Traditional business software

21st century pharmaceutical supply chains are complex beasts. With Big Pharma outsourcing more and more functions to partners around the world – specialising in everything from raw material manufacturing and packaging to clinical trials and distribution – the number of entities in the supply network is on the up. On top of this, life sciences companies are coming under increasing pressure to manage this fast-growing number of disparate collaborators in a cost-effective manner.

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“Increasingly pharmaceutical companies are also recognising the vast amounts of computing power offered by cloud-based solutions.”

However, traditional business software was conceived and designed for single enterprises. It simply isn’t up to the task of managing the collaborative networks that now form the backbone of the life sciences sector.

So, what’s the solution? For an increasing number of successful players in the industry, moving away from their own enterprise resource planning software and onto the cloud has been the way forward.

Indeed, the world’s largest research-based pharmaceutical company Pfizer recently announced that, due to the growing complexity of its network, it has adopted a cloud-based supply chain collaboration platform, created by GT Nexus, which allows everyone involved in the company’s supply chain to connect to the system regardless of each site’s own IT infrastructure.

Essentially, each partner has been turned into a node on a virtual supply chain.

Cloud computing: a single version of the truth

But why is this virtual approach so effective for Big Pharma? For Greg Kefer, vice president of corporate marketing at GT Nexus, which provides its platform to leaders in almost every industry sector, it’s the fact that there’s one ‘single version of the truth’ for absolutely everyone in the supply chain.

“Pfizer recently announced that, due to the growing complexity of its network, it has adopted a cloud-based supply chain collaboration platform.”

“GT Nexus is a true multitenant, multi-enterprise platform,” he said. “Our customers and their partners all share a single network and software stack, which means that every company and every related business object is represented once on GT Nexus.

“In order to make smart decisions, companies must first be able to ‘see’ and networked cloud platforms that get entire business networks on the same page are the only way for companies to become the kind of efficient, connected, agile organisations that will be required to compete in the 21st century.”

Shabbir Dahod, president and CEO of TraceLink, which provides cloud-based collaboration software specifically to the life sciences sector and also works with Pfizer, on the company’s track and trace business processes, entirely agrees. “With a network approach, every single company that we bring into the network and connect into our Business Cloud is connected to dozens, or even hundreds of other companies,” he remarked.

“This not only enables customers to achieve faster collaborations, it also means that the costs of these collaborations are much lower too.”

On TraceLink’s Business Cloud, this is facilitated by several different features, including: the Business Community Network, which enables companies to build profiles, search for new business partners and engage collaborators in discussion; the Integration and Translation Platform, which provides access to real-time business data from every partner in the supply network through a single connection; and the Business Collaboration Platform, which enables cross-functional, cross-company teams to connect, access data and share notes and documents.

“Because of our cloud-based architecture, we can quickly connect a company in the pharmaceutical supply network to all of their business partners, providing visibility, real-time data and business collaboration across all of their supply, production and distribution activities,” Dahod emphasised.

No limits: the elasticity of the cloud

But end-to-end visibility is by no means the only advantage of moving supply chain management to the cloud; increasingly pharmaceutical companies are also recognising the vast amounts of computing power offered by cloud-based solutions.

“The absolute core benefit of a cloud is elasticity,” Dahod stressed. “At a moment’s notice, we can bring up 100 servers to perform a task and then once the task is completed, those 100 servers can go away. It’s an incredibly powerful capability and to have that on a global level, at your service, makes companies approach problems in a very different way than if their computing resources were limited.”

On top of that, the amount of data storage available to users of virtual solutions is colossal. “You’ve got a global storage capability that can store trillions of items and it can be completely available to you in a very cost-effective manner,” Dahod noted. “All of a sudden, it becomes almost like a no-brainer that the cloud is incredibly advantageous for supply chain applications. Being able to deal with billion of items across the supply chain on a real-time basis is something that has not been possible until very recently.”

Virtual future: the possibilities of the cloud

More will undoubtedly be possible in the future. “The solution we have today is not the solution we envisioned two or three years ago,” Dahod acknowledged.

“On top of that, the amount of data storage available to users of virtual solutions is colossal.”

And in another three years, the company’s cloud-based platform will certainly have evolved again, as it continues to collaborate with entities across the life sciences industry and understand their changing needs.

Yet, one thing is for sure: the cloud will not be disappearing from Big Pharma’s supply chain strategies. “The pharmaceutical industry is being fairly aggressive in this area,” Dahod noted.

“And I think that’s because they’re under more pressure than other industries. This is an industry that is undergoing transformation today; the peak point of the patent cliff is today. The cloud is not just on the table for consideration; it has become a core strategy.”

Indeed, for Kefer, the life sciences sector is streaks ahead of its counterparts in many other industries. “Cloud supply chain is still early, but the pharmaceutical industry is ahead of most other verticals in taking full advantage of cloud technology in their supply chains,” he noted. “And we are now beginning to see high profile public examples, like Pfizer, further fuel the market demand.

“Moreover, globalisation is only going to make things more complex for companies, across the industries, and we firmly believe this is an IT challenge that traditional software cannot solve. To succeed, information systems must be predicated on networks, inter-company business processes, communities and agility, which is precisely what cloud supply chain information systems were designed for.”

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