The pharmaceutical business is perhaps the most challenging of all life sciences industries. It plays a critical role by delivering health care and medicines that keep millions alive and healthy. But at the same time, it is one of the most regulated and scrutinized lines of business. Due to its far-reaching impact, every ounce of process efficiency gained literally saves lives.
This process efficiency is made possible by integrating digitized solutions, and their impact has already been evident in manufacturing and R&D processes. However, one area that still needs a digitized facelift is supply chain and logistics. It is well and good to produce groundbreaking drugs in a continuous manufacturing manner, but these drugs must also reach all geographies with unique regulatory compliance mandates.
As margins tighten across the pharmaceutical industry, companies prioritize product development with regard to technology adoption and digital transformation. But to enhance value delivery across the supply chain and reach more people, pharma companies must digitize the supply chain. By doing so, they can integrate a wide range of partners such as suppliers, manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors and logistics partners, ensuring everyone is on the same page. This, in turn, can help boost profitability.
Digital tools can empower drug makers to monitor operations in real time and make better and faster decisions. Moreover, with personalized medicine on the rise, supply chains need to adapt to dynamic market needs. By digitally transforming operations, pharma companies can eventually achieve a superior level of planning accuracy, manufacturing efficiency and productivity.
Studies have shown that through digitization, pharma plants can reduce downtime by 30-40% and boost Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE). Thus, building a supply chain ecosystem that is powered by virtual control tools and cloud-based information architecture can lead to tangible business benefits. As these elements come together, humans, machines and resources can communicate better across all stages of the operations value chain–spanning planning, sourcing, manufacturing and delivering.
Additionally, digitization also fosters effective security and risk management by offering a structured roadmap that can easily be monitored and managed. At the heart of this transformation is data integration through machine learning algorithms, and pharma companies are increasingly adopting such tools to track actionable metrics, roll out predictive maintenance and automated corrective measures.
Key focus areas of digitized operations
In order to reap the full range of benefits of digitization, pharma companies are integrating sensors throughout the supply chain to react better to dynamic market changes. This would reduce lead times for drug deliveries, and prevent drug stock outs, thereby helping save more lives and provide proactive health care to people. Such technologies provide end-to-end supply chain integration and network scalability. So, whether it is a supplier of Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API) or a clinical dispenser, everyone can be on the same page irrespective of what applications they use.
Integrating related technologies such as Robotic Process Automation (RPA), cognitive intelligence, machine learning and data analytics can also enable companies to streamline various business processes, ranging from production to sales. This has a cascading effect on the simplification of government and corporate compliance commitments, by defining custom business rules and workflows.
As pharma manufacturing has improved massively with regard to filling, loading or troubleshooting, any other activity that costs time or money must also be accomplished in a faster and cheaper manner. For the industry, decentralized production processes hold the key to delivering low volumes at high margins anywhere across the globe.
The long-term objective is cost reduction, so optimizing supply chain management processes is something pharma companies should allocate resources toward. This would lead to improved productivity and communication across sites, as well as better control and inventory management. Business Intelligence (BI) also gets a boost to further encourage one key performance indicator–customer service.
Balancing demand and supply
Like all other industries, the pharma business operates on the fundamental principle of supply and demand. Digitized operations can allow these companies to monitor different market forces and dynamically respond to unexpected events, and reduce the pressure of rising prices. The industry is in the midst of a systemic shift from batch to continuous processing, and the key here is to produce low volumes efficiently. Personalized medicine is also driving evolution in the industry.
Leveraging technology can thus help pharma tackle complex product portfolios by segmenting their supply chain. It can provide the much-needed transparency that can eliminate counterfeited drugs. The end game is better quality control and visibility, and digitized operations can monitor all transit activities to achieve these.
By giving managers insights into customer and supplier accounts, pricing, trade agreements, inventory and so much more, digitized operations offer unlimited benefits for pharma. These gains would provide pharma companies with true competitive advantages. Those who neglect to adopt such tools may well get left behind their digitized, agile competitors.