ServiceNow orchestrates work at Astellas to help drive automation and efficiencies

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez October 21, 2022
Pharmaceutical giant Astellas is thinking about how work across its organization can be better automated so that its people can focus on higher value tasks.

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(Image by fernando zhiminaicela from Pixabay )

Astellas, a pharmaceutical company that is focused on drug discovery and new treatments, is currently expanding its use of ServiceNow in order to better orchestrate work across the organization. The goal is to automate processes so that its employees don’t have to spend time carrying out mundane tasks and can rather invest time in high value work. 

The company didn’t start its work with ServiceNow with this intention, but has found that its ability to help identify when processes are falling short is proving valuable. And this is particularly important given the line of work Astellas is in. Speaking with Paul Mukherjee, Senior Director of Digital Architecture and Solutions at Astellas Europe, he explained the critical nature of the pharma company’s ambitions. He said: 

At a high level, our organization's mission is to turn innovative science into value for patients. We are a full, traditional end-to-end pharmaceutical company. We don’t do generics. We don’t do vaccinations. We are focusing right from early stage basic research that leads to drug discovery, through to clinical trials, manufacturing, commercialization, product launch, and then surveillance and monitoring. We do that globally. 

However, what we try to do is identify what we call areas of unmet medical need. And use that to focus on the patients we want to help. We aren’t necessarily interested in trying to come up with a better treatment for a condition that already has a number of good treatments available. But if there’s a condition where there’s no treatment available or the treatments available aren’t particularly good, that would be more of our sweet spot. 

Astellas is forward thinking when it comes to its use of digital tools. For instance, it has sophisticated AI and robotics capabilities when it comes to early drug discovery, which is aiding areas such as looking for new cancer treatments. However, when looking at its adoption of ServiceNow, one of its primary goals is to ensure that it can access the best talent. Mukherjee said: 

There's a number of different sides to this. There's the operational efficiency argument, which is basically the things we can really automate, we try and automate as much as we can. It frees up money, it frees up time. 

But most importantly, it enables our people to focus on the things that only humans can do. Like many industries, in the pharmaceutical industry there's a shortage of talent. We don't want our people to be spending their time doing tasks which you can automate. 

Interestingly, Astellas didn’t initially envisage ServiceNow playing a critical role in this ambition. ServiceNow at the company started out as a replacement for its configuration management database - before realizing that it had more sophisticated capabilities. Mukherjee said that the platform is now strategic at the organization. He explained: 

There's the native capabilities around workflow automation, which ServiceNow gives you. So, we're getting a basic level of task automation through that. But what I'm thinking about in the future is, as we start to look at more complex distributed process automation solutions, ServiceNow will be the hub for those distributed automations -orchestrating the different pieces. 

And in particular, one of the challenges around some of those complex automations is tracking where things have failed, so that you know where to go and fix it. And I see ServiceNow as being a key enabler for us to be able to understand: it’s this point of the process that’s failed, it's this system, so we can go and analyze that system. 

An operating platform

Mukherjee said that Astellas has a broad range of automation, API management and RPA-based tooling, but that ServiceNow will be a key enabler for all these pieces across the automation ecosystem. Astellas is now rolling out most of its processes within its IS organization on top of ServiceNow, where it is serving as the company’s operating platform. 

Providing an example of Astellas’ processes needed improving, Mukherjee said: 

As a company, we outsource a lot. So our processes to manage our partners have evolved over time, but they're extraordinarily complex and needlessly complicated. One of the things we did was we started this process to initiate an engagement with a vendor. And it used to be that we'd actually have to fill out multiple tabs in an Excel sheet and then email it around. 

It would get emailed around to various parties. And if someone forgot about it you'd never know what the status of it was. It was just a painful process and as soon as someone forgot, no one knew. Then two weeks later, you’d be ready to start chasing the vendor, giving them a hard time, and you’d find out they never actually got the request. 

And ServiceNow is proving helpful to help automate some of this pain away. Mukherjee added: 

So we actually implemented a very, very simple workflow solution using ServiceNow. It's actually taken all that pain out of the process. We have a straightforward form in ServiceNow where we upload all the information. 

We say, who are the kind of approving parties for the different parts of the organization? So, finance, HR and so on - then we have a kind of standard process that that goes through. And at any point in time you're able to see where it is in the process, so it gives us full transparency around the process, which is a massive aid to our collaboration.

It makes it much easier when we're trying to work together on these complex processes. It makes it much easier, if it's being held up, we’re able to see where the holdup is and what we can do to remove the hold up. 

Another example of how ServiceNow is being used at Astellas is how the company is using the platform to consolidate ad-hoc technology deployments. Mukherjee said that Astellas has traditionally had a siloed approach to deploying technology - where every time someone in the business came up with a use case, it would be deployed as a point solution. The ServiceNow platform is helping tackle this. Mukherjee said: 

What we're trying to do now is to try to move towards what we call a platform strategy, where we want to have a smaller number of enterprise platforms, where we can deploy multiple use cases. And we see ServiceNow as being one of those key enterprise platforms. 

So one of the ways we'll be able to measure success is just by seeing more and more of those point solutions disappearing over time, as we deploy more capability onto ServiceNow. 

Value added work 

Adopting process automation across an organization can undoubtedly create anxiety amongst its workforce. The fear of job displacement is common - and is one that Mukherjee is keen to not ignore. He argues, however, that the key is to communicate effectively to teams that this about the changing nature of work, not the dismissal of employees. Mukherjee said: 

If we take a step back and think about hyper automation, one of the challenges we face is that as soon as you start talking about automating processes, people start to get worried about their jobs. And it's a very reasonable fear. So one of the things we keep trying to emphasize is that it's not that automation is going to replace people's jobs. 

That's not what we're trying to do here. What we're trying to do is to automate the things that can be automated, to enable people to focus on the things that only people can do. And that then becomes a much more interesting discussion you have with people who are being impacted, because you can say all this boring stuff, which is just repetitive, you don't need to do that anymore. The interesting stuff, where actually you need to apply some genuine intelligence and ingenuity, that's what you can focus on. 

And when you get that messaging right, it actually tends to move people from maybe blocking some of these changes to actually being real supporters of some of the changes you want to make. 

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