Savvy organizations are already applying some of the past year’s lessons learned to future supply chain excellence.
Select Trusted Partners
Don’t skimp on vendor capabilities when choosing IT partners for something as complex as the vaccine cold-chain. Accept nothing less than 24/7 support, meaning proactive and reactive help to keep systems running. Resilience has shot to the top of the must-have list for business continuity. This is not so much about bouncing back from set-backs, but rather being agile enough to predict potential problems and swiftly shift gears to stay on track — regardless of the challenges, like matching uncertain vaccine supply with demand.
For example, last year SAP Mission Control Center launched a global task force to support customers with preemptive preparation around the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. No stranger to managing complex customer events such as Black Friday, SAP applications are also part of vaccine manufacturing and distribution supply chains worldwide.
“SAP has longtime expertise helping large organizations run mission critical applications in the cloud; it’s our core competence,” said Vivian Luechau-de la Roche, senior vice president and head of SAP Mission Control Center. “With the vaccine, companies have to successfully manage numerous integrated business processes with high data volumes in an intelligent manner. That is the cornerstone of our holistic Business Transformation as a Service that helps customers become intelligent enterprises.”
Luechau-de la Roche added that moving enterprise systems to the public cloud has assumed greater urgency, fueled in part by COVID-19, which has forced companies to evolve business models at breakneck speed.
Demand Integrated Supply Chain Expertise
Confirm a vendor’s willingness and ability to understand potential supply chain problems arising from infrastructure, hardware, databases, and software applications. Issues can arise anywhere — from the production line of the factory making glass vials that store vaccines to the shop floor of the vaccine manufacturer itself, in warehouse storage facilities, down to logistics companies transporting the vaccine and providers tasked with inoculations.
Can the vendor and its partners anticipate and jump in with alacrity to help solve problems, upstream or downstream, as well as with peripheral supply chain demands like diagnostic testing kits and PPE? Do they have a track record working with many organizations so they know how to troubleshoot quickly? System data, support, and expert teams need to be fully integrated to resolve issues before they cascade with larger negative impact.
“We initially identified a wide range of customers likeliest to require greater support during the vaccine roll out. We also knew if there were disruptions at any point in the supply chain, we needed to be ready to help them, whether they are a direct or indirect SAP customer,” said Holger Graf, head of SAP Mission Critical Support North America. “We brought in hardware, database, and application experts in areas including supply chain, warehouse management, and finance so we could address a particular problem and related impacts.”
This preparation paid off over the 2020 holidays, when a hospital flagged performance issues that jeopardized reporting deadlines on daily COVID-19 case numbers. The SAP task force promptly discovered it was a database problem and resolved it.
Insist on Multi-Layered Support
To minimize downtime, be certain the support team is capable of stepping in fast with an immediate temporary work-around, followed by a root cause solution. In one situation, the SAP task force quickly brought in supply chain and development team experts to holistically redesign business processes for a pharmaceutical manufacturer building a new vaccine storage warehouse that will use SAP Extended Warehouse Management. The team’s project-based recommendations and implementation support will help the customer meet urgent timelines in compliance with vaccine storage, packaging, and shipping regulations.
Test Early to Prevent Failures Later
Plan and anticipate what could go wrong down to the last mile of delivery. This includes testing system and business process performance for dramatically expanded data volumes. Early last year, SAP began working with a number of large customers that were directly involved in developing vaccines. As part of that enhanced support engagement, SAP helped manufacturers prepare systems for upcoming higher volume workloads long before the vaccine was ready.
Teamwork for Speed is Non-Negotiable
Make sure all of your support partners can work together for fast problem-solving, even with limited in-person contact. Knowledge sharing is essential, among cloud-based hyperscalers and software vendors, consulting firms, and internal IT and business contacts. Teamwork also extends to the many supply chain participants, including the manufacturers of vaccines and related equipment like glass vials and syringes, distributors, logistics, and healthcare organizations.
For example, SAP Mission Control Center task force ramped up quickly in late 2020 to support customers as soon as vaccines were approved in the U.S. and Europe.
“We were ready with dedicated resources to help customers stay ahead of anything that could impede their ability to manufacture or ship the vaccine, diagnostic kits, and other components,” said Graf. “We worked closely with SAP account teams to provide designated contact points, including regional escalation managers, and we boosted our expert engineer capacity to quickly manage an expected wave of incoming support requests.”
Long after this pandemic has receded, organizations will apply these supply chain lessons to new challenges certain to arise in an uncertain world. Indeed, SAP’s task force remains at the ready to immediately add support when organizations need it. The quick pivot has become another lasting post-pandemic business imperative.
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This story originally appeared on SAP BrandVoice on Forbes.