SaaS: The Future of MES in Pharma

  • Published:
    Apr 26, 2023
  • Category:
    White Paper
  • Topic:
    Pharma 4.0

Executive Summary

The pharmaceutical industry is a highly regulated sector, with a slower pace of technological innovation compared to other industries. However, it’s important to note that this caution is warranted; pharma has unique challenges and regulatory requirements that make innovation more complicated than in other industries. 

Despite these challenges, the pharma industry is starting to adopt new technologies, such as Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), which offers the potential to improve efficiency, reduce costs, and ultimately improve patient outcomes.

As industry insiders, we understand the challenges and pressures facing pharma professionals, and we hope to provide valuable insights into how SaaS can help overcome these obstacles and drive progress.

How can SaaS be leveraged in this space, and is it able to meet pharma’s notoriously stringent requirements? Read on to find out.

Jump To...

What Is SaaS?

SaaS, or software-as-as-service, is not any one specific technological invention. Rather, it is a method of delivering software solutions to customers through the internet.

Unlike on-premise software, which lives onsite and requires dedicated hardware, SaaS gives people a way to access the systems they need via any device with an internet connection.

With SaaS, all of the software’s code and architecture is hosted on the provider’s servers, but all the functionality is available to the end users.

Usually obtained through a subscription model, SaaS changes software from an asset your company buys into a service it receives. SaaS also does away with cumbersome physical installations. Fast, flexible, and affordable, SaaS solutions are fast becoming the number one choice for competitive businesses.

SaaS in Pharma

SaaS is increasingly being used in the pharmaceutical industry to improve a wide range of functions, from research and development to clinical trials and manufacturing.

SaaS offers significant advantages such as improved real-time data management, enhanced supply chain visibility, and reduced costs in terms of both infrastructure and IT support. 

As the pharma industry continues to embrace digital transformation, SaaS will play an increasingly important role in driving innovation and enabling better outcomes for patients. 

“Digital transformation has taken place across many industries already, and it’s arriving here and now for pharma.”

— Andrew Benjamin, Senior Product Marketing Manager, Apprentice

By leveraging the scalability and flexibility of SaaS, pharma manufacturers can improve their productivity, accelerate their time to market, and ultimately provide better quality products to their customers.

Solving Industry Challenges

Because of the delicate nature of pharmaceutical products, pharma manufacturers face challenges other manufacturers don’t. 

Health and safety protocols are paramount, and rigorous quality control standards must be applied at all times.

SaaS addresses these challenges by providing a way to track and manage quality data between sites, and implement corrective actions swiftly when necessary.

In addition, a SaaS MES can also rapidly build and deploy new functionality, enabling teams to adapt with ease to ever-changing regulatory guidance and streamlining compliance protocols.

The Problem with Paper

One of pharma’s biggest most pressing challenges is the problem of paper. 

Hard as it is to believe in our increasingly digital world, many pharmaceutical product batches are produced from binders full of paper, and tracked on graphs and Excel sheets.

Trying to track the supply chain through separate files on separate desks — sometimes across entire oceans — adds layers of difficulty that a SaaS MES can effortlessly eliminate.

“Using paper systems for documentation is comfortable and familiar, but it struggles to scale in a modern manufacturing world.”

— Andrew Benjamin, Senior Product Marketing Manager, Apprentice

When considering options for moving off of paper, it’s helpful to think about up-front vs recurring costs in time and effort.

Though a full cloud solution might seem insurmountable at first, this eliminates the need to layer on additional incremental digital solutions going forward.

SaaS: The Modern MES Solution

Modern pharma operations require a manufacturing execution system (MES) to track, manage, and optimize the production process from raw materials to finished product. 

An MES is a perfect use case for SaaS: a centrally managed, cloud-based SaaS MES makes all data available to everyone at the same time regardless of location.

Workflows can be optimized on the go, and collaboration becomes faster and more seamless, not only among internal teams but also with external partners like contract manufacturers or customers.

So what are the top benefits of SaaS for MES?

To start, you won’t need to manage your own hardware. This lets your MES approach be:

  1. Cheaper: since there’s no need to purchase or manage your own onsite servers.
  2. Faster: Since you won’t need to set it up on your own, dramatically shortening your implementation time.
  3. Flexible: You’ll have a platform that grows with you, instead of needing to manually scale your hardware infrastructure up and down to match your changing capacity.

In addition, you’ll have more out-of-the-box capabilities. Unlike on-prem offerings which are custom-coded specifically to a certain organization, you’ll be able to get started with no-code and low-code features from the get go. This will help to standardize and streamline your process across the board, getting everyone on the same page with an intuitive standard code base.

Lastly, you’ll have more control over your recipes and procedures. Since there’s no longer a need for custom code, your operating team will be empowered to configure the SaaS application themselves through intuitive, no-code procedure and recipe authoring designed for those without coding experience.

For all these reasons and more, SaaS offers a range of benefits for pharma manufacturers who are looking to stay agile and competitive.

SaaS for Pharma: Myths and Realities

Let’s take a look at some of the most common myths and misconceptions about SaaS:

Myth Reality

SaaS is... not secure enough for pharma

In fact, SaaS is incredibly secure.

“We understand that people feel more comfortable if they know the server, the actual computer running their software, is sitting 10 feet away,” says Andrew.

“But, thinking from a physical perspective, today’s cloud providers have purpose-built data centers that take into consideration perimeter, infrastructure, and environmental protections. And your data itself is safeguarded through integrated solutions like advanced encryption and automated monitoring.”

SaaS is... difficult to implement

“The biggest hold-up with SaaS adoption is usually the perceived difficulty of moving to the cloud,” Andrew explains. “Understandably, shifting an entire enterprise is a massive undertaking.”

Any software switch is a change, and change takes getting used to.“ All of these operations can be heavy lifts. Even though the cloud is the future, it doesn’t mean you have to do it all now, all at once. It’s fast to deploy and implement a SaaS MES, think months, not the years required with on-premise. So your SaaS strategy can match the readiness of your individual sites.”

Another of SaaS’s selling points is that it’s easy to implement and ramp up. Good SaaS providers have excellent training and onboarding programs.

SaaS is... too expensive

In fact, SaaS can be more cost efficient than maintaining on-premise legacy systems. The costs associated with a physical presence tend to be around maintaining it as is, not further improving operations with it. It may take your organization some time to shift from the “capital expense” investment model of on-premise systems to the “operating expense” model of SaaS, but it can offer real financial benefits.

“The time to make a decision is coming soon, if it’s not already here,” says Andrew. “It’s certainly easier and more comfortable to stay on paper or on-premise, but the industry is rapidly shifting to the cloud.”

SaaS is... just a fad or trend

On the contrary, SaaS is used in almost every aspect of daily business operations, especially as the global pandemic has made remote work a necessity. The SaaS market is forecast to grow to $716.52 billion USD by 2028.

Andrew Benjamin, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Apprentice, knows what’s holding pharma companies back from choosing SaaS. But he also knows most of those concerns are unfounded. 

“What are the costs of making the wrong decision?” asks Andrew. “Another option might seem easier in the moment, but eventually the work will have to be redone. Our cloud platform can help you mitigate the recurring loss of time and effort.”

Closing Thoughts

The writing’s on the wall: it’s time to move on from paper or on-premise systems. That’s why we built Tempo, our cloud-native platform for pharmaceutical manufacturers.

Using the latest in AR and cloud technology, Apprentice’s SaaS MES Tempo is built for the pharma manufactures of today and the future. 

Tempo’s cloud-native architecture allows for continuous production, while its no-code integrations drive equipment and system automation with ease. Flexible, parameterizable templates adapt to batches of all sizes, complexity, and customization.

“We’re here to make it as easy as possible to just jump straight into the future,” says Andrew. “You don’t need to take incremental steps that are timely, costly, and aren’t going to give you the immediate payoff that you need. We’re going to help you make that jump.”

Our Tempo SaaS MES offering can help to dramatically shorten tech transfers across stages by allowing users to:

  1. Develop and iterate on a single recipe throughout the pre-commercial stages (preclinical and clinical)
  2. Leverage the finalized version of the recipe for commercial manufacturing
  3. Share this final version out to any number of operating sites as needed

The interconnectedness of our CMN offering improves visibility across the entire lifecycle of a pharma product. All information for every step of each batch is recorded in real time, and can be tracked, monitored and viewed through its lifecycle. 

The bottom line? SaaS is not only secure and trustworthy enough for pharma. It’s a necessity, and no longer optional for pharma manufacturers who want to remain competitive in 2023 and beyond.

Our Featured Thought Leader

Andrew Benjamin is passionate about MES technology. Read on to learn more about his background and industry insights.

Andrew’s background

Andrew Benjamin has a background in SaaS, AI, data analysis, and text analytics. At Apprentice, he applies this experience to industry research and the marketing of new pharmaceutical manufacturing solutions.

A champion of future-forward tech, Andrew brings a unique perspective built by hands-on experience with today’s leading and emerging technologies.


Andrew’s top take on SaaS

“My top recommendation for organizations looking to achieve a successful SaaS implementation is to jump in, but with an understanding that going head-first isn’t the right approach for everyone. Sometimes, smaller steps are needed to bring about a lasting change.”

— Andrew Benjamin, Senior Product Marketing Manager, Apprentice



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  3. Gu, Mark. (2020, October 5). Debunking seven common myths about cloud. McKinsey & Company.
  4. Short, Taylor. (2022, January 5). What is SaaS? 10 FAQs About Software-as-a-Service. Retrieved from What is SaaS? 10 FAQs About Software-as-a-Service (