Skip links

Area4: The Pharma Case

The big ol’ Pharma.

My friend works in the above-mentioned industry. It seemed to me they have it all figured out. They are at the bleeding (no pun intended) edge. Thousands of people work for the company, hundreds of scientists and engineers. Really smart and talented people.

What blows my mind to this day is how many processes and workflows are this terrible type of legacy. Legacy that takes time, increases churn, exposes them to insurance/audit checks, not even mentioning eating up their profit margins.

One of those processes, that is very interesting to me is the product registration system.

The way this was (and still is done in most other companies) done is that with every item that they ship to the hospital they ship a piece of paper. When they open the box before the surgery they have to take a pen and fill in that piece of paper. Then the hospital gathers a dozen of those and they mail them back to the pharma company. They mail them! As in paper and envelope.

You see what is coming. The company receives hundreds of those every week from all over the country.

Someone bright enough at that company thought it was time to enter the late 20th century and started digitizing those to be able to track the numbers. The process is that… there is a guy. His job is to go through all the notes and input them into an excel spreadsheet.

They have started 2 years ago, there are still hundreds of boxes of those notes in the archive. They just cannot deal with the volume.

Baby steps

It’s very tempting to try to fix the whole pipeline. Establish a system where the hospital staff inputs the data through the companies system. But of course, it will take years to change how things worked for decades.

We started with the smallest possible change. An automatic ingestion system. The notes have a couple of standardized formats. An off the shelf OCR (Optical Character Recognition) system with bespoke “calibration” plus adapter that saved the data directly into the existing databases saved a whole FTE. The biggest advantage is that now finally the data comes in as soon as possible. That means the company can do proper analysis on the usage patterns and make more informed decisions.

We will be modernizing this data pipeline piece by piece, with each evolution providing immediate value. One day we will get to the point where the mere fact of opening the box is enough.


We love the automation challenges that span both virtual and physical world at Untrite.

This article also appears on: Medium

Leave a comment

This website uses cookies to improve your web experience.
See our Privacy Policy to learn more.