Digitalising supply chains may be the zeitgeist, but let’s not forget about the power of human partnerships

the power of human partnerships

The pharmaceutical industry is on the cusp of a digital revolution. Generative AI, blockchain, and other technologies are transforming everything from drug discovery to manufacturing and distribution.

While these advancements hold immense promise, a crucial element must never be overlooked: the human factor.

The changing operations landscape

One of the few silver linings of the pandemic was that it shone a light on the fragility of our global supply chains and, as a result, ignited an acceleration of automated processes and trends. The progress made over the past few years is irrefutable; it’s revolutionised every element of global operations.

Data-driven programming has helped to uncover inefficiencies in real-time, saving time and resources. But finding problems is just the first step. True optimisation comes from collaboration with suppliers through open dialogue.

If you rely on data alone, it’s like looking at a photo instead of experiencing the full scene in person. At Galen, we believe true understanding comes from using data as a springboard for open dialogue with partners. This two-way conversation helps us uncover the root causes of issues, not just see their surface symptoms.

Building a solid partnership from the start can help with challenges later down the line

The current unpredictable geo-political climate and the rise in costs and inflation have dealt a harsh blow to global supply chains, leading to out-of-stock shortages that have impacted millions of patients worldwide. And while some universal issues are inevitable, some pitfalls can be avoided by building long-term and trustworthy partners across the supply chain.

On the surface, this could sound overly simplistic. However, in my experience, there’s a lot to be said about investing in long-term relationships with supply chain partners, who gain a deep-rooted understanding of how your organisation operates. For more than five decades, Galen has approached partnerships as an extension of our business, and we share a vested interest in each other's success. Take cost increases, for example. We engage in collaborative discussions to find solutions that benefit both parties, ensuring a smooth and resilient supply chain.

While being flexible with partners to meet demand is beneficial for both parties, it always needs to be evaluated and assessed to ensure value. Agility is equally important, staying prepared to adjust to unexpected changes by diversifying your sourcing network is, of course, crucial.

Today’s unpredictable world needs the human experience to identify risks

Strategic planning across industries has long relied on risk assessment. Now, AI's integration unlocks deeper understanding and sharper predictions, empowering proactive risk management. However, while AI is a powerful tool, it's not a silver bullet. Relying solely on algorithms can miss crucial human insights and unforeseen challenges, which experience and intuition can readily grasp.

At Galen, we firmly believe that the human element is indispensable in identifying potential risks beyond AI's scope. The key lies in harnessing the strengths of both: data-driven insights from AI combined with the wisdom and adaptability of human expertise. This powerful combination unlocks a truly comprehensive risk shield, ready to navigate the complexities of the future.

Our current strategy for risk assessment in the supply of products digs into not only internal and external factors, but also geo-political complexities, and focuses on what can happen and how we mitigate these risks.

Digitalisation has bridged many gaps, but challenges with geographical location persist

Despite the convenience of online platforms and automated processes, physical distance and differing realities on the ground continue to present logistical hurdles.

Navigating diverse regulatory environments, trade barriers, and varying infrastructural capabilities can be a logistical labyrinth. Businesses must contend with customs procedures, documentation requirements, and differing levels of technological advancement across supply chain networks. This complexity introduces friction, increasing costs and slowing down the flow of goods.

Even with digital solutions in place, the vulnerability of physical infrastructure remains. Natural disasters, political instability, or even localised strikes can have a far-reaching impact across the entire supply chain.

Additionally, while Northern Ireland has access to the EU market, for other UK businesses the ongoing impact of Brexit adds another layer of complexity. Trade barriers and regulatory changes have disrupted traditional trade flows, prompting companies to explore alternative sourcing options within the EU. These disruptions highlight the need for diversification within sourcing strategies that help to seek seamless access to the European market.

The future through a human lens

While AI/digital are valuable assets in the modernisation of pharmaceutical supply chains, the true magic happens when we combine these advancements with a human touch. As an industry, we must continue to leverage technological advances and embrace digitalisation, but it must be balanced with a leadership approach that empowers teams to navigate the challenges of tomorrow's business environment that technology cannot always see.

Louise Mulholland
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Louise Mulholland
14 March, 2024