Nowadays, there's hardly an industry facing expectations as high as the pharma industry. Products comply with strict health regulations, be state-of-the-art, effective and quickly available. This applies not only to drug development companies, but also to contract manufacturers like Vetter, an international specialist in the fill & finish manufacturing of aseptically prefilled syringe systems, cartridges and vials.
Vetter was founded in Germany in the 1950s, and innovation has always been one of its guiding principles. Since then, the company has come a long way, and its will to innovate and stay ahead of competition has paid off multiple times: Besides its impressive growth, Vetter won the Contract Manufacturing Organization (CMO) Leadership Awards in all core categories in the last two years, with expertise, quality and reliability being among them.
For years, the company has recognized the huge potential of process optimization. Vetter has its own Process Excellence department, which acts as an "internal consulting", as Samuel Kunze, Head of Process Excellence, puts it. Its main objective: Identifying and eliminating waste in the company's most relevant processes. However, this is easier said than done.
Vetter first learned about Celonis, the market leader in Process Mining, through a proof of value (POV) within their strategic initiative "Vetter Excellence 2025". Samuel Kunze describes the moment he first saw Celonis in action as an "eye opener". "Before Celonis, we couldn't do any in-depth analyses of our digital processes. We based many decisions on our gut feeling", Samuel Kunze remembers. "Furthermore, we didn't want to view our processes in isolation. We wanted to know how they, for instance purchase-to-pay and accounts payable, interact with each other."
On top of that, Vetter uses Celonis to improve the processes "change control and deviation management", which employ Trackwise® as their main underlying software. Trackwise® is a quality management software (QMS) that many pharmaceutical companies use for strict quality and compliance management processes. In this case, the problem was to develop expressive key performance indicators (KPIs) that would allow Vetter to optimize its Trackwise® processes without compromising them at any time. The software always needs to be in action.
Process Mining isn't a minor affair to Vetter. At the end of their journey, the company wants to have six of its processes — accounts payable (AP), accounts receivable (AR), order-to-cash (O2C), purchase-to-pay (P2P) and the two Trackwise® processes "change control" and "deviation" — fully transparent. In this way, the preparation the company dedicates to optimizing each process is remarkable.
The initial project phase consists of seven steps, starting with a kick-off meeting and ending with a consolidation workshop before a process enters the continuous optimization phase. What happens in between are process modelling, data and business validation as well as discovery and optimization workshops.
The initial project phase can last up to 6 months: "Our processes are unique, that's why we need customized process insights and optimizations. In addition, validation criteria are highly complex and strict in the pharma industry", Samuel Kunze outlines.
In many respects, applying Process Mining to the QMS Trackwise® was also unprecedented and unique. At the beginning, Vetter was facing huge complexity in the change control and deviation processes of Trackwise®: More than 200 activities, more than 1,200 status and field changes, culminating in more than 1,000,000 variants.
To implement the two Trackwise® processes, Vetter decided to get INFOMOTION on board, a full-service provider for data solutions. "The main challenge was to harmonize the three process levels Trackwise® uses to analyze and visualize processes - main process, sub-process and sub-sub-process", Daniel Bläser, Consultant at INFOMOTION, explains. "Celonis developed a special analysis approach for the two processes, we took on the data model."
Kay Kasperkowitz, Lead Consultant at INFOMOTION, adds: "We were honest with Vetter about the complexity of Trackwise®, but in the end, this joint project between INFOMOTION and Celonis delivered impressive results. As with Celonis, customer satisfaction is our top priority, and that's why we retain our customers."
Vetter hasn't finished its journey towards Process Excellence, but Samuel Kunze and his Process Excellence team have the results to show that they're heading in the right direction. According to him, it sometimes took months to get relevant insights with common business intelligence tools before Celonis was implemented. "This has improved drastically. We can define performance indicators quickly and feed them back to our operating business".
It's no surprise that Vetter wants to gain more than insights with its endeavor. For example, they have achieved striking outcomes in their accounts payable process: In the past, they used only 80% of their potential cash discounts. Now, Vetter realizes 99% of its cash discounts.
The effort put into Trackwise® has also paid off: With Celonis, Vetter reduced the cycle time in its deviation process by 15%. Considering that 1,500 of 5,000 employees are involved in the Trackwise® process at Vetter, this is a breakthrough. And many are to follow.
At Celonis' events and meetings, Samuel Kunze enjoys sharing his insights and expertise with the Process Mining community: "What catches your attention first are 'low-hanging fruits'. Even when you think that you've fully optimized your process, Celonis identifies potentials that are easy to realize, but you could never find them without it."
Another learning has been that new perspectives open up new ideas for solutions. Holistic views create approaches that benefit not just single departments, but the company as a whole. "At the same time, the management has to back your initiative, and you need to incentivize your colleagues to use new tools."
Samuel Kunze is fully aware that achieving Process Excellence in an industry as demanding as pharmaceuticals is a marathon, not a sprint. However, he and his team have shown that at Vetter, endurance is of no concern.
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