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The right WMS prescription for pharmaceutical distribution

WMS

Ryan Klose, Executive General Manager of National Pharmacies, explains why the organisation chose Microlistics WMS to optimise its national distribution capabilities – pairing an approach to problem solving with a mutual commitment to technological excellence. 

The story of National Pharmacies is the story of healthcare, and getting proper healthcare to the community at large, says its Executive General Manager, Ryan Klose.

Founded in 1911 – and categorically a non-profit organisation – it is a mutual organisation where profits made through its diverse operations are returned to members in the form of benefits and discounts. 

It has been quite a success story, says Ryan. With 300,000 members and roughly 70 stores across the nation, it is also one of five wholesalers that can wholesale pharmaceuticals in Australia. It is a unique organisation insofar as it combines large-scale operational and business success with a values-oriented dedication to customer service.

“That’s why members join, because it’s a place where people can walk in and feel a part of something bigger – somewhere where their own health stories are listened to and where they’ll receive more hands-on assistance, because we have more pharmacists in our stores than competing discount pharmacies that try to lower their costs by reducing labour costs.”

Recently, National Pharmacies elected to implement Microlistics WMS to drive its principal distribution centre operation in South Australia. The facility handles a wide range of pharmaceutical products, including over the counter, prescription-only and ethical prescription medicines stored under a range of temperature, compliance, and security conditions. Other products include optical and fast-moving consumer goods, says Ryan.

“We are very pleased to have established this new partnership with Microlistics, which forms part of our broader technology transformation,” he says. “Their flexible and agile warehouse software will enable us to advance operational productivity further, continuously improve our quality services, and take advantage of emerging growth opportunities.”

WHY MICROLISTICS? 

Ryan says that a key reason National Pharmacies chose Microlistics is because its cultural values aligned with its own. “Compared to some of its competitors, when we talked to them it felt like we were talking to a family company – both in terms of the trust they were able to engender as well as that sense of deep institutional knowledge built up over many years. I could tell that their personnel mostly came from the warehousing industry, and so had the credibility of knowing how to walk the floor of a warehouse and what it actually means to deliver an outcome on the ground, notwithstanding the high-level sophistication of their technology. That credibility makes leaders like myself, who are involved in change management, more comfortable.”

But that is only half the story, Ryan says. While maintaining the ethic of a family-style company, Microlistics also offered levels of innovation – particularly with regard to maximising the use and value of data – that surpassed competing WMS options on the market. 

“Microlistics didn’t have that old ‘legacy’ mindset that a lot of other potential WMS providers still had,” Ryan says. “When dealing with other bidders for our business, they would often open up and say to us, ‘Look, to keep it simple, it’s about moving a box from A to B’. Microlistics didn’t start the conversation that way. Instead, they said it wasn’t just about moving a box from A to B, but collecting and analysing the data from that journey to deliver fresh insights into our operations. That really intrigued us. While others were telling us how their WMS fit into particular generic areas, Microlistics was much more focused on working out how their technology could be tailored to fit our unique requirements.”

Ryan says that there are so many areas where a company such as National Pharmacies needs to maintain optimal standards – including temperature controls, alarm security, and privacy considerations.

“Microlistics talked about the ability to adapt a lot of these factors to IoT technologies to gather and make best use of data collection,” he says. “Instead of recording the number of transactions – boxes moving from A to B, say – and separately making records of temperature and security considerations, Microlistics offered a granular level of analysis such that when you move a product from A to B, the actual process of that movement simultaneously records temperature and security measurements.

“It’s that emphasis on the richness of data that set Microlistics apart, and that extends to areas like workforce management – which remains a big part of our operations given the variety of products we deal in. Their WMS can really create operational and data linkages between all the aspects of our warehouse operation.” 

National Pharmacies warehouse personnel will access the WMS via Microlistics’ recently released touchscreen user interface for RF-scanners and other Android based devices.

AN INNOVATION MINDSET

Ryan is big on data and the power of machine learning to help predict trends and properly allocate healthcare products and resources across National Pharmacies’ many stores.

“Introducing machine learning into our operations was very important to us,” he says. “Being able to harness data, flag characteristics that are influential in determining how demand flows might change – and using machine learning to autonomously determine based on probabilities whether inventories need to be increased two- or three-fold in certain areas – is incredibly important in properly distributing pharmaceuticals in this day and age.” 

Microlistics impressed Ryan because it is also dedicated to realising the potential of machine learning in its warehouse systems. “They talked to us about how they were working on implementing and refining machine learning to manoeuvre pick faces to make sure they were always dynamic. This is tremendously important, because the biggest risk in any warehouse is when the pick face of where your final pick is going to come from to fill an order turns out to be empty. They were upfront in telling us that they were still developing these capabilities – but that they were committed to using data collected from previous picking procedures and integrating it with machine learning to minimise the major vulnerabilities that afflict complex warehouses such as ours.”

BETTER TECHNOLOGY, BETTER PERSONAL SERVICE

Ryan says that the implementation of Microlistics’ WMS dovetails nicely with the value National Pharmacies places on personal service. 

“We want to retain our values commitment to building relationships with our customers and members, and to double down on our consultative selling approach,” he says. “Because every one of the 15 million visitors that passes through our stores has a healthcare story, and that story is connected to a healthcare solution or product. With better automation, better data utilisation, better machine learning – all the benefits that Microlistics’ WMS brings to our distribution centre – we can be assured that we not wasting any of our pharmacists’ time and that the right products are distributed to the right place at the right time to support the individual we’re dealing with at any given moment. Our story at National Pharmacies is one of commitment to the health of our communities, and that story is comprised of every individual’s healthcare story in which we play a part. That’s ultimately what we’re all about.”

Archival Garcia, Microlistics General Manager – Commercial, says that he is proud that National Pharmacies chose Microlistics as a partner in this enterprise. “The ongoing pandemic has stressed every point in the supply chain, but pharmacies in particular are one aspect that cannot afford a drop off in product service and availability. We are absolutely invested in making sure we provide Ryan and the whole National Pharmacies team with the best possible outcomes to further their goals.”

For more information on Microlistics, click here.

For more information on National Pharmacies, click here

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