Building a low cost, future-ready supply chain is simpler than it is thought
COVID-19, arguably the most devastating healthcare crisis for humanity, has caught billions of lives off guard. As global lockdowns hamper the already fragile domestic, regional, and global supply chains to a standstill, there is a severe pressure to make medical supplies and resources available where these are required the most. Add the ongoing world’s biggest and simultaneous vaccination program to the mix and the challenge grows manifold. The situation brings back the spotlight on creating robust yet operationally agile medical supply chains.
Resilience against unpredictable events need supply chains built on digital backbone and processes, which can be pivoted overnight. However, pharma business leaders have always been keen to understand how exactly to create such supply chains. For the uninitiated, Software-as-a-Service, popularly known as SaaS is a good starting point.
SaaS are software applications that are provided over cloud or web. All the digital activities are outsourced and managed from a single location. For a pharmaceutical company, this means that it can focus on its core business (manufacturing drugs and vaccines) while leaving the management and upgradation of its digital supply chain to the SaaS partner. The SaaS partner uses a vast (at times existing) application program interface (APIs) library to integrate newer features into the existing processes and continue to address the emerging demands very quickly. The SaaS partner can also work very closely with the pharma company in this case to predict the future scenarios and continue to create new APIs which can factor these into the supply chain in almost no time. By doing so, the supply chain is always a step ahead of the evolving health scenarios.
The healthcare situation also demands globalization of supply chains on an unprecedented level. Hence, the traditional ERP systems are often ill-equipped to offer the necessary upstream and downstream visibility across the spectrum. Once deployed, these systems are also very rigid in operations. Often, when the pharma companies need to quickly analyze any short-term developments, the most viable way is to fall back upon the classic spreadsheets. This undermines the entire idea of having a digital supply chain that leverages granular data to create visibility and predictability across functions. On the contrary, a SaaS based healthcare supply chain can easily incorporate new APIs to analyze emerging situations, it meets, and often exceeds the expectations, when it comes to staying relevant amid new developments.
Last but not the least, the total cost of ownership (TCO) is a big dealmaker in favor of SaaS based supply chain solutions. SaaS solutions are easy and fast to deploy and need no upfront investment on the part of pharma companies. Given the cautious global economic sentiment, businesses are reluctant on major investments which lack a clear and quick Return on Investment. SaaS works as a better arrangement rather than setting up an in-house team to manage an on-premise ERP system for supply chain management. The arrangement works almost similar to pay as you use. The SaaS partner takes full responsibility for system maintenance, upgradation, and security.
Despite all these advantages, the success of a SaaS based pharma supply chain is a function of willingness of entities within the supply chain to move over the legacy methods of information management and exchange. Storing, analyzing, and exchanging the information that is critical for supply chain management using SaaS strengthens processes and brings down the operational cost. Moreover, SaaS brings in a high degree of customization at business unit levels, thus, solving the problems in a more agile way.
The article is authored by Alok Sharma, CEO & Co-Founder, NebulARC