Saturday, September 15, 2012

Pharmaceutical supply chains move towards cloud computing

According to UPS’ latest “Pain in the (Supply) Chain Survey”, technology investment has been among the top strategies employed by healthcare companies over the past 18 months. This is expected to continue as healthcare decision makers plan to invest further in new technologies in the next three to five years to increase competiveness and efficiency. Among those specific technologies planned include order management, web ordering, serialization/ePedigree track and trace, security and temperature-sensitive.

Indeed, as the pharmaceutical industry continues to consolidate and its supply chain expands into new geographies and encompasses additional suppliers, the need to monitor, manage and respond quickly becomes even greater.  However, IT investments can be quite costly particularly for an industry that is under pressure to reduce costs in order to remain competitive in an environment of changing regulations and declining revenues.

Perhaps an IT option for pharmaceutical companies is that of cloud computing. Cloud computing has been on the increase across all industries - perhaps due to its relatively low cost startup, speed of deployment and  ease of maintenance. Its definition, however, remains fuzzy, but broadly speaking, it is a general term for anything that involves delivering hosted services over the Internet.

Because of its benefits, it appears cloud computing maybe a good fit for the complex pharmaceutical supply chain.

For example, according to a recent Financial Times article, Pfizer reconfigured its IT systems and has adopted a cloud-based supply chain platform from GT Nexus. This approach allows all of Pfizer’s supply chain partners to connect and interact among each other without having to invest in Pfizer’s resource planning software. Partners are able to be added or removed quickly, track and trace shipments in real time and may also help respond quickly to disruptions.

Another example is Lily which is using Amazon’s Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) for advanced analytical capabilities particularly for collaboration purposes within its R&D function. Finally, GlaxoSmithKline moved to Microsoft cloud services and estimates they will be able to reduce operational costs by 30%.

Despite the many benefits of cloud computing, one of the biggest problems that is keeping many pharma companies from moving broadly into cloud services—is securing the data, and controlling access to it. In response to this concern, the not-for-profit organization, Cloud Security Alliance (CSA) was formed in 2008 with the mission to promote the use of best practices for providing security assurance within cloud computing, and to provide education on the uses of cloud computing to help secure all other forms of computing.

As security fears ease, it is likely more pharmaceutical companies will adopt cloud computing. Its cost savings, quick deployment and collaborative tools are all major benefits in which the intricate pharmaceutical supply chain values.