Indian Pharma Digital Ambitions Hinges on Network Transformation

Image credit: iStockphoto/Gearstd

Early this year, India Prime Minister Narendra Modi proclaimed, “Now, India is ready to save humanity with two ‘Made in India’ COVID-19 vaccines.” The government had vaccinated scores of people, and momentum was gathering. It was a time for optimism.

The virus had a different mind. It raced through the densely populated country and stretched India’s medical and pharmaceutical supply chains to its limits.

In truth, COVID-19 stretched all supply chains. But unlike all other goods, inefficiencies in medical and pharmaceutical supply chains are a life-or-death matter.

The existing supply chain fragmentation due to a crowded market made it worse, said PwC in its “Global pharma looks to India: Prospects for growth” report. More than 10,000 companies now control about 70% of the market, many focusing on generics.

This sheer number of companies creates problems in planning and delivery. The same inefficiencies also stop hospitals and medical centers from receiving donated supplies. Meanwhile, counterfeit, malpractice, high dependence on China for critical active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs), slim operating margins, and regulatory control of prices make the problem worse.

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

Link matters

The digital pharmaceutical supply chain player employs an army of RPA bots to process nearly 40,000 orders daily for over 35,000 pharmacies across India within four hours.

Chandresh Dedhia, chief information officer and head of IT at Ascent Health and Wellness, feels his company’s digitalization efforts are for the public good.

“Digitalization enables better end-to-end management, including verified tracking and provenance. Currently, the Pharma Distribution in India is skewed towards smaller operators, and we have seen many new entrants with similar models where their emphasis is only on tech-enablement,” says Dedhia.

While RPA offered the company a step in the right direction, it came with its challenges. A major one was 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 very well in a LAN environment, but it's a challenge to get it to work in the WAN environment, and I have seen many projects fail because of this,” describes Dedhia.

So, Ascent Health and Wellness considered SD-WAN.

Dedhia needed “a stable and predictable link, and that won't be possible with a plain vanilla flavor of WAN connection.” He felt SD-WAN was critical to the success of RPA and would simplify costs and complexity.

“Because we can rely on the network to be highly available, the RPA implementation does not require as much in the way of fallback/retry, we can cope with the chattiness, and this simplifies the deployment,” he adds.

Hidden challenges

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

“We never realized we had any network issues until we implemented Silver Peak. We started to realize benefits from all dimensions — link improvements in speed and latency, stability of links, and overall, the business transactions were faster. That's when we realized that we had so many issues, but we didn't know about them. We always kept working on the workaround rather than identifying the foundational improvements,” explains Dedhia.

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

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

Another challenge was linking up with legacy ERP, which the company relied on to keep their orders flowing smoothly. The problem was incompatibility with “the RPA on WAN links.”

“The amount of sluggishness on a WAN link was very time consuming and also took a hit on 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 happy 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 the traffic “as high as 90%.”

Unity Orchestrator helped coordinate the overall architecture and add agility to Ascent Health and Wellness’s 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 setup saved a lot of time. It reduced processing time, increased application response time, and helped the company save on bandwidth costs.

Productivity improved, and Dedhia notes that there were “zero complaints.” He cited that good product evaluation, testing different business scenarios, and having a good partner contributed to the project's success. He also advised companies to examine 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 and then tried three more products and then again ended up evaluating Silver Peak. We selected the best vendor. We selected the right team, partner, product, use case, and metrics for success,” says Dedhia.

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

Winston Thomas is the editor-in-chief of CDOTrends, HR&DigitalTrends and DataOpsTrends. He is always curious about all things digital, including new digital business models, the widening impact of AI/ML, unproven singularity theories, proven data science success stories, lurking cybersecurity dangers, and reimagining the digital experience. You can reach him at [email protected].

Image credit: iStockphoto/Gearstd