CIO Africa: What is your sense of the current trade landscape in Africa in light of supply chain issues that arose from the pandemic and war in Ukraine?

Typically in supply chains, there are three parameters that are important: cost, reliability, and length of the supply chain, or the time it takes to connect from one market to another. During COVID-19, all three of these were affected quite significantly by air, sea, and land. Trucks were impacted because of increased restrictions; air passenger capacity basically stopped, which included a lot of cargo, causing a lot of disruption; and on the sea front, a lot of capacity was lost in China with the zero COVID-19 policy, in addition to unions in the US going on strike at Long Beach, which is the largest port servicing that market. So it’s been a difficult time. In Africa, the first major impact came from COVID-19 itself via the restrictions that were brought in by countries in terms of movement. The second came from the three modes of transport being impacted by artificial removal of supply, resulting in massive price increases. Third, now with the war in Ukraine, the basic cost of fuel, which was very low during the COVID-19 period, increased significantly. But things are improving. My view is that China is slowly normalising as global demand is falling sharply because of inflation. So even though the supply problem is not getting solved, we’re starting to see a significant normalisation of rates. What isn’t happening still is the reliability and the aspect of timeliness to reach key markets. These are both still challenges.

Many of those issues feel out of the control of African businesses. What can companies on the continent do to fortify themselves against shocks to the system?

What’s been happening is that many of the large companies who own the infrastructure, like KLM, Air France, ships, and large trucking firms, don’t really operate in Africa. They’re constantly looking for the highest value creation, so they tend to go places that either offer extremely good prices or have the capacity to do large volumes and have extremely good infrastructure that improves their efficiency. So the thing we need to do in Africa is to reduce the friction that operates within the chain. When ships come into a port in Mombasa, for instance, we need to streamline the processes so they don’t have to spend a lot of time sorting out basic processes, which is what happens today. And when a plane lands in Cape Town with cargo, how can we reduce the amount of bureaucracy that is needed? If you do that, you’ll start seeing a lot of traffic, and people will start pricing things correctly. 

Mehul Bhatt

Supply Chain, Transportation and Logistics Industry

Developed by Zuellig Pharma, eZRx is ASEAN’s largest B2B eCommerce platform for the healthcare industry – offering a smarter and more convenient way to buy and sell healthcare products online, anywhere and anytime, versus reps visiting clients face-to-face.

As COVID-19 began spreading its tentacles through Asia, Zuellig Pharma, one of the continent’s largest healthcare services groups needed to ensure that medicines and healthcare products – from vaccines to personal protection equipment (PPEs) – were delivered in a timely and efficient manner.

Given the urgency, Zuellig Pharma could not rely on a manual system to place and process orders and returns as well as payment requests. Efficiency and effectiveness needed to be optimized further. With much of the world locked down during the pandemic, the number of touchpoints to connect with customers was also vastly reduced.

Zuellig Pharma adopted a transformative innovation to ensure that its 350,000 customers and 1,000 clients – including the world’s top 10 pharmaceutical companies – could have timely access to essential medicines and lifesaving products during this critical period.

And it happened to launch when the world needed it most.

A 24/7 lifeline

Zuellig Pharma provides distribution, digital, and commercial services in 13 markets across Asia, serving more than 350,000 medical facilities and over 1,000 clients in the region.

As COVID-19 cases escalated, the company’s B2B eCommerce platform – eZRx for healthcare practitioners, clinics, and hospitals – aptly enabled customers and sales reps to buy and sell healthcare products anytime, anywhere, without needing to meet others physically. It also reduced pricing errors and consolidated important information in a single location.

The solution is powered by SAP’s ERP Central Component (ECC), an on-premises enterprise resource planning system, along with SAP HANA data management software. With the SAP software, eZRx could integrate finance, inventor, and product data seamlessly on the web as well as on mobile devices.

Turning the tide against the pandemic

Deployed in March 2020 – the same month that the World Health Organization (WHO) declared an international pandemic – eZRx was able to ensure the smooth delivery of PPEs and other crucial medical supplies including COVID-19 vaccines, enabling healthcare professionals to do their jobs safely during this challenging time.

Through eZRx, customers could also have “full visibility of Zuellig Pharma’s product offerings and self-service, without having to wait for a pharma representative,” said Daniel Laverick, the group’s SVP, head of digital and data solutions. “Sales reps could also free up their time to focus on more meaningful tasks as well as provide customers with an omnichannel experience, enabled by e-detailing.”

In addition, the company could now safeguard compliance with international regulations with a database mapping specific customers’ product licensing restrictions. If a purchaser attempts to access any of the items via eZRx that are not market-compliant, the products are not shown.

In 2021, Zuellig Pharma was able to automate 11.6 million order lines, reducing the manual ones in half, and generating $1.2 million in annual productivity gains.

The development of a life-saving platform in the COVID-19 era earned Zuellig Pharma a 2022 SAP Innovation Award, an annual honor commemorating organizations that have used SAP products to benefit both business and society.

You can read the details behind Zuellig Pharma’s amazing accomplishment in their Innovation Awards pitch deck.

Data Management