Indian Pharma’s digital ambitions are based on network transformation

Earlier this year, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi proclaimed, “Now India is ready to save humanity with two ‘Made in India’ COVID-19 vaccines.” The government had vaccinated large numbers of people and the momentum was building. It was the moment of optimism.

The virus had a different mind. He traveled the densely populated country and pushed India’s medical and pharmaceutical supply chains to its limits.

In truth, COVID-19 has extended all supply chains. But unlike all other products, inefficient medical and pharmaceutical supply chains are a matter of life and death.

Existing fragmentation of the supply chain due to an overcrowded market has made matters worse, PwC said in its report “Global pharma looks to India: growth prospects”. More than 10,000 companies now control around 70% of the market, many of which focus on generics.

This large number of companies creates planning and delivery problems. The same inefficiencies also prevent hospitals and medical centers from receiving donated supplies. Meanwhile, counterfeiting, malpractice, China’s heavy reliance on critical active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs), slim operating margins, and regulatory price controls compound the problem.

Ascent Health and Wellness has decided to do something about it. And he chose to start with robotic process automation (RPA).

The link is important

The digital pharmaceutical supply chain actor employs an army of RPA robots to process nearly 40,000 orders per day for more than 35,000 pharmacies across India in four hours.

Chandresh Dedhia, chief information officer and IT manager at Ascent Health and Wellness, believes his company’s digitalization efforts are in the public interest.

“Digitization enables better end-to-end management, including verified tracking and provenance. Currently, pharmaceutical distribution in India is geared towards small operators, and we have seen many new entrants with similar models where their focus is only on technology activation, ”says Dedhia.

While RPA offered the company a step in the right direction, it came with its challenges. One of the biggest has been the strain on Ascent Health and Wellness’s network infrastructure.

“I think many would agree that RPA is a network hungry or ‘chatty’ application. It works great in a LAN environment, but it’s a challenge to get it to work in the WAN environment, and I’ve seen a lot of projects fail because of it, ”Dedhia describes.

So, Ascent Health and Wellness envisioned SD-WAN.

Dedhia needed “a stable and predictable link, and that won’t be possible with a simple vanilla flavor of WAN connection.” He believed that SD-WAN was essential to the success of RPA and that it would simplify costs and complexity.

“Because we can rely on the high availability of the network, implementing RPA doesn’t require as much fallback / retry, we can handle the chat, and that simplifies deployment,” he adds.

Hidden challenges

It was the hindsight that highlighted RPA’s real network toll. Ascent Health and Wellness saw the impact after deploying Silver Peak’s Unity EdgeConnect SD-WAN edge platform with Unity Boost WAN optimization.

“We never realized we had network issues until we implemented Silver Peak. We started to reap the benefits of all dimensions – improved link speed and latency, link stability, and overall business transactions were faster. That’s when we realized we had so many problems, but we didn’t know them. We have always worked on the workaround rather than identifying fundamental improvements, ”explains Dedhia.

Ascent Health and Wellness worked closely with its business partner Hararei to identify network bottlenecks and learned how Silver Peak overcame them.

“The ability to aggregate large amounts of data reliably and quickly is critical to Ascent’s business model, and Silver Peak SD-WAN enables it. The improvements in bandwidth seen in the pilot and the availability provided were both key considerations for the purchase, ”says Dedhia.

Another challenge was to log into the legacy ERP, which the company relied on to keep its orders going smoothly. The problem was the incompatibility with “RPA over WAN links”.

“Slowness over a WAN link was very time consuming and also hurt our productivity. We all know how difficult it is to replace an ERP, but we had to find answers and Silver Peak provided our final solution, ”says Dedhia.

Business agility

Dedhia is satisfied with the overall results of the network transformation and optimization effort. In the case study, he highlights how Unity EdgeConnect and Unity Boost came together to create a “business intent overlay” and optimize traffic “up to 90%”.

Unity Orchestrator helped coordinate the overall architecture and add agility to the Ascent Health and Wellness business model. “You can even have different organizations and business units in the same orchestrator, and you can allow them to connect or not connect with each other,” he explains.

The overall configuration saved a lot of time. This reduced processing time, increased application response time, and helped the company save on bandwidth costs.

Productivity has improved and Dedhia notes that there have been “no complaints”. He mentioned that good product evaluation, testing different business scenarios and having a good partner contributed to the success of the project. He also advised companies to consider how they can “boost optimization because that’s where the real deal is”.

“I think we did everything right. We started our PoC with Silver Peak, then tried three more products, then rated Silver Peak again. We have selected the best supplier. We selected the right team, partner, product, use case and metrics for success, ”says Dedhia.

Agile and resilient architecture will matter in the coming months as India seeks to recover from COVID-19 and the medical crisis it is currently facing.

Winston Thomas is the editor of CDOTrends, HR & DigitalTrends and DataOpsTrends. He’s always curious about everything digital, including new digital business models, the growing impact of AI / ML, unproven singularity theories, proven successes in data science, the dangers of the hidden cybersecurity and the reinvention of the digital experience. You can reach him at [email protected].

Image Credit: iStockphoto / Gearstd

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