Industry Innovation: Turning Supply Chains into Hot Spots for Meaningful Change

When companies talk about innovation, they look at new ways to make their products, services, processes, and operations more competitive. But every once in a while, an idea transforms how an entire industry runs, opens up a new business sector, and makes people’s lives safer, healthier, and happier.

Industry innovation has been a fascinating topic over the last few years. It’s impossible to ignore how companies create new offerings and experiences that dramatically shift how an industry – or in some cases, multiple industries – operates and how people live. Such groundbreaking changes are usually built with an appreciation of existing data and technologies and through a desire to do things better in terms of product safety, supply chain optimization, and business finances.

I’ve been very fortunate to experience the power of such industry innovation through the Customer Innovation & Maintenance team as part of the Customer Solution Support & Innovation organization at SAP. For years, we have worked with various organizations to navigate existing crises, address emerging challenges, and deliver new opportunities for the world. In this article, I will discuss three of our latest projects.

Saving People’s Lives by Reducing Counterfeit Drugs

One prime example of our efforts is tackling a global menace that impacts the entire world: counterfeit pharmaceuticals. Many falsified or substandard medicines contain dangerous ingredients, such as heavy metals, highway paint, and rat poison, that worsen people’s health conditions and create new diseases. As a result, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than one million people die yearly from these snake oil cures.

For years, governments have initiated legislation and regulations to criminalize and control the production and distribution of counterfeit drugs. However, my team discovered that the lack of a rigorous, universal network makes it difficult to curtail the problem often hidden within complex supply chains and sophisticated packaging.

Based on input from SAP customers in the life sciences industry and working with SAP industry experts on this international challenge, we developed SAP Information Collaboration Hub for Life Sciences. The industry network hub enables pharmaceutical firms to share product information for traceability and verification across the supply network and with government regulators. Running on SAP Business Technology Platform (SAP BTP) and leveraging SAP Blockchain Business Services, it is the first public-cloud, industry-specific business network used by more than 45 pharmaceutical firms, over 1,500 trading partners, and 80% of COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers.

But our contribution to the fight against counterfeit drugs is far from over. We are working toward adding aid workers from organizations – such as the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders – to the hub so they can verify critical medicines and vaccines on the fly in low- to middle-income countries. This innovation is accomplished by integrating the hub into the SAP Advanced Track and Trace for Pharmaceuticals application.

Accelerating the Development of Lifesaving Therapies

Another barrier to delivering large quantities of medical therapies quickly, efficiently, and safely is the structure of the traditional clinical supply chain. During the COVID-19 pandemic, supply chain resilience was highlighted as a critical requirement for providing lifesaving vaccines, prophylactics, and therapies created through industry-wide collaboration and a patient-centric focus.

To accelerate clinical R&D and time to value, my team worked with Roche, Tenthpin, and more than 25 additional customers and vendors connected to the pharmaceutical sector. Together, we reimagined clinical supply operations and brought to life a digital transformation of the entire life sciences ecosystem by developing the SAP Intelligent Clinical Supply Management solution.

This next-generation cloud solution enables faster clinical supply cycle times, fewer inventory overages, and better-informed decision-making by providing accurate insights into forecasted demand and clinical site stock levels. It is also a milestone in the industry’s adoption of the cloud, facilitating end-to-end process operations and visibility to plan, source, manufacture, distribute, and reconcile supplies for clinical R&D. In addition, the solution helps address the blinding and randomization needs of clinical trials during the manufacturing, packaging, labeling, and shipment of clinical supplies to hospitals and clinics.

Meeting Financing Needs to Boost Growth

In addition to counterfeit drugs and the need for resilience, supply chain volatility and turbulence is providing the impetus for innovation. This reality is prompting capital investments including end-to-end due diligence and product tracing services; machines and plant setups that improve environmental impacts; and networks for finding, vetting, and onboarding new suppliers quickly.

Incorporating all these innovations into business operations – regardless of ecosystem size and geographic reach – requires money that many companies may not have immediately on hand. But to meet those finance needs, businesses and banks need to connect with each other smoothly, quickly, and securely without introducing more work and complexity to finance and treasury processes.

By delivering the SAP Multi-Bank Connectivity solution, we play a key role in increasing the reliability of relationships between companies and their banks. Built on top of SAP Business Technology Platform, the solution creates a multi-bank, digital channel between each party’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems to embed Electronic Banking Internet Communication Standard (EBICS) and SWIFT connectivity into the remote data transfer of payment transactions.

In return, treasury operations can be refined and simplified by updating payment status and cash positions in real time across business and bank ERP systems. SAP Multi-Bank Connectivity can automate manual, error-prone steps associated with the execution and reconciliation of payments, order-to-cash applications, and order entry documents – helping to increase control, efficiency, and transparency.

Helping the World Run Better – One Innovation at a Time

The news headlines running across our screens every day prove that industry innovation is far from done. Unfortunately, no person, organization, or business carries the ultimate wisdom to solve every problem single-handedly. But if industry practitioners, business and technology experts, thought leaders, and inspired problem-solvers collaborate toward a common goal, a better future can be possible for everyone.

It is this vision that guides my leadership of Customer Solution Support & Innovation. My team of experts continuously looks for opportunities to do better for our customers, business, and global neighbors. And with the feedback and knowledge shared during every interaction, we look forward to working side by side with our customers and partners to provide the digital capabilities they need to make the world a better place – today and in the future.


Andreas Heckmann is executive vice president of Product Engineering and head of Customer Solution Support and Innovation at SAP. Follow him on LinkedIn and Twitter.