The Indian Pharma and medical supply chain has undergone a major transformation, facing challenges like unorganised last mile service providers, ill-equipped warehouse facilities, and lack of trained labour and the slow pace of digital adoption. However, during the pandemic, the Indian Pharmaceutical and healthcare supply chain has been a strong pillar in the fight against COVID-19. From life-saving medicines, vaccines, and essential neutraceuticals, to oxygen concentrates and surgical materials vital for COVID Frontline workers and doctors, the pandemic has now opened up immense opportunity for expansion of 3PL and 4PL cold supply chain for pharmaceuticals, in not only Tier-I cities but also in Tier-II cities and towns.
In the backdrop of this change, the national cold chain sector is expected to grow at over 20% CAGR by 2025, as per a recent report by JLL. Listed here are key areas where tech adoption can help overcome these challenges and rise up to meet the new demands of the world struggling with a global pandemic:
AI And Blockchain leveraging Big Data: Like all activities, planning and forecasting demand, plays a vital role in optimising supply chains. By leveraging Big data, data analytics, blockchain, and AI one can forecast demands and plan for consolidation of shipments based on special transit infrastructure requirements, location and urgency. Additionally, this data can also be used for route optimisation, to ensure the fastest and most cost-effective route can be undertaken for the shipment. By leveraging AI And Blockchain, one can digitise the documentation process, like e-bill, custom clearance etc., which otherwise can be a time consuming process, on ground. Apart from documentation, invoices and payments, customer updates, tracking etc., can all be facilitated through an app/ a web based dashboard, where the client can have complete access to their past and current shipments, can place orders for their next shipment and be abreast of the real time news and updates that may impact their transport/ logistic needs, especially during the times of a pandemic and partial lockdown.
IoT and ML: Effective digitisation of operations can help to not only cut down on time and labour but also helps drive proactive consumer engagement, build trust and drive productivity. An integrated Warehouse automation system, that utilises the best of IoT, Robotics, and ML enabled devices, can help monitor the accurate temperature controlled storage environment, drive energy optimisation and enable workers to keep stock, log arrival and departure of shipments, predict and report any probable damage and help keep the warehouse efficiently functioning, 24×7, with little human interference. ML and IoT, including Robotics, have also been leveraged for Automation of Warehouses, Driverless transportation, Drone based deliveries etc., all which can all be of vital significance for temperature controlled Pharma supply chains.
In addition to the above, the government decision of conferring infrastructure status to logistics has been one of the most important impetus for growth of the pharma and healthcare supply chain is the recent times. Apart from a lot of other benefits, this move has enabled the sector to be eligible for 100% foreign direct investment (FDI), especially in the storage and warehousing sector. While all of the above factors are key drivers for growth of the sector, largely brought about due to the global pandemic, the renewed push for manufacturing and vocal for local initiatives are going further to ensure there is a continuous impetus for growth, in the post COVID era.
(The author is Partner – Jeena & Company. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)