Big pharma is tapping the cloud to address its supply chain woes, but challenges remain. First, there is often a disconnect between leadership and the teams deploying the solution. And due to strict compliance and regulatory standards, IT may be less than keen on investing in a third-party provider. Additionally, there are numerous architectures and micro-services to choose from, intimidating those without dedicated resources to execute digital solutions or significant cash flow to invest in all-in-one platforms.
However, it’s a chicken or the egg situation. Pharmacy supply chains have a mandate to comply with The Drug Quality and Security Act by 2023 — attaching individual identifiers to all medications, which must be securely stored and accessible to everyone. In this article, I’ll detail cloud-based investments you can make today to maintain compliance as well as reap faster ROI at different levels of your technology stack.
Work with what you have via IoT Telematics
Don’t have the bandwidth to invest in a comprehensive cloud-based solution? You’re not alone. Pharmaceutical companies have historically relied on hundreds of vendors to deliver their products across multi-regional or international sites. This inefficient and expensive strategy is coming to a head with the pressure to meet on-demand delivery expectations while securing sensitive IP and patient data across devices and infrastructure.
Rather than attempting to secure your supply chain in one go, focus on business units that could benefit most from a cloud-based solution. For example, many medications are fragile and have up to a 72-hour window of use, so it’s critical that they are tracked and properly disposed of to avoid being distributed on the black market.
By installing lightweight, low-cost smart tags, trackers, and Bluetooth sensors, tightly integrated with a cloud-based Software-as-a-Service solution, you maintain visibility as units get broken down and handed off. This end-to-end solution eliminates the need for line-of-sight personnel and allows you to identify entire truckloads of product at a time. A tightly integrated service is extremely difficult to counterfeit and can be easily incorporated with your data management software of choice.
You can also reduce the complexity of a telematics deployment and cut warehouse rental and maintenance costs with a subscription to existing supply chain logistics services. This allows you to stage products at virtual cold storage units, airports and other shipping facilities to expedite shipments around-the-clock or adjust logistics to avoid theft, inadequate supply and tainted deliveries. With IoT telematics, even small operations can reap the benefits of cloud-based visibility and analytics, enabling rapid decision-making and easy demand forecasting.
Get with the flow with PaaS
By investing in IoT telematics, you can prove ROI from cloud analytics faster, as well as identify areas in your organization or even personnel who may bottleneck innovation. But while smart sensors and devices may expedite data gathering, you will need the capability to aggregate granular details into easily-digestible and actionable insights. This is where a Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) can be beneficial.
Via a secure command platform, you can execute rapid decisions while ensuring that you are fully compliant and within the bounds of your internal standards. For example, a sudden policy change may require you to dynamically reroute and repartition time-sensitive product. Within hours, that medication can be repackaged for sale to consumers in a destination halfway around the world, without the hassle of managing multiple shipment partners. And with this level of visibility, you can proactively manage other factors that may be hindering your bottom line on a seasonal basis, via automated reports and real-time alerts.
Think outside of the “bottle” with SaaS
While enterprise-wide insights via PaaS may get you up to par with your competition, the truth is that you are never out of danger from disruptive entrants to the supply chain. Your goal should not only be to survive but continuously delight your customers with value-added services. This is where an integrated software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform comes in.
Rather than focusing on delivery alone, a SaaS provider can help you build aftermarket services to meet evolving preferences. For example, adherence, a core weakness in the industry, can be readily addressed with programmable tags. Physicians can leverage these tags to communicate dosage and use instructions through a smartphone app. And they can provide alerts on product recalls as well as monitor for possible mismanagement, down to the pill level. Amidst the national opioid epidemic, this capability protects your patients and preserves your brand integrity.
While value-added services may not be within your immediate scope, they will separate the winners from the losers over the long term. The reason is simple. The direct-to-consumer model has fundamentally shaken up siloed supply chains in favor of transparency and interoperability. And in some cases, an agile architecture can make the difference in maintaining a share of the market. For example, a rival’s production snag during a natural disaster can provide you with a short-term opportunity to display reliability. But failure to reroute medication on time may have drastic consequences on your bottom line. And it may force providers to seek medications from countries with lenient oversight.
Increased global demand for environmentally-sensitive medications and products will continue to drive distributors to innovate or risk becoming obsolete. Packaging alone cannot ensure shipment integrity, much prevent nefarious behavior. As the demand for pharmaceuticals grows, distributors will need to invest in cloud-based solutions today to prepare for the challenges of tomorrow.