Untangling supply chain snags

The pharmaceutical industry was thrust into the spotlight in the fight against COVID-19 as drug companies scrambled to innovate. A few developed vaccines, while others used their capabilities to ease the hardship of coronavirus patients. Daniel Laverick, VP, Head of Digital & Data Solutions at Zuellig Pharma, details his company’s efforts to deal with the health crisis while transforming their processes.

Image courtesy of Miltiadis Fragkidis

As 2022 gets busy, what are your top three priorities for the year?

First would be to build up world-class digital capabilities to address key challenges in the pharma supply chain and connect key stakeholders across the healthcare ecosystem. Presently, we have a suite of digital and data solutions deployed through technologies such as blockchain, advanced data analytics, and intelligent process automation. We hope to accelerate these solutions to help meet the growing needs of our clients, healthcare professionals, and patients.

Second, we are looking to automate and digitise key activities in our core operations with targeted digital solutions. These include manual and traditional work processes which are in danger of impeding business when crisis hits. Digitising these processes could help us pivot quickly in times of crisis and even enhance the baseline profitability of the business by helping our teams work more efficiently.

Daniel Laverick, VP, Head of Digital & Data Solutions at Zuellig Pharma. Image courtesy of Zuellig Pharma.

Lastly, as our solutions continue to grow, there will be a greater focus on building sustainable and empowered teams. Through the Agile methodology, we aim to create greater synergy across our teams and establish clear communication channels. Being digital-first will also remain a strategic priority for us as we encourage teams to challenge the status quo, experiment often, and get comfortable with failure, while implementing technology and tools to improve processes.

What were some of Zuellig Pharma’s biggest lessons of 2021? Have we learned these lessons, and is the world ready for another pandemic?

The uncertainty of the pandemic has emphasised the importance of digitising processes and workflows while improving supply chain resilience. It also highlighted a need for organisations to embrace agility and digital transformation to deal with these changes. With better processes and supply chain visibility, we can plan better for the future and reduce disruptions.

Here are two examples of how we dealt with the challenges at the height of the pandemic and what we learnt:

  • With COVID-19 mobility restrictions, sales representatives could not physically visit customers to collect orders and payments, which affected how business was usually conducted. Using the Agile workflow, our teams were able to effectively push to production a cloud-native B2B eCommerce healthcare platform called eZRx built on SAP technologies, which helped to digitise and automate more than 11.6 million order lines in 2021 so we were no longer bound by geographical limitations. We learnt that digital transformation was not a zero-sum game because sales reps that harnessed the power of technology could improve processes, future-proof the business, and even increase the volume of orders processed.
  • Vaccinations were not rolling out quickly enough and there was an increasing problem of counterfeits in certain markets. Again, with the Agile workflow, our teams could innovate and quickly adapt existing solutions. Leveraging the eZTracker blockchain solution, Zuellig Pharma built a vaccination management platform that helped bridge the gap between patients and healthcare workers. At the same time, patients and healthcare professionals could instantly verify the authenticity of vaccines, and organisations could track the rollout and orders of the COVID-19 vaccines. Today, we have helped patients book and receive over 2 million doses, due in part to the ability to have end-to-end traceability on the supply chain and plan ahead for the rollout of vaccines.

What do you see as being the most impactful technologies coming into play over the next year? What are your broad technology predictions for 2022?

Enterprise blockchain will be a key transformation technology in 2022. As blockchain helps enterprise operations become more secure, resilient, and efficient, more investments seem to pool into blockchain-based applications in recent times. A recent Gartner survey supported this trend and showed around 11% of enterprises are already employing blockchain technology in their operations today, while 75% are actively researching how to do so.

Presently, blockchain has enabled the tracking of provenance of goods and automation of commercial processes for businesses. Pushing the frontiers of innovation, blockchain interoperability will profoundly transform supply chains as more users are now able to join the blockchain with ease and share data securely to make the supply chain visible, transparent, and protected from future threats.

Besides blockchain, telehealth will also experience immense growth. According to McKinsey, consumer-centric digital health solutions are expected to grow by 22% through 2025 in Asia and impact over 1 billion lives. In the coming year, more than 90% of consumers have expressed the need for a single touchpoint to manage all their healthcare needs in a recent report. Businesses will need to streamline their solutions to deliver world-class health solutions through a simpler system of care.

How has your workplace transformed over 2021, and what are your precise workplace transformation strategies for 2022?

This year, we are focused on creating an Agile workforce that delivers digital-first, patient-centric solutions. We have begun implementing the Agile workflow across all digital and data product teams and upskilling them through workshops and courses.

Our plans for workplace transformation also involve upgrading facilities and technology to improve existing processes. Some digital solutions deployed to help bridge our teams with stakeholders include SAP for automation of ordering and payment processes, among others; Tableau for better data visualisation and insights generation; and new cloud technologies to further accelerate our ever-evolving digital solutions.

Managing our team’s wellness and safety also continues to be a priority as we settle into our third year of remote working. Through regular communication, team activities, and celebrations, we create opportunities to help employees stay connected and provide a sense of belonging.

Could you talk about the IT infrastructure that supports the operation and management of Zuellig Pharma?

We recognise the importance of driving efficiencies so that we can grow, operate, and support larger-scale and more complex healthcare supply chains, in spite of external disruptions and challenges.

One example is the SAP Intelligent Robotic Process Automation, where we built bots to extract data from different non-automated channels, and maintain them in the SAP system. When the pandemic hit, we were able to quickly activate our technologies to address the spike in customer orders from countries like Thailand. The agility and speed of sales order processing accounted for an increase of approximately 100,000 sales orders processed daily.

To date, Zuellig Pharma has deployed more than 60 automations across various business units and countries to enhance its most critical processes.

Similarly, the team has deployed enterprise blockchain solutions such as eZTracker. Built on Hyperledger Fabric (a distributed ledger platform), eZTracker is the first live production grade track-and-trace solution that also offers cold chain monitoring, e-product information, auto-replenishment, and direct patient engagement features.

How will your vertical be impacted by the pandemic and the post-pandemic reality? What will the “new normal” look like for your industry?

The pandemic has accelerated the need for the pharma industry to prioritise digital transformation to optimise efficiencies and build up greater supply chain resilience. As we establish the new normal post-pandemic, the supply chain needs to seek new ways to transform existing processes that are susceptible to disruption.

First, businesses need to rethink traditional processes like ordering and payments that involve physical forms and invoices, and adapt to the new norms of contactless automation. For eZRx, our B2B e-commerce solution, it means finding a balance with the sales representatives and harnessing the efficiencies of automated processes for ordering anytime and anywhere, digitising documents to minimise human error, and taking it a step further to improve the product design and eventual customer experience.

Second, businesses will have to start optimising data collection and analytics so that leaders can develop more agile strategies when dealing with uncertainty and change. For us, data will remain a key driver to deliver actionable business intelligence for our principals so that they can respond better to market changes. Increasing supply chain resilience through end-to-end traceability will be an important aspect to collecting more meaningful data across the pharma industry, and this can be achieved through enterprise blockchain solutions such as eZTracker.

Lastly, the industry needs to adapt and continue making healthcare more accessible for patients. This means creating more digital touchpoints for patients while keeping them on a single platform, so they can have greater control over their health without physical limitations and geographical boundaries. This could be in the form of patient apps for real-time verification of product quality and authenticity, and better recalls processes. Another aspect will be the continued use of telehealth services which go beyond teleconsultations to also offer lab tests, diagnostics, vaccination records, and even patient access programmes.