“We can’t yet estimate what kind of a revolution is taking place now.” 

April 18, 2023 | Digitalization

From personalized medicine to AI-supported image evaluation – at Roche Diagnostic International AG, digitalization is already a permanent component of the business model. Nevertheless, Dr. Ralf Eisenbrandt, Head Global Operations Consumables, is convinced that caution should still come before speed in the digital transformation. 

Roche Diagnostics International AG is a subsidiary of Roche Holding and is headquartered in Rotkreuz (Canton of Zug). The company is one of the global leading suppliers of diagnostic systems for hospitals, laboratories, and doctors’ practices. In addition to the main location in Switzerland, there are branch offices in Mannheim, Penzberg, and Ludwigsburg. There are other branch offices with R&D activities in the USA. 

An expert contribution to the 2023 study “The Future of Industry”

INTERVIEW WITH Dr. Ralf Eisenbrandt, Head Global Operations Consumables at Roche Diagnostics International AG

According to the current Staufen study, about half of companies have initiated new digitalization projects despite the slowing economy. How do things look in your industry? 

Dr. Ralf Eisenbrandt: Even if other industries have certainly been advancing the topic of digitalization for a while already, the MedTech sector is lagging a bit. With regard to Roche, I can say that large parts of the business model are already attuned to a digital future.

The study also shows that most digitalization projects are about improving efficiency. Only one in three companies is thinking about new business models. Is this enough? 

Dr. Ralf Eisenbrandt: Not all departments at a company focus on new business models. It depends entirely on the area you’re looking at. In production, for which I’m responsible, we use our data first and foremost for more efficient processes in manufacturing. In other areas, Roche relied very early on the application of new data models. Thus, for example, the company has invested in the area of personalized medicine. 

Dr. Ralf Eisenbrandt

Vice President and Head Global Operations Consumables

Roche Diagnostics International AG

Instead of pushing for speed, we believe it’s better to exploit the potential of digitalization by approaching it step by step.

Dr. Ralf Eisenbrandt 
Head Global Operations Consumables, Roche Diagnostics International AG

The term Industry 4.0 first appeared in 2011 at the Hannover Messe. And yet – also the result of the Staufen study – the potential of digitalization in production is not even close to being exhausted. In your opinion, far along is the economy on the path to the smart factory? 

Dr. Ralf Eisenbrandt: For products with narrow margins, we already see the progress of digitalization very clearly. Thanks to the digitalization of factories, for example in the automobile industry or in the food sector, throughput and cycle times are shorter. In MedTech and pharma, we aren’t quite so far along; we haven’t yet started to generate optimization potential from the large quantities of data. 

How might it be possible to speed up this topic? 

Dr. Ralf Eisenbrandt: Instead of pushing for speed, we believe it’s better to exploit the potential of digitalization by approaching it step by step. First we need to see what we want to have at the end of the day. This results in more stable, effective, and higher-quality production. Digitalization makes it possible for us to make this jump. 

It almost seems as if there is a dichotomy in the economy when it comes to digitalization. Half is very committed, while the other half is stuck with testing and individual projects. Is that true? 

Dr. Ralf Eisenbrandt: Here you can’t forget that digitalization means investment. Companies have to provide capacities in order to finance progress. That’s why many people ask themselves whether it will pay off for them. This is especially the case if current factories have a residual life of 10 to 20 years and have not yet been written down. Each company must therefore decide for itself what is the right time for a business case. On the other hand, companies miss out on an opportunity if they set themselves strategic goals because they’re not interested in digitalization. For digitalization will come; the question is only how quickly a company will join up.

One final question. No other digitalization technology has generated as much excitement in recent months as artificial intelligence. In your view, how will things proceed here? 

Dr. Ralf Eisenbrandt: ChatGPT is showing us for the first time what the consequences of AI can be. In industry, we can’t yet estimate what kind of a revolution is taking place now. It’s an extreme jump to how we will access data in the future and how it will be made available to us. 


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