How digital supply chains can drive transformation and growth in health, pharma and life sciences

Insights from PwC’s 2023 Digital Trends in Supply Chain Survey

In a post-pandemic supply chain landscape dominated by higher costs and often bloated inventories, many pharma, life sciences and health services leaders need to increase efficiency, support growth and improve resiliency. However, while companies are investing in advanced technologies that promise easier interoperability and greater agility, four out of five executives in these sectors say they’re not fully achieving the results they expected, according to PwC’s 2023 Digital Trends in Supply Chain Survey.

In many instances, executives say their workforces lack the digital skills to leverage the latest technologies, while others are discovering that results are taking longer than expected. Whatever their challenges, supply chain leaders have to collaborate across the enterprise to develop longer-term, outcomes-based strategies that align their supply chain objectives with the success of their companies’ overall plans and vision.

Enable enterprise-wide collaboration to drive supply chain transformation

More than other sectors, health services and pharma executives are focused on increasing efficiency (67% versus 58% of respondents overall) and reducing costs (59% versus 54%) as top priorities. They’re also challenged by budget constraints more than other sectors (53% versus 47%). As they continue to deal with inflation and rebuild efficiencies lost during the pandemic, it’s been challenging for executives to change the focus of their supply chain investments from near-term priorities to longer-term value.

In this highly competitive and often unpredictable environment, supply chain leaders should resist focusing on short-term cost pressures and quick-fix approaches to technologies. Success requires creating an adaptable plan at the outset, one that centers on outcomes and is based on a clear picture of what success should be. Ideally, these longer-term supply chain solutions will likely result from cross-silo collaboration that integrates supply chain transformation with the enterprise’s broader transformation strategy.

What's driving supply chain digitization? chart

Keep up workforce support after go-live

As workforce shortages of recent years abate, health services and pharma executives face a landscape with new tools, options and strategies. While the latest technologies can be powerful, they usually offer few out-of-the-box benefits, requiring both time and digital upskilling to have a significant impact. In fact, some health services and pharma executives note longer-than-expected lead times to implementation for new technologies, while more than 60% say that their workforce will need retraining due to the digitalization of their supply chains.

Rather than concentrating efforts on digital upskilling, which only 8% of leaders call a top priority, some companies aim to combat inflation and drive growth through their supply chains by enhancing productivity and automating formerly manual processes. At PwC, we’ve recently helped several companies to reorganize their planning organization. In one instance, our support helped double the number of SKUs (stock keeping units) covered by each planner.

To achieve their desired transformation objectives, health services and pharma companies will need to provide workforces with proper training, support and tools, and will likely need to continue with coaching support even after the new ways of working go live. In many instances, additional recruitment can be required to cover new skill sets (e.g., in data science and advanced analytics) and supply chain functional expertise.

Upskilling and hiring plans vary

Make DSCSA an opportunity to build resilience

The Drug Supply Chain and Security Act (DSCSA), which goes into effect November 27, 2023, will place significant additional pressure on pharma businesses and their suppliers by requiring unit-level traceability for manufacturers, wholesalers, repackagers and dispensers, including retail and mail pharmacies. Companies will likely have to assign a unique product identifier (UPI) to each drug package and verify it across their supply chains — all the way through to dispensers and end consumers — with strict penalties for failing to comply.

Of greater concern is the potential business-continuity risk introduced by organizations failing to prepare for the post-DSCSA world. In our survey, a substantial majority of executives say predicting risks is a minor or major challenge for their organizations. Companies also will need to stay vigilant with regard to their partners and will likely have to amend contracts to comply with the latest data agreements and DSCSA testing commitments.

Beyond regulatory compliance, DSCSA is an opportunity for pharma companies to gain visibility into their supply chains and to develop deeper insights for better decision-making and operational resilience. Using the act as an opportunity to retire legacy systems, some companies are finding ways to leverage the DSCSA to boost their data security, customer service and sustainability.

Room to improve management of major supply chain risk

Introduce metrics to help boost urgency around sustainability

Health services and pharma leaders face an array of challenges when it comes to tracking sustainability across their supply chains. Despite the imminent arrival of more stringent ESG (environmental, social and governance) regulations and compliance requirements, three-quarters of leaders say they lack the financial support to integrate ESG concerns into their supply chains, while more than 80% cite near-term operation issues as obstacles. These considerable challenges notwithstanding, 67% feel no urgency when it comes to tracking sustainability across their supply chains.

With nearly 90% of health services and pharma leaders (versus 80% overall) telling us that their workforce lacks the digital skills for managing the latest sustainability technologies, a lack of adequately trained talent has become a significant challenge. Companies should take the time to forge a clear path forward — one that includes buy-in from leadership and clearly defined key performance indicators (KPIs) — to develop the data and digital tools required for the sustainability integration that can provide a lasting advantage.

Challenges to building a sustainable supply chain

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Contact us

Rafael Lander

Principal, Pharma Life Sciences Supply Chain, PwC US

Nick Bonny

Principal, Pharma Life Sciences Supply Chain, PwC US

Glenn Hunzinger

US Pharma and Life Sciences Leader, PwC US

Dinkar Saran

Principal, Pharma Life Sciences Operations Leader, PwC US

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