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Software Options and Trade-offs in the Chemicals Industry

Marko Gacesa
September 4, 2019

A Primer on Technology Commonly Found in Chemicals Companies and New Options

We’re here to demystify modern technologies and explain what digitally-driven innovation can look like in specialty chemicals. But in order for companies to start planning your own digital strategies, we need to fully itemize and explain the technology commonly found at chemicals companies today.

  • ERP - typically SAP or mid-market competitors to manage everything from manufacturing, to financials, and HR.
  • ELN - legacy electronic lab notebook software is difficult to customize, wasn’t built for workflow automation, lacks intersected search, and it is difficult to re-use data contained within.
  • LIMS - laboratory information management systems primarily track samples, not projects or people.
  • Project Management Software - require manual data entry because actual status is buried in multiple disconnected systems.
  • Custom Applications - generally are not enhanced regularly enough to keep up with actual operations and they become less relevant and therefore less used over time.
  • CRM Software - isn’t designed to facilitate a spec-driven sample evaluation or customer co-creation which makes it difficult for sales to collaborate with the lab teams.
  • API Integrations - are required to connect all your siloed software together.
  • Chemical Drawing - isn't universally available and often is not integrated into ELN.
  • Workflow automation software - most companies don't have it in the lab today, but digitalizing lab processes is a core part of longer-term “Digital Transformation” strategy for most of the largest global enterprises.

But these current solutions aren’t going to help you compete in the new era of competitive innovation. To accelerate innovation, improve customer service, and win more deals you need something new.

What You Need to Prepare for an Era of Competitive Innovation

In non-technical terms, you need software that enables you to manage and optimize your innovation work - which is very iterative and unique. You need software that:

  • Can quickly accommodate your unique business processes and digitalize your best practices.
  • Is easy for your employees to work in since it reflects their current processes, tests, analyses, forms, and their own corporate language.
  • Is multitasking just like the formulas your demanding customers expect from you.
  • Consolidates your valuable data into a single repository, so you can protect it and leverage it for future value in your business.
  • Rationalizes your tech stack, so your company will have less software for IT to manage, enhance, and support.
  • Is easy and quick to change and extend, so it can keep pace with your business.
  • Easily integrates with your other software (e.g., ERP) so your data can flow through to the right people and processes without getting lost or corrupted along the way.
  • Easily integrates with your lab equipment and other systems so that your staff doesn’t waste time transcribing data or moving data from tool to tool (e.g. Excel to statistical software to word or electronic lab notebook software for reporting).
  • Measures business process improvements over time.

What You Don’t Need

You don’t need another single-purpose software tool. Each stand-alone software tool creates another silo of data. On top of the industry’s long-standing tradition of paper lab notebooks, most companies operating at scale utilize at least 7 disconnected pieces of software in their labs. Some of the most common are email, Word, Excel, statistical software, chemical drawing software, laboratory information management systems, lab notebook software, formulation software, regulatory & compliance software, project management software and, of course, custom applications built on Lotus Notes, Sharepoint and the like. This, in Silicon Valley tech speak, is a messy and antiquated ‘tech stack’ like puzzle pieces from different puzzles that don’t fit together.

This proliferation of tools means that work gets chopped up every time you need to use a different piece of software. This creates inefficiencies, so you certainly don’t want to add in another tool and hope for the best.

An additional effect of this multi-system software approach is the creation of various silos of data. When your data is spread around, it gets easily lost and it becomes difficult to protect what is saved. Your employees cannot find useful information nor easily “connect the dots” to learn from it. This means your company is losing valuable intellectual property, and your employees are wasting time looking for data (estimated to be 20% - 30% of their working hours per week 1), work is unnecessarily redone, and there is no opportunity to learn from data at scale.

You don’t want software that has fixed workflow. No two chemicals companies operate the same way. Each company has different core platform chemistry, products, processes, organizational structure, geographic dispersion, culture. In fact, even divisions within the same company can operate dramatically differently. Fixed software forces you to change how you work to accommodate the software, requires extensive training to use and often creates employee frustration because the software doesn’t align with internal business processes.

You do not want software that is expensive and cumbersome to change. If so, there will be significant budget and execution hurdles 2 every time change is required. Because your business is constantly evolving, any software that cannot keep pace with the rate of change in your business will become a drag on your operations.

You don’t want software that you can’t measure the benefit from. That is the old paradigm of software. You buy it, capitalize it, depreciate it, and rarely change because it is so expensive and time consuming. That’s not how technically savvy buyers operate any longer. Why would anyone buy something they can’t measure the benefit from when there are alternatives that let you do this very thing?

Modern Software Created Specifically for Chemicals Companies

We built Alchemy to help chemicals companies accelerate product development and service delivery. For the first time, chemicals companies can address speed, cost, and visibility across all lab-related operations while also building the digital data repository on which to analyze their data at scale.

Alchemy can address the scientific nature of your innovation processes that are:

  • Hypothesis-driven. We address non-linear lab work with extreme workflow flexibility, decision trees, gates, and iterations.
  • Deductive and Inductive. We map the relationships between formula and test data at scale across numerous data types and theory.
  • Intertwined with Operating Data. We track and manage your portfolio of projects, distribution of work across people and geographies, priorities, and deadlines.
  • Ambiguous. We enable up front assessment of technical feasibility, time and cost which facilitate stage gates and other steps to address go/no go decisions.
  • Cross Functional. We can digitally handle everything from incoming functional and technical requirements from sales & marketing to the vetting of those requirements by senior technical staff to the actual chemistry performed at the bench by chemists and lab technicians.

Alchemy’s proprietary workflow engine addresses both the uniqueness of the industry and your company’s proprietary processes. Alchemy generates custom applications for you to digitally execute your innovation, product development and service delivery processes, however you define them. We build into your unique workflows the functionality you would normally access in separate tools and software, so that people using Alchemy have access to both the data and the tools to do their job efficiently in one application.

Short-term and Long-term Savings with
Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) vs. On-premise Software

We provide our software “as a service” with a SaaS model. This means that instead of buying software and having to install it and maintain it on your own, you simply pay an annual subscription to use the software. Not only do you save on purchase and maintenance costs, but Alchemy can replace entirely, or in part, at least 7 categories of software, obviating the need for the requisite IT costs to support them. This makes it easier and faster for people to do their work, and pools your data into a single repository. Alchemy commonly replaces:

  • Legacy ELN
  • LIMS
  • Custom Applications
  • Project Management Software
  • Chemical Drawing - isn't universally available and often is not integrated into ELN
  • API Integrations
  • Workflow Automation Software

As a result, our long-term customers are able to run very lean in terms of IT as a % of revenue and IT as a % of opex because Alchemy both consolidates their tech stack and supports the user base on the platform. We configure, support, and enhance their core lab software daily, weekly, monthly based on their user feedback and usage. We train and support their users up front and with every enhancement. We generate regular reporting for management and executive level leadership. This is how we at Alchemy define the operating differences between providing software and providing software as a service (SaaS).

Invest in technology that will help you compete

As you think about competing in the new era of chemicals innovation getting new products developed and into the hands of paying customers faster will be your biggest opportunity. We recommend starting with an investment in your core innovation and commercialization processes with modern software designed specifically for chemicals companies.

Contact us if you'd like to learn more.

References:

  1. IDC, Interact, McKinsey & Co.
  2. CIO.com

“Easy to understand system with tremendous flexibility and industry-specific workflows - the upside here is undeniable.”

- Coatings R&D Director

“Seeing that materials created in the system can be dynamically linked to create TDS/SDSs is a game changer.”

- Additives QC Technician

“The best experience was how detailed the live demos were. I rarely see such quality in a full rollout, much less a trial.”

-  Cosmetics IT Vice President

“Translating what was learned during the one-on-one sessions and actually doing it in Alchemy was awesome.”

-  Coatings Application Expert
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