Article: Managing global pharma storage in 2021 and beyond

By Paula Pulsoni

Virtual working to cut complexity – from audit to distribution

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many pharma businesses are re-evaluating their supply chains. There is an accelerating trend towards increasing the number of localized depots over a larger global footprint. It’s a sound strategy for boosting resilience, but it also increases the complexity of managing storage and distribution.

At the same time, many of us are returning to the office, having worked remotely for a year or more. Over that time, most organizations – World Courier included – evolved remarkably effective virtual workflows for operations that would have been considered inextricably ‘in person’ activities pre-pandemic.

While in-person interaction is on the rise, it would be a mistake to simply revert to the old ways of doing things. As many of our global storage clients are already finding, there are benefits to retaining at least some of the virtual working lessons learnt over the past year – particularly in the context of an increase in a regional depots model.

Used appropriately, remote workflows can help reduce complexity, improve cost efficiency, and nurture collaboration. Here, we look at where working virtually can remain beneficial for global pharma storage management, now and in the future.

Streamlining audits

Depot audits are an intensive process. Stringently regulated, with clear guidelines to be followed, in order, and repeated regularly. As pharma companies look to expand the number of depots in their supply networks, the time allocated to audits must correspondingly increase.

There is the time it takes to conduct the audit itself, as well as the travel either side – with all the expenses and organization that entails. It’s a significant administrative burden, likely to grow over time – but one that virtual processes can help to streamline.

Reducing travel

The headline efficiency saving for virtual audits is cutting travel. As the world moved online, World Courier began offering virtual depot tours by video call, supplemented by detailed photographs and sitemaps.

Using these technologies, our clients can rigorously assess our depots wherever they are in the world. Aside from saving on travel expenses, clients are able to cut audit times – which could be invaluable when faced with a tight turnaround.

They can also conduct multiple audits in parallel, perhaps taking two or three tours a day for better side-by-side comparisons. And tours can be attended by team members from anywhere in the world, providing extra sets of eyes, while enabling the consistency of having the same people audit every depot.

Connecting disparate teams

One of the great advantages of working remotely is the ability to better pull geographically disparate teams together. Just as virtual tours can be attended by team members anywhere, staff can take part in remote audit meetings – hosted via video conferencing – wherever they are.

This can benefit teams that continue to work somewhat remotely. But it also opens audit meetings to a larger pool of stakeholders, potentially bringing additional information, unexpected angles of enquiry, and a greater diversity of perspectives.

And as with virtual tours, remote audit meetings make it possible to send the same people every time, ensuring consistency between evaluations.

Regulations and guidelines need to be followed though to ensure compliance is met at all times and regulatory expectations are met.

Allowing for greater scrutiny

In the standard format, auditors usually review documents such as SOPs and reports on site as hard-copy or e-version documents.

In a virtual audit meeting, this presentation is viewed via screenshare, which can make documents easier to read, and includes short summaries of key processes and links to the SOPs. At World Courier, we have augmented this by sharing the files themselves using a password protected Box.com folder, accessible to auditors for the allocated audit period.

Clients can therefore review in their own time, and request additional documents if required, affording the opportunity for a more detailed assessment.

Better connected

While remote workflows can bring dispersed teams and stakeholders together, the right systems can also help to counter the risk of fragmentation – an increasing issue as pharma storage adapts to a more regional model. Each new hub or vendor introduces another silo.

If depots are disconnected, visibility of global stock can be challenging to piece together, introducing uncertainty, inefficiency, and friction into day-to-day inventory management and strategic planning.

But if the past year has taught us anything, it is that even as physical networks become more diffuse, digital pathways can reconnect them.

Consolidating vendors

One strategy many of our clients are following to overcome potential disconnects is consolidating vendors – utilizing multiple depots from a single vendor, where possible.

This approach offers two advantages. First, it can reduce the number of audits required. In our case, all 14 World Courier clinical and commercial depots are completely standardized, following the same exacting SOPs. One or two inspections are usually considered enough to assess the whole network.

Second, consolidating vendors may also consolidate inventory management and tracking systems, making it easier to obtain visibility of stock levels and locations.

Integrating systems

A complementary approach is to prioritize vendors with systems able to integrate with your own – so all your inventory data can be viewed in one place, in a familiar interface.

Our CTM Star system grants complete visibility of inventory in all World Courier depots, including transport tracking, if applicable. It operates as a standalone portal, but can also be configured to feed data directly into our clients’ own systems.

If other vendors’ systems do the same – or if World Courier acts as your only storage and shipping vendor – you can achieve a complete, real-time, global picture of your inventory with a single sign-on.

With this high level of integration, even the most dispersed pharma supply chains can be made cohesive.

Moving forward

Going forward, it’s unlikely many of us will choose to remain 100% remote. But it’s also unlikely we will return wholesale to the way we did things before – and nor should we. As the complexity of global pharma storage networks (and their management) increases, we can apply the virtual working lessons we have all learned by now to help us navigate that complexity.

Some of our virtual processes existed already. CTM Star pre-dates the pandemic, part of our commitment to using data to enhance transparency and extend customer visibility. But the end-to-end global storage workflow we developed – including virtual audits – was intended as a temporary measure.

However, it’s rapidly becoming clear that remote processes needn’t be viewed solely as substitutes for the ‘real thing’. Instead, they can enhance and augment traditional methods, stepping in where the context demands it. And when the need arises, they can be used as wholesale alternatives.
The future of global pharma storage management will likely be a blend of in-person and virtual. And we are proud to offer the option of both.

Find out how World Courier can integrate your global transport, storage, and distribution. Discover our global storage solutions today.

About the Author

Paula Pulsoni

Senior Director, Clinical Supply Solutions
World Courier
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