Pharmaceutical companies are starting to see the retail supply chain as more than just a way to get drugs from point A to point B. It can be an opportunity to ensure better products and services and create a competitive advantage with consumers – but only if data is connected and well managed.

That’s why it wasn’t a surprise to see Walgreens Boots Alliance announce a deal with FedEx in December to make next day drug deliveries. Or Aetna and CVS now in the working phase of their merger. The goal of these and other recent deals is not just to track and trace products around the world, but to look within the supply chain to increase efficiency, cut costs and improve customer satisfaction – to effectively think more like Amazon.

Supply chains are also becoming more personalized and complex, further separating the competition. For instance, Kite Pharma now provides the first CAR-T therapy approved by FDA. They are able to get a sample from a single patient to a lab, then get a personalized product back to that same patient in time for it to be effective. Imagine the importance of integrated, well governed, secure and operational supply chain data as that supply chain scales.

From the factory floor to the medicine cabinet, valuable data lives in complex operational and analytic silos throughout the supply chain. Failure to integrate and operationalize this data can compromise companies’ ability to comply with regulation, such as the upcoming “Falsified Medicines Directive” in the United Kingdom, which will go into effect in just a couple months, and increase risk to reputation, brand integrity and revenue. Some obstacles include:

  • Lot genealogy and batch tracking difficulty
  • Process and order management inefficiencies
  • Unplanned downtime
  • Temperature control challenges
  • Lack of shipping transparency
  • Inability to search across the pipeline

These challenges can not only create regulatory and reputation risk, they can also inhibit companies’ future ability to adapt as supply chains become even more complex and competition becomes more intense.

In order to transform the supply chain from a “cost of doing business” and source of regulatory risk, into a business opportunity, pharma needs end-to-end visibility and control. The most successful companies will be able to pull data from all parts of the supply chain, to do innovative analytics, cut costs, comply with serialization and better serve customers.

Accomplishing this can seem like a daunting task, but once digitalization has taken shape in one part of the supply chain, similar principles can be applied to other areas. The good news is that the data silos that have built up over many years can be transformed quickly into a source of process innovation.

Amgen was able, in less than two months, to digitize a key part of its supply chain processes. By integrating data across diverse process areas it was able to achieve a 360-degree view of key information, improving lane carrier operations and compliance at less cost.

Knowledge is now captured in a way that is useful for machine learning and empowers users to do sophisticated querying and higher quality analytics. Data processes that typically took months, such as sorting and matching reference data, are now automated and processed in minutes, sometimes less. This is useful for drug delivery, product portfolio management, logistics, and regulatory purposes.

As pharma continues to close the gap between the operational and analytical needs of their business, they can look to other industries for best practices. It’s easy to see why automation and data exchange in manufacturing are being referred to as the fourth industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0. Those that take advantage sooner will have a competitive edge.

Photo: Stuart Ritchie, Getty Images

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