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Pfizer and Preactor Partner in Developing a Global Supply Chain Solution
April 2004

Pfizer Inc., the largest pharmaceutical company in the world, discovers, develops, manufactures, and markets leading prescription medicines for humans and animals and many of the world's best-known consumer brands. Its principal UK subsidiary, Pfizer Limited has its European Research and Development Headquarters at Sandwich in Kent responsible for the direct employment of approximately 3600 people. A global Pfizer aim is to provide innovative, value-added products to improve the quality of life of people around the world and help them enjoy longer, healthier, and more productive lives.

A large part of the work of Pfizer in Sandwich is the research and development of new products.  These products have to be put through stringent Clinical Trials to ensure they are safe and effective. Ensuring effective and timely delivery of supplies to the Clinic throughout all phases of clinical trial represents a major challenge to Pharmaceutical Sciences – a division of the Pfizer Research & Development organisation.  In the context of increased global pharmaceutical competition and consolidation, such pioneering and ambitious aims require equally pioneering and ambitious solutions. In Preactor, Pfizer found a partner with which to create what originally began as a Finite Capacity Scheduling (FCS) application which then subsequently evolved into what is rapidly becoming a pioneering global supply chain solution for Pharmaceutical Sciences.

In order to appreciate how far Pfizer has come, it is essential to understand how its solution originated, and subsequently developed, which in turn requires an appreciation of the sheer scale and complexities of Pfizer’s operations. In the UK alone, every day in 2002, over 2.7 million people took a Pfizer medicine, many of which originated from Pfizer, Sandwich.

It was here back in 1998, within one element of the Pharmaceutical R&D division, where the origins of the solution to provide timely clinical supplies are to be found. Within what was to become the Pharmaceutical Sciences Supply Chain, a further eight distinct but related areas are grouped into 3 general stages: the manufacture and testing of the Drug Substance (the active pharmaceutical ingredient); the manufacture of this into the appropriate dosage forms (together with the associated testing activities); and the ultimate packaging and dispatch of the finished product. Each stage is controlled by rigorous Quality Assurance (QA) regimes.

Jayne is a Business Integrator at Pfizer, Sandwich and has been involved with the Preactor project since its inception. She explains the situation at this time. “Back in 1998 we had no concept of a supply chain; indeed with the exception of the Solid Manufacturing area, we had no electronic scheduling at all; each of the eight areas operated in an autonomous fashion. Because the end product ‘miraculously’ appeared at the last stage – the Pharmacy - no one really even saw the need to have more than minimal interaction between groups.” The results were as might be expected with significant time being invested in fire fighting activities, no clear visibility of the big picture from a management perspective and sporadic visibility on a local level of how each area impacted any of the others.

At this time, a consultant was engaged to evaluate the scheduling operation in Solid Manufacturing, a heavily tailored version of MS Project, with a view to its possible use in other areas. His conclusion played a seminal role in the birth of what would begin as a united supply chain solution for Pharmaceutical Sciences in Sandwich, with potential to ultimately evolve into a global supply chain solution. While confirming the benefits Pfizer could liberate with FCS tools, he most crucially advised Pfizer to see these from an overall business perspective and to focus on implementing these at a supply chain level.

Jayne was charged with investigating the roadmap by which this might be accomplished, both in terms of identifying the conceptual challenges and then the means to make it a reality. The way that this task was carried out is now widely recognised as being a core element to the success of the project and offers important lessons from which others can learn. First, Jayne looked to involve leadership representatives from all areas involved in the business. All Senior Directors were involved in a brainstorming exercise looking at Pharmaceutical Sciences. This resulted in a common realisation at the highest levels that their business model essentially represented a siloed approach. Secondly, Jayne involved the IT department from the outset to research and select the optimum technology solution. “This resulted in a Holistic Business Improvement Programme,” explains Jayne. “Those with responsibility for both IT and business processes were working hand in hand in an informed manner on a common problem.”

However, at this stage there was no formal mandate in place from Senior Management to develop a united supply chain, neither were there any radical implementation plans. Jayne with two Senior Managers formed a working group that then linked with other key stakeholders, this time at a “hands on” and operational level. She explains the reasons for this, and the particular challenges within an environment like Pharmaceutical Sciences, Sandwich. “In most situations where a tool like Preactor is used, the prevailing culture is one of manufacturing or production. At Pfizer, the culture is predominantly creative and scientific, where the appreciation of manufacturing and production realities is not as deeply ingrained. Consequently, there is a great deal more education to be done, not just about what can be done with such a tool, but why it is beneficial to do so. This is even more acute when approaching a supply chain methodology where the critical factor is the interaction between each link of the chain.”

While this process of education was undertaken, an in-depth search for the correct tool was in progress, led by the original consultant working closely with Pfizer’s IT department. After investigating and discounting the merits of an MES system, the consultant’s appreciation of both Pfizer’s business processes and IT requirements led to a shortlist of two candidates, of which Preactor was one. Both were subjected to further rigorous scrutiny and both were found to be suitable for Pfizer’s needs. However, Preactor had several superior benefits. While being more flexible, and offering greater functionality, most important for Pfizer was its ease of use. Jayne elaborates, “In a scientific, non-manufacturing culture, the user interface on Preactor made a lot more sense, being by far the most intuitive to use. Users at all levels could understand the visual imagery of a Gantt chart, and the drag and drop functionality meant that it just felt right to use in a way people could associate with their actual business needs.”

By this stage, following the positive endorsement of the consultant, each of the eight business areas had been rolled onto MS Project. Some of these were now highly tailored but not linked to each another in any way. Discussions on how best to implement Preactor were happening at the very time that further issues arising from the use of siloed, individual schedules were becoming all too clear. Jayne again, “We were planning for Y2K using our existing technology with the aim of establishing levels that each area needed to produce to cope with any potential Y2K issues. Immediately it became obvious that everyone had their own ideas about what they might need to produce but with no awareness of how this interacted with other areas in the company and whether such targets were even possible. At a strategic level it confirmed the lack of visibility across the business as a whole. It took literally weeks to put the pieces of the puzzle together. It was at this stage when we were looking at all the possibilities that we thought, ‘wouldn’t it be great if we join it all up?’” This thought provided the basis for the next evolutionary jump, with the formation of the embryonic role of Supply Chain Co-ordinator. It also gave birth to the idea of bringing together each individual plan under the control of a single Master Plan.

The actual implementation of Preactor began in 2000 in response to a specific business need which saw Preactor rolled out to the following areas, Solid Manufacturing, Analysis, and Drug Substance. Being distinct operational business areas, this ruled out a “one configuration fits all” approach. Instead, each unit used an off-the-shelf Preactor system, locally configured to their own particular requirements. Within Pfizer this is referred to as the end of Phase 1 in its development of a global supply chain solution. In principle, a local supply chain had been recognised as very desirable and significant steps had been taken to automate the planning and scheduling capabilities of individual business areas. There was also a growing awareness of the importance to understand and manage the interaction between different areas. The role of Supply Chain Co-ordinator was still in embryonic, unofficial committee form and was still non-mandated.

Phase 2 began in July 2001 with an off-site brainstorming session involving senior representatives from both management and operational levels. The key purpose was to begin to increase the buy-in at all levels for seeing the need for a united supply chain strategy. Participants from each area were actively encouraged to outline their particular business requirements and to identify the factors that impacted on their planning and scheduling capabilities. This played a significant role in each business area becoming more aware of its place in the series of processes required for Pfizer, Sandwich to operate as a whole. It also enabled specific problems to be identified. From Jayne’s perspective, this event had a further, possibly even greater significance. “In many ways this was the official birth within Pfizer of a supply chain solution identity in that it led to the creation of the concept of the ‘Pharm Sci Supply Chain’ with its slogan, ‘Right Product, Right Place, Right Time’. This logo has now been adopted globally throughout Pfizer.”

The first steps for implementing the outcome of the brainstorming session began with the recognition that Preactor needed to be used in a much more significant way than previously had been the case. Pfizer brought in Churchill Associates who had the necessary experience with Preactor and also the ability to quickly understand the business processes with Pfizer, Sandwich itself. Over a 3 month period from September 2001, Churchill worked closely with the embryonic supply chain team and helped them begin to understand what would be required at a business process and Preactor level to develop such a supply chain. Churchill also helped roll out Preactor to the remaining business areas and established links between 6 of 8 areas. This linking strengthened the conviction that ultimately, each area would need to be linked to an overall master plan. Jayne comments on the growing symbiotic relationship between what Preactor could do, and what Pfizer needed to do. “The use of the Preactor tool evolved in step with our own understanding of what we could, and what we needed to do. In many ways, the sheer configurability of Preactor acted as a spur to our thought processes – it was only as we appreciated the scope of what the tool could do that we began to see the possibilities for own business processes.”

Phase 2 received a further considerable boost in the appointment of 2 supply chain strategists from outside the Pfizer environment. The combination of proven commercial supply chain experience and the ability to rapidly understand the unique situation within Pfizer added sizeable momentum to the drive to implement a united supply chain methodology. At the same time, an operational working group was set up with representatives of each of the eight business areas. Building on the work with Churchill Associates, the group met weekly to continue to identify what Preactor could and couldn’t do, and how this impacted the business processes of the groups as a whole.

Towards the end of 2002, the Pfizer/Preactor system had become substantially configured but the operational working group had identified key issues that needed   to be addressed at a comprehensive system level. Specifically these were in the areas of reliability and stability of the communication links. Business Implementation Manager Hugh explains, “In any supply chain situation, the chain is only as strong as the weakest link. Given the degrees of separation, both technologically and physically, between various business areas within Pharmaceutical Sciences, Sandwich, establishing robust communication links was critical. In terms of technology, Preactor had made significant increases in its own communication functionality that complemented our own ongoing IT system developments. Investment within Preactor to acquire additional resources added to our ability to now work more directly with Preactor and to access their expertise. As much of our strategy increasingly rested on Preactor, this was imperative.”

The implementation of new communication links formed the basis for the beginning of Phase 2b, which commenced in early 2003. A primary goal was to link the individual scheduling areas not just to a master planner, but also to one another. In doing so, Pfizer would have visibility over every area of the process, and awareness of how each stage interacted with the others. Adrian, one of the external supply chain Strategists brought in during Phase 2, explains why this was a watershed in the development of the united supply chain solution. “In order to achieve this level of communication, our weekly schedule meetings had to move from using Excel spreadsheets to a Gantt chart on the master plan in order to plan workflow. It became a prerequisite for any request for work to be done. This raised the fundamental trust issue – it meant everyone, from Senior Directors to Operational Manager, would have to trust Preactor for every element within the chain.” Jayne elaborates on the scale of the task. “We only had 5 people on the project, 3 from Pfizer and 2 from Preactor. It represented a significant time investment and if it wasn’t for the willingness of all concerned to go the extra mile or 10, we wouldn’t have been able to do this.”

This phase commenced in February 2003 and coincided with a growing trend towards globalisation within the Pharmaceutical industry as a whole, and also within Pfizer. This combined with the system at Sandwich beginning to deliver benefits, fuelled the recognition of the potential benefits of extending the supply chain to a global level. A further driver was the move within Pfizer to see each of its individual operations as global assets. Sandwich could therefore be called upon by other Pfizer sites, and vice versa.

Hence in summer 2003, the united supply chain project at Sandwich entered its current stage, 9.2 GTI (Global Transition Initiative). Aware of its significance in the wider Pfizer context, 9.2 GTI focussed on three primary questions. 1: What do we need to do to make using the system as a whole easier? 2: What technical resources do we need – i.e. global keys? 3: What refinement or customising of the Preactor scheduling rules will be required to meet a global Pfizer context? It was also becoming clear to the newly formed Global Working Group that the role of the Master Planner was central which would necessitate a Master Planner at each of the four global sites.

“This truly marked the beginning of the process of rolling out Preactor globally,” remarks Jayne. The Sandwich model in terms of connected solution and organic adoption of the whole concept of a united supply chain contrasted markedly with the legion of disparate point solutions in place elsewhere and an imposed drive to adopt a supply chain model in very short time frame. She continues, “This created all sorts of challenges, particularly in the area of dealing with a range of legacy systems in place globally, assessment of other potential tools within the global Pfizer toolset, and the actual site readiness of each location.” However, the weight of benefits delivered by Sandwich kept up the momentum with the Master Plan being rolled out to each area.  The enhancement and rollout project was carried out with the experience and the assistance of CRM Professional Projects.  This currently only provides a very specific level of Rough Cut Capacity planning, but crucially gives the benefit of global visibility which is accessible from each local Master Planner.

Hugh outlines some of the other key benefits of the Preactor enabled supply chain. “Each of the individual areas using Preactor benefits from the usual advantages of FCS:- optimised workflow with minimum bottlenecks; massively increased flexibility to quickly re-schedule if order requirements change at short notice, or even mid production run; the ability to run various ‘what-if?’ scenarios. When these are pulled together in a united supply chain context, the total benefits are greater than the sum of the individual parts. On a Sandwich scale, we can now monitor all areas of a supply chain but even more importantly, we now have visibility regarding the status of each link. Everyone involved knows what they are doing, but more importantly, they know why. It’s an excellent example of what can be achieved when technology and business processes, in this case Preactor and Pfizer, evolve together. And we couldn’t have got this far without Preactor. As a tool, it provides impressive functionality and configurability that you can do anything with it. As a company, they have been very good to work with – it is good to work closely with people who have such a complete and thorough understanding of a product.”

Preactor is also understandably pleased with the progress so far. Mike Novels, CEO and Managing Director comments, “It’s been a long journey for all concerned and the final destination has yet to be reached. But the process has enabled us to establish the flexibility and user friendliness of Preactor, understand the needs of the Pharmaceutical industry, and establish the additional functionality required for multi-site planning and scheduling applications in a global context”.

As for the future, 9.2 GTI continues to unfold with the vision of having each global site operating on the same model as Sandwich, then linking each local chain together to form a global chain, accessible and controllable from any Master planner. “We’ve come a million steps forward and we’ve a way to go yet,” concludes Jayne, “but together with Preactor, we will continue to develop and finally realise our vision of a fully integrated global supply chain with highly visible forecasting, planning and scheduling.”