience.

More Low-code Platforms

As automation transforms the nature of work throughout, low-code platforms will soon become the norm. Speaking of the pharma industry in particular, these low-code citizen developers can build solutions for lengthy processes like, for instance, data collection, process tracking, and the relevant paperwork. Now, with apps and software being so versatile, even those with little to no coding experience can use its templates and functionalities to create solutions. This would lead to a lesser dependency on a dedicated IT team, thus bringing down costs considerably.

The Verdict

Considering the massive amount of data the pharma industry generates, automation tools like RPA have already become the need of the hour. However, the implementation of RPA in this industry has been slow so far, but is likely to be a gradual process spanning years and is a change that one can and must expect to see. A sure-fire way of speeding up this trend is with increased collaboration and skill development programs to fill the gaps in talent.

While bots have come in to take up a bulk of the work, it is quite unlikely they will replace humans altogether. After all, the bots work on programmed scripts and would not have the ability to process the nuances of emotions that only a human can.


(The author is Dr. Radhika Mahadev, Head of Robotic Process Automation, Shared Business Service, Merck Life Science and the views expressed in this article are her own)

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