FutureLink 2019: Unlocking the value of a digital supply chain

Is the pharmaceutical supply chain ready to undergo digital transformation?

At this year’s FutureLink conference, one topic came up across multiple sessions: how do we build a truly digital supply chain?
In his opening keynote, Alessandro de Luca of Merck claimed that the reality we are facing is not just digital transformation, it is a digital storm that we must prepare for. 
He referenced a quote by Ernest Hemingway that change comes “gradually, then suddenly”. In his opinion, the supply chain must be flexible and agile in response to the rapid changes taking place across the healthcare industry. From virtual practitioners, digital therapeutics and personalized medicines, the supply chain is facing new pressures that may need to be handled digitally. 
However, as Roddy Martin of TraceLink pointed out the industry as a whole is slow to adapt to change, preferring to adopt a wait and see mentality. Rene Iriks of Synthon echoed this, arguing that when you consider the strenuous regulatory burden carried by the sector, it is not always possible to manoeuvre in an agile way. 

Change comes gradually, then suddenly

Naseem Amir of GMP-Orphan also highlighted the dilemma of considering a digital future when so many SOPs and systems were built for a far different era. Bringing legacy systems up to speed to the digital world can be a key challenge. 
Alessandro agreed that when you consider the major pharmaceutical companies, like Merck with their 52,000 employees and 350 years of history, change can be a daunting task. 
RELATED: Frank Binder of Santen Pharmaceuticals discusses the challenges of implementing digital processes in the supply chain


Is this a people or process problem?

Alessandro shared that when it comes to implementing a digital transformation, more often than not, it is not the technology that causes the problem, it’s getting people to trust and work with a new system. 
Naseem compared it to driving a Tesla with 20 different drivers all trying to control the car in their own way. By failing to work together and trust the capabilities of the system, the group as a whole will struggle to reach their destination.

There will never be a silver bullet solution for all of the issues across the supply chain

As an industry, we’re aware that there will never be a silver bullet system to solve all supply chain issues. More than likely, we will need to integrate a platform of systems which complement one another and can add different degrees of value to operations. 
Until the people component of digital transformation is addressed and we actively work with employees, companies will fail to move successfully towards digital supply. Alessandro related a story of implementing a new system and hearing positive feedback from one employee, only to discover when pressing further than he didn’t even have the password for the system. It's crucial to push for further detail from employees about the systems that will actually improve their workflow and then check in about how those systems are working in practice.

The real issue in the supply chain is not the lack of technology or systems, it is aligning the mind-set of employees towards digital

As Roddy discussed, although many fall back to the excuse of cumbersome systems and fragmented operations, the real issue in the supply chain is the mindset. 
If we start to become more patient-centric and think backwards from the patient, we will start to uncover more areas where transformation can be achieved. This need to think from the patient perspective was also echoed across other sessions. The healthcare industry often suffers from a silo mentality and in many instances, this disrupts the path of digital transformation. 

The impact of digital supply

Roddy encouraged the audience to look beyond the 10x improvement and find the areas of 100x improvement. Thinking commercially about what can make an impact on business operations as a whole can also help you achieve buy-in—as can committing to a pilot project and getting an early win. 
Other panellists spoke of the importance of collaborating on the task of digital transformation across the business and where possible seeking standard processes to better align. Rainer Frader of Rommelag and Alex Vidras of Vimachem both spoke about the possibility to implement multi-vendor solutions to your problems and processes if you lead with collaboration and transparency. 

It is time to look for the areas of 100x improvement

During FutureLink, there was a glimpse of the possibility that digital supply could bring, from benchmarking against a digital twin, collaborating across your full network of partners and creating bespoke, easy to integrate applications for difficult processes. 
As Shabbir Dahod, CEO of TraceLink, put it “95 per cent of your supply chain is beyond your visibility”. While there is potential to open up new visibility and insights across the entire supply chain, it is clear that to achieve this will require us all to think a little differently. 
READ MORE: Have you read our latest report on the top challenges facing the temperature controlled supply chain? Download your copy now