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Migration without side effects

Zuellig Pharma – fit for the future.

During this time when the quality and resilience of healthcare systems is more important than ever, Zuellig Pharma has transformed and strengthened its data and analytics systems for full transparency and better support of patient care. Based on some of the largest computing and database platforms available, Zuellig now provides hospitals and suppliers with a real-time view into the status of pharmaceutical products in some 350,000 medical facilities across Southeast Asia.

To serve all of Zuellig Pharma’s core business, T-Systems has built the largest SAP HANA installation ever on Microsoft Azure. The result is that Zuellig, one of Asia’s leading healthcare providers, is setting a new standard for an entire region’s healthcare system. 

Zuellig Pharma is on a mission to make healthcare more accessible to all. As one of the largest healthcare service groups in Asia, they provide world-class distribution, digital and commercial services to support the growing healthcare needs in the region. Founded almost 100 years ago, Zuellig Pharma today serves the top 20 pharmaceutical companies in the world. With more than 13,000 employees, the group currently looks after more than 350,000 medical facilities and generated sales of 14 billion US dollars last year, as it serves the needs of more than 1,000 international customers across 13 markets in Southeast Asia. 

Driving Reach, Reliability and Speed 

Zuellig Pharma not only wants to keep pace with the market’s growth, but also wants to drive it. According to Maikel Kuijpers, Corporate CIO & Senior Vice President, Operations, “In line with our Group’s credo of ’doing the right things right,’ we wanted to strengthen the entire healthcare industry in the region and develop new opportunities for more comprehensive healthcare throughout Asia-Pacific.” To make it happen, Zuellig Pharma recognized early on that “we needed new digital infrastructure to give our solutions the reach, reliability and speed so we could work with our customers to help more patients.”

One of the first steps in the transformation was the modernization of the core business systems, including warehouse management, customer relationship management (CRM) and other functions. Given Zuellig Pharma’s extensive network, the company decided to move to a public cloud to provide the required scalability and flexibility. At the same time, Maikel Kuijpers and his team wanted to migrate to SAP HANA – which represented more than just a database migration. Zuellig’s business applications and existing cloud setup also needed to be updated to take advantage of the new HANA functionality.

Accessing Mountains of Data

The T-Systems Singapore team began investigating various components in order to prepare the infrastructure migration to the Microsoft Azure Cloud. Through this planning, the full extent of the migration quickly became clear. For example, one of the defined goals was “the highest possible availability of an installation with the capacity of 1 million SAPS.” By comparison, 1 million SAPS equal 20 million order items processed per hour, up from 2,000 items processed before. 

The sheer capacity that Zuellig Pharma needed for its daily operations required it to “move digital mountains" — in concrete terms, the data centers had to be configured with particularly powerful cloud components that could support large amounts of transaction data. The largest virtual machines offered by Microsoft were ordered to be able to access tremendous amounts of data more quickly. T-Systems used SAP HANA, with a 40-terabyte in-memory capacity, to make the required information available to the user at the touch of a button. 

“Zuellig Pharma understood right from the start how it could accelerate its transformation by moving into the public cloud while still using the same operational technology and applications,” said Arkadiusz Czopor, Managing Director of T-Systems Asia South. “As a result, the company now reaps the benefits of being a first mover and market leader in its sector while reducing its hosting costs by 40 percent.”

Data Becomes Powerful Insight

However, according to Zuellig CIO Maikel Kujpers, “data must not only be available to us in the shortest possible time, but it must also be meaningful. Too many health organizations are sitting on a gold mine of data and are ambivalent about what to do with it. The valuable and vital information becomes worthless if it is untouched and unanalyzed – keeping us theoretically rich in information but poor in applied knowledge and understanding.”

The key to this is data analysis. With the new SAP system, Zuellig Pharma can now use the faster database to transform its raw data for applications with artificial intelligence (Al) or machine-to-machine (M2M) learning. Zuellig Pharma can now do a much better job of predicting the results for many of its operations, from patient care management to logistics. Upon completing the migration process, Zuellig Pharma gained access to the broader capabilities of the SAP Business Suite on HANA, including the immediate modernization of multiple apps with real-time, data-driven insights. 

Real-Time Analysis, Same-Day Results

“We’re a distribution company with data touchpoints that range from products entering and leaving our warehouses to deliveries at pharmacies and to individual customers,” says Kuijpers. “With Azure, we can now grant our pharmaceutical customers access to that data in real time.” Prior to the move to the cloud, these data touchpoints would have been uploaded to company servers overnight and applying analytics would have waited until the next day. “Now, our customers can sign in to our system and, in an instant, they’ve got their real-time sales figures, their inventory balance, and how their sales are tracking toward their end-of-month goals,” continues Kuijpers.

To get there and relocate the existing systems from an SAP Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system, T-Systems also had to manage all the potential disruptions that could occur during such a massive migration. Not least for its suppliers, customers and the supply of medicines to hundreds of thousands of patients, Zuellig Pharma’s employees had to rely on the system functioning perfectly throughout the entire region on “Day X.” The system had to be able to handle all of the problems that could occur during such a migration. And that’s precisely what the system did – after nine months of preparation, T-Systems and Zuellig Pharma completed the production changeover in just two weekends.

Author: Thomas van Zütphen
Photos: Gettyimages

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