COVID-19 has made pharma sector sit up and notice deficiencies in their distribution chains

The COVID-19 crisis has accentuated the significance of an efficient supply chain. It has also highlighted how poor supply chain visibility can cause a negative impact on companies’ performance, loss of productivity, increase operational costs and hurt brand image. Divay Kumar, CEO and MD, O4S, a SaaS-based tech start-up, explains how crucial it is for pharma companies to strengthen their supply chains and his venture’s solutions in this sphere, in an interview with Usha Sharma

What solutions are you offering the pharma industry? How can they improve pharma companies’ supply chains?

Our company’s SaaS-based supply chain solution relies on UID serialisation right at the product manufacturing level using proprietary IoT technology. Using this UID to interact with different products, O4S helps bring warehouses, distributors, retailers, and consumers on an easy to interact, mobile app-based platform.  All of the O4S solutions are built on product serialisation powered by technologies such as Machine Learning and the Internet of Things (IoT).

MARK (Manufacturing Automation Reconciliation Kit) is our core product which integrates O4S’cloud-based random UID generator with manufacturing industrial printers. This module is the basis of allocating a unique identity to a product, registering its multiple layers of packaging BOM (bill of material) and recording of all product manufacturing details.

Supplytics helps businesses track product movement right from when it leaves a manufacturing facility, across carrying and forwarding agents, distributors, across all channels until it reaches a retailer.

Gynger is our retailer and influencer engagement platform. This solution primarily helps brands track their products across the final leg of the supply chain. The product is primarily a trade promotion app that engages retailers and influencers by incentivising them to maximise sales of original products. An additional benefit of this integration is building a supply chain resistant to infiltration by counterfeit products through improved inventory visibility and seamless flow of information across the distribution channel. Increased visibility across secondary and tertiary sales is crucial for manufacturers to plan, manage and optimise supply chains by reducing losses due to wastage and maximising the efficiency of available resources.

Original4Sure helps consumers verify their purchased products by scanning our highly secure UID using their mobile phones through a web/mobile-based application.

The pharma industry in India is facing several supply chain issues due to Covid-19, how can your solution help pharma companies to counter those issues?

As with any other distribution led model, the pharma sector supply chain has been deeply affected by COVID-19. The lack of visibility across the distribution channel has led to avoid vis-a-vis information pertaining to Inventory, dispatch and general market feedback to gauge shortage or hoarding of essential drugs. There are instances of counterfeit drugs and medical essentials flooding the market, which adds to the complexities.

Our company provides an easily deployable SaaS solution to help organisations and businesses gain visibility into their supply chains thus helping them take critical business decisions. The Track and Trace system by O4S allows companies across industries to improve visibility into their supply chain particularly during secondary sales and tertiary sales. The system additionally helps curb counterfeiting. With the ‘Track and Trace’ capability, companies can also look to resolve other challenges such as:

Real-time Visibility: Companies can get a consolidated view of consignments in real-time and in accordance with the geography. They can then leverage the information accordingly for driving important business decisions

Product Movement: With increased insights about product movement, companies can better manage their warehouses with just-in-time ordering. Through complete knowledge of the supply chain, managers can get a better idea of when orders might need to be replaced

Inventory Efficiency: At the retailers’ end, tracking would make it easy to initiate and undertake timely returns for unsold or damaged stock items. Hence, companies have an increased understanding of their inventories at a localised level

Consumer Profiling: By empowering the consumers to check the authenticity of the products, the tool actively collects consumer data and analyses it to extract actionable business insights

Will there be a rise in counterfeit medicines during COVID-19?

With the Chinese industrial shut down for much of the winter, there was a spike in prices of API globally and medicines— notably, the price of some antibiotics went up 50 per cent in February. With two of the world’s largest producers of medical supplies – China and India, unable to keep up with the global demand owing to the lockdowns enforced in the countries.

Recent reports by BBC states that companies in India are now running at 50-60 per cent of their normal capacity. The outbreak of COVID-19 has offered a world of opportunity for opportunists looking for fast cash, with high market demand for personal protection and hygiene products. In a recent crackdown led by Interpol across 90 countries, authorities have seized nearly 34000 counterfeit surgical masks, making them the most commonly sold medical product online. Moreover, law enforcement agencies have identified more than 2000 online websites/links to fake products related to COVID-19 across the globe. The operation also revealed an increase in unauthorised antiviral medications and the antimalarial chloroquine, Vitamin C, and painkillers among few of the most counterfeit products in the market in the current times.

How can pharma companies ensure streamlined operations to reduce business risks and improve supply chain efficiencies? 

When it comes to generic drugs production, India is the global market leader. However, India imports approximately 70 per cent of its Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API), along with a variety of other key ingredients from China, which itself is badly hit by COVID-19. With productions, and exports on hold to avoid further spread of the virus, getting key ingredients for essential medicines production is the biggest challenge for the pharma industry.

Though there is news of China getting open for business, still if we see the rate at which the infection is spreading one cannot rely much on other sources for raw material supplies. Fortunately, the situation is under control comparing the population size and density of the country. However, with the rapidly growing infection rate, pharma supply chains are expected to witness high scale disruption with production halts, inventory mismanagement, and counterfeit or substandard products entering the market. Industry leaders have been emphasising the importance of visibility across distribution channels and data-backed information pertaining to where, how and to whom goods are being sold. This creates a nexus effect in the downstream channel with every supply chain node being empowered to ask questions, validate and verify and connect back to the manufacturers in real-time to seek feedback. This will be the start of the connected supply chains that will enable all the stakeholders and manufacturers to closely monitor the distribution chains. Thus, ensuring that the end-user receives the right drug at the right time and the unscrupulous elements don’t use these testing times to make a quick buck and ruin lives in the process.

How does your technology bring warehouses, distributors, retailers and consumers on a common platform to optimise capabilities?

Using our proprietary IOT technology, we assign unique identity (UID) to every product at the product manufacturing level making them distinctive from one another. With the help of these UIDs, one can interact with products and track their movement across the supply chain, until it reaches its end-user. Thus, bringing warehouses, distributors, retailers, and consumers on an easy to interact, mobile/web app-based platform which helps organisations to optimise their future planning and production based on the actionable insights provided on a dashboard designed by O4S.

O4S provides an easily deployable SaaS solution helping organisations and businesses gain visibility into their supply chains to make critical business decisions. The SaaS model ensures express product deployment and an operational expense-based cost structure. The Track and Trace (UID) / Product Serialisation system by O4S allows companies across industries to improve visibility into their supply chain particularly during secondary sales (sale to a retailer) and tertiary sales (sales to consumer), which so far have been controlled by distributors.

What is your USP?

O4S’ value proposition lies in the fact that we use technologies such as Machine Learning, and the Internet of Things (IoT) to integrate into an existing ecosystem. The solution is easy to deploy (mobile app-based), incurs negligible capital expenditure (SaaS) and does not cause disruption to the existing way of functioning.

Tell us about your future plans. What are your strategies to bring those plans to fruition?

In 2019, we were able to successfully expand our geographical presence in the Middle East. By this year’s end, we aim to expand in the South-East Asian region. We are specifically excited about our engagements in the pharma sector as the COVID-19 situation has made the pharma sector sit up and notice the deficiencies in their distribution chains and visibility into the traceability – this opens up critical use cases like brand protection (not only for critical drugs but things like masks, sanitisers, COVID testing kits). This would also be a great opportunity for pharma companies focused on hospitals as an end customer to effectively engage with and bring in empowerment to validate genuine purchases and catch infiltrators in the distribution chains.


DIvay KumarO4Spharma supply chainSaaSstartupTechnologytraceability
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