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Interview with Massimo Mannini, Head of Site Digital Transformation at GSK

7 minutes, 25 seconds read

As 2020 drew to a close, our CEO, Errette Dunn, had the opportunity to sit down with Massimo Mannini, Head of Site Digital Transformation at GlaxoSmithKlein at the Rosia site in northern Italy. Their conversation focused on how GSK managed the turbulent 2020 and some of the most important lessons learned during that time.

Here is a summary of their conversation:

So for two years now, I have been leading the program for digital transformation. Transformation to a digital environment is not so easy. You have to convince a lot of people to take action.

When were you named the digital transformation leader in your site? What did that mean back then and how has this changed after this year?

I was scared. So that was my first reaction. We are producing vaccines. In the end, one batch of two hundred thousand vials has more than a thousand pages of documentation to be filled out, reviewed, approved, and this is leading to a long lead time. It means that in some cases when you have your vaccine ready to leave your warehouse to be delivered to customers, you cannot release the batch just because you are waiting for having to review the documentation.

So this is a simple example of what happens when you have to transform or digitalize processes in highly regulated companies like pharmaceuticals. So that’s the reason why we started.

So what were the main challenges that you face as a factory in terms of telling people you need to keep coming to work because there’s a lot of work to be done to help solve this problem? So what were the main operational issues that this meant? And what were a few examples where maybe you had an important role with the digital tools to help in the new reality?

First of all, safety. So safety was the first issue. We cannot accept that somebody can get sick at work. So the first intervention we made was to make it possible to run operations with the essential workers at the site. So that was the first step and it worked very well.

This is an example of why digitization is so important if we intend for digitalization to have the right
infrastructure to run operations remotely.

The other thing we did was provide the site some tools to be connected from remote. So by using, let’s say, Microsoft team source or Zoom or whatever other platforms that can be used for meetings from remote.

Also developing some applications internally to allow the site to be, let’s say, managed from the inside with the standard governance so that your meetings were set up on a weekly basis by using a platform that can allow us to review KPIs in real-time and have the real picture of the situation in a few minutes.

So I want to see if there are any examples of why the companies decided to continue focusing on the employees, make them part of the digital transformation. If there are any examples of specific problems where with the help of digital technology, the front-line employees are part of coming up with specific solutions, what sort of problems were you trying to solve this year? Engaging also the front-line employees?

Well, the first reason for engaging frontline operators is that it is much more efficient than starting up a process which is from top to bottom. Until a few years ago, operational excellence was intended as something that specialists and people who are very knowledgeable about the process were proposing changes and made initiatives to implement those changes. Because that was very easy and simple. Other people that suggested implementing changes were not perceiving as knowing the right changes to
focus on.

So the introduction of tools like Rever has allowed us to be in front of the change. So being part of the change and being accountable for implementing these changes at this time at the site. We now have more than 300 proposed processes to be implemented in that same operation. We are under scrutiny every week to understand which of those proposed changes can produce more value and can give us more advantages.

It’s been like opening the box and saying, “Hey, guys, tell us what we have to do to make this work better, to improve their yields, or to get one single buyer more.” At the end of the day, if one vial more ships and one more person is vaccinated, then that makes sense for us. So this is what has happened since the introduction of Rever. It was a simple tool that we were looking for, to have the real mindset of the people predisposed to make changes and to propose those.

How does digital transformation look like in 2021 for your business?

The positive experience we had in these two years has convinced many that we have to invest more. So in the next year, we will be focused on the implementation of DMAIC. So the manufacturing execution system will be operational for the areas.

We are also moving to digital analytics tools, which are allowing us to evaluate data much better, in less time, and with more capability to understand what the data really tells us. We have a large number of people that have knowledge about leveraging statistical tools. So we are exploring tools that will allow us to move on to a predictive model, instead of reacting.

What mistake or a couple of mistakes happened in 2020 that you will definitely want to avoid in 2021.

I have to say that dramatic mistakes didn’t happen. When we started exploring a solution for things, I would say that maybe we lost time on selecting the right solution for the problem. I’ve been told by our experts that specific technical tools are not so difficult to find off-the-shelf for things that we need for making your business easier. So we have tended to, I would say, believing that our business is quite complicated and this is true. But for managing data or understanding, if you can easily change something that is done even in small steps, you don’t need to do a lot of exploring for a long time. Try to implement something. If you don’t like it, you can change it. You will find something else. That’s probably my mistake, spending a lot of time exploring solutions.

And how have the expectations of the frontline workers, the people who are on the manufacturing shop floor, the essential workers, how have their expectations changed as also the technology has changed? You know, are they expected to or to provide more improvement ideas, fix issues, drive productivity? Is there anything that has changed as I interpret this question on their expectations from those essential workers?

It depends a little bit on the age of the people. Their reactions were not homogeneous. Young people are expecting that new ideas and systems will be expanded at scale and at a high velocity. They always want to implement more solutions.

On the other hand, when you have a company with a large number of people, you have to consider that you have some of the resources that are 60 or 55 like me. So while you have to be a little bit careful, and be sure of the changes that you are introducing will not take some people out of the game.

These are two of the reactions that we can have. Of course, there is also turnover in the companies and most of the people will be young and adaptable. We expect that our employees are waiting for many more solutions in the digital area because they make their life easier.

How do you manage communication and clarity to a level about cultural changes in the case of instance, GSK or technological changes in the group, or being able to engage old people and prepare them for the challenges of 2021?

Cultural changes are a key factor in digital transformation. The cultural changes are the most important. We are trying to manage that in advance of using artificial intelligence tools and understanding how this could work for us in the future. It’s an interesting journey. It’s something that we have to manage, and are managing as well as possible, I would say.

For a full recording of the conversation, access the webinar here.

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