Buffeted by the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic, semiconductor shortages and war in Ukraine, pharmaceutical firms are waking up to the same reality as the rest of the business world: supply chain disruption is here to stay. The growing focus on supply chains is evident at industry events, in publications, and even in social media chatter, where GlobalData analytics show that “supply chains” were mentioned nearly three times as often in the first half of this year (January to June 2023) as they were for the whole of 2019.

Worldwide trade in pharmaceutical goods has grown more than sixfold in value over the course of the twenty-first century, topping $629 billion in 2019.[1] And, in the US alone, the number of new clinical trials registered in 2022 surpassed 38,000 – a new record, and nearly double the total from a decade earlier.[2] But this progress is under threat from major new tensions on supply chains. One relates to trade forces. Mounting geopolitical friction has erected barriers between cross-border trade cooperation. Governments and industry leaders are exploring domestic self-sufficiency in material supply, confining their trade links to neighbours and allies to create more secure supply networks.

Another source of tension is economic volatility. Frenetic activity on commodity markets is placing access to key materials at risk. And the drive towards sustainability means that firms are having to factor the carbon footprint of supply chains into their finances. Costs are rising – and the implications for supply chains are unclear.

Cyber criminals manipulate these tensions, while also adding to them targeting supply chains with increased sophistication. Weaknesses in supplier networks, warehouse equipment and internet of things (IoT) devices can provide avenues for hackers to exploit. Robust cybersecurity strategies and thorough risk assessments are crucial to mitigate cyber risks.

Preparing for the future

Geopolitical tension, economic uncertainty, cyber crime – it’s a lot for companies to take in. And there are still the day-to-day travails of running a safe and successful company to navigate. Juggling these priorities will require innovative thinking.

One starting point is to reduce over-dependence on individual nodes within the supply chain. The practice of relying on a limited number of suppliers or centralised production facilities invites instability and can lead to significant operational interruptions. To mitigate these risks, pharmaceutical manufacturers must rethink their practices and adopt a diversified, tech-driven approach.

But how? Digital transformation of the supply chain is a prerequisite for dealing with the complexities of modern manufacturing. It can help to improve data quality, break down information silos and enhance real-time data sharing capabilities. But such a transformation requires organisation; adopting a clear vision of the end-goal, assessing process maturity and starting small then scaling up can all help bring your supply chain into the twenty-first century.

By integrating technology effectively and practically, pharmaceutical manufacturers can navigate disruptions and optimise their supply chains. With a digitalised system in place, managers can work out where weaknesses exist and take action to avert future bottlenecks.

Digital transformation offers a basis for action as well as analysis. Intelligent automation (IA), for example, is a hot topic in supply chain circles. Incorporating the learning abilities of artificial intelligence, IA goes a step further – providing real-time visibility and enabling end-to-end management of the supply chain via optimisation of inventory levels, product tracking and automatic interventions to ensure products get from manufacturers to patients as quickly and smoothly as possible. IA is helping pharmaceutical manufacturers to improve productivity, reduce costs and ultimately enhance patient outcomes.

Digitising and automating processes has massive potential for pharmaceutical supply chains – but innovative platforms are needed to make it possible. Working with the right partner is crucial.

Innovations making a difference

Despite the urgency of upgrading their processes, reports suggest that over 70% of pharma suppliers currently lack the necessary visibility to confront supply chain disruption with rapid and effective action.[3] At the recent Gartner Supply Chain Symposium, Controlant unveiled a new, market-leading response – the Controlant Aurora Platform. With an easy-to-use interface, real-time visibility and an automatic release mechanism to speed up processing, it draws on IA to inject unprecedented speed and security into pharma supply chains at the click of a button.

The platform combines a number of unique benefits. At its heart is digital transformation. Within the realm of supply chains, digitalisation of critical data and processes forms the foundation upon which automation, visibility, and optimisation are built; the Aurora Platform does this all in one place.

The platform offers 24/7 real-time visibility into temperature, location, shipment status, and quality and logistics information for all active and past shipments. From the first mile to the last, businesses can monitor progress and performance, automatically highlight issues as they occur, and intervene swiftly to ensure products safely reach patients and consumers.

This visibility is one half of the IA equation – the other is intervention. Real-time alerts provide businesses with the ability to take preventative action in response to supply kinks, minimising product rejections and complications further down the chain. Automated interventions happen immediately while eliminating human error; they also offer actionable insights derived from enriched data, enabling businesses to make better informed decisions about the future of their supply chain strategies.

Sustainability – a perennial topic in current conversations about supply chains – is also factored into the platform. In addition to promoting the use of reusable devices, the combination of visibility and real-time intervention helps to minimise write-offs and avoid the unnecessary production of replacement products. Dialling down on raw material use reduces environmental impact, helping firms to hit much-vaunted ESG goals.

Taken together, these benefits enable businesses to optimise like never before. Sophisticated analytics provide comprehensive insights into supply chain performance, identifying trends and patterns to drive improvements. Optimising the logistics behind shipping routes and the slack causing product waste can help businesses achieve operational excellence.

Innovation is keeping pace with geopolitical and economic uncertainty for the supply chain chiefs who know where to look. Navigating this uncertainty will be all the easier for decision makers who pick the right partners and onboard new platforms effectively. The Controlant Aurora Platform is one outstanding example; download the whitepaper on this page to learn more.

[1] https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/life-sciences/our-insights/four-ways-pharma-companies-can-make-their-supply-chains-more-resilient

[2] https://classic.clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/resources/trends

[3] https://www.controlant.com/insights/discover-real-time-value-creation-key-pharma-insights-from-the-gartner