Omega Pharma and BizTalk Integrate Pharmaceutical Supply Chain
Omega Pharma’s goal was to bring pharmacists, wholesalers, and pharmaceutical manufacturers closer together and improve the overall efficiency of the pharmaceutical supply chain. Using Microsoft BizTalk Server 2000, the Omega Pharma Pharmatrade supply chain integration product facilitates the exchange of data, supports interaction between heterogeneous systems, and automates the flow of information across the supply chain. With this enhanced access to information, pharmacists can offer superior services to their customers.
“By pharmacists; for pharmacists” is the motto at Omega Pharma, and that has been the strategy from the very beginning. Pharmacists Yvan Vindevogel and Marc Coucke founded Omega Pharma in 1987; their first product was a shampoo sold exclusively to pharmacies. Since then, the company’s market share has expanded rapidly to include its own product line, acquisitions, and patents. Today Omega Pharma is Belgium’s largest supplier of over-the-counter products.
Omega Pharma has begun marketing generic prescription drugs—affordable copies of health products whose patents have expired. In addition to consumer-based products, the company nowoffers products that pharmacies use in their day-to-day business, such as bulk ingredients, packaging, capsules, and even sector-specific software. With their pharmacy-specific software, Omega Pharma serves more than half of the pharmacies in Belgium.
The large number of pharmacists working with Omega Pharma software has created an extensive network that could be used to better serve customers. The company wanted to leverage this market position and lead the way to a comprehensive supply chain solution. Recognizing the benefits of increasing interaction between the pharmacist, the supplier, and the pharmaceutical manufacturer, Omega Pharma sought to develop a solution that would revolutionize the supply chain, bringing all of these participants together to form one virtual pharmaceutical marketplace. Omega Pharma called its supply chain management solution Pharmatrade.
“Many pharmacists are already placing their orders electronically through modem connections,” says Marc Coucke, Director of Omega Pharma. “They telephone each of their suppliers perhaps five to ten times a day.” The crossover for pharmacists to a new system would have to be as seamless as possible: “Pharmacists are perpetually at work trying to help their customers and offer the best service. Applying the new communication system should not detract from this effort in any way.”
Omega Pharma envisioned that Pharmatrade would have pharmacists continuously online with all of the suppliers in the virtual marketplace. Once an order was placed, they would immediately receive a confirmation that would include estimated delivery time. The pharmacists would also be able to request important product information. This higher level of supply chain management and information availability would allow pharmacists to offer better service and more precise information to their customers.
Omega Parma decided to upgrade the preexisting connection between the pharmacy and the supplier without requiring that new software be installed. The first phase of the upgrade is managed with virtually no noticeable difference to the software user, except that the pharmacist no longer needs to dial in to the supplier to place orders. This is managed by means of a specially designed component built into the version of the Omega Pharma software that pharmacists already are using.
The real challenge for Omega Pharma was to integrate a group of suppliers who were operating on different platforms. To facilitate this type of interaction, Omega Pharma turned to Microsoft BizTalk Server 2000 and Tectrade, a Microsoft Certified Solution Provider.
To make the direct connection between pharmacies, suppliers, and manufacturers a reality, BizTalk Server 2000 is installed on the supplier and manufacturer end of the system. BizTalk isan open standard for communication between businesses and makes use of the Extensible Markup Language (XML). “For the type of project we had in mind, use of open standards is critical if you want to incorporate a bunch of different businesses using your system,” says Coucke. “Other factors that have convinced us of BizTalk Server 2000’s value are its simplicity of installation and cost efficiency.”
BizTalk Server 2000 translates the online orders from the pharmacies into the format of the logistical software used by the supplier, and the opposite occurs when the information is moving from supplier to pharmacy. “This enables the orders to be placed and processed fully automatically,” says Coucke. “Up to now, a huge amount of information needed to be typed in, and it’s inevitable that there will be an occasional mistake. This will now be completely eliminated, which by itself will produce a marked improvement in efficiency throughout the entire sector. Through the direct link between the various parties, manufacturers and suppliers can easily keep the pharmacies up to date on the newest products and business developments.
“For example, if a manufacturer plans an ad campaign for a certain product, a supplier can prepare in advance for the greater demand for that product from the pharmacies and, in turn, thepharmacist can pass this greater efficiency onto their customers in the form of faster, better service.”
Further expansion of this project will offer participants even more possibilities. Currently Omega Pharma has plans to set up a virtual marketplace. “For example,” says Coucke, “when a pharmacist places an order, they can get a quick overview of which suppliers are offering a special promotion for that product. They will even be able to do this on the weekends and after hours. Manufacturers and wholesalers can offer their representatives better support with emarketing and online catalogs. Basically, the end is nowhere in sight!”
In closing, Coucke points out, “This concept is just the first step toward an amazing improvement in service in the pharmaceutical sector.”
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