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Posted 6 May 2024 by
Chelsea Regan
Content Specialist

Gaining a competitive advantage: How Sanofi is harnessing the power of AI 

At our latest edition of Let’s Get Phygital, which took place in the fall in Brussels and online, Sanofi’s Leif Skibsted Jakobsen sat down for a chat with our very own Espen Lund. In their captivating conversation, the two discussed integrating artificial intelligence (AI) to gain a competitive edge, revolutionizing the pharmaceutical industry and redefining the practice of medicine. As Axon and Sanofi are set to host a session together at Garner EMEA touching on some of these very same topics next month, we wanted to revisit the discussion and share its many insights with you.

The background

Sanofi boasts 90,000 team members across more than 100 countries, according to Jakobsen, who added that the company delivers 5 billion doses of medicine and vaccines each year. In other words, said Jakobsen, “11 million people place their trust in us and our life-saving products every day.” 

In this recap of the Sanofi Customer Story session at Let’s Get Phygital, you’ll learn about how Sanofi utilizes the power of AI and digital twin technology to optimize its supply chain as it strives to help people around the globe live healthier and better lives. 

Sanofi’s Leif Skibsted Jakobsen & Bluecrux's Espen Lund at Let's Get Phygital 2023

Democratizing decisions with plai 

Among the AI-focused initiatives at Sanofi is plai, an app that’s serving as a pivotal tool in Sanofi’s toolbox in its drive toward digital transformation and data democratization. Developed in collaboration with Aily Labs, plai offers a comprehensive 360-degree view of all Sanofi activities by aggregating internal and external data. More than just a data visualization tool, it provides actionable insights, such as risk predictions, root-cause analysis and recommended actions, all within an intuitive digital interface. Available to every Sanofi employee, not just leaders, plai exemplifies the concept of “snackable AI”—easy to use and accessible, bringing decision intelligence directly into the hands of those who need it. 

plai’s impact within Sanofi is significant. Starting from humble beginnings with a limited dataset, the platform now processes 1 billion data points regularly, generating 3 million insights monthly. These insights are utilized by 22,000 daily users across the company. plai.supply is specifically designed for supply chain professionals at Sanofi, helping to ensure the reliable delivery of medicines. It marks a shift from a reactive to a proactive approach, predicting 80% of low inventory risks and correlating data to suggest root causes and recommend actions. 

One of the standout features of plai is its role-specific customization. For instance, when a supply chain employee logs into the app, they are presented with a comprehensive overview of potential inventory risks, filtered by region, market or product, depending on their role. The app not only forecasts inventory shortages but also provides AI-generated root causes and recommended actions. These might include issues with material suppliers, manufacturing delays or spikes in customer demand. By offering such detailed insights and proactive solutions, plai effectively enables Sanofi employees to mitigate risks and manage operations more efficiently, exemplifying the transformative power of AI in modern business practices. 

“Before plai, we would most often get to know when it was too late to do anything about it. We were in a reactive mode,” said Jakobsen. “We understood the root causes only by looking in the rear-view mirror. Today, with plai, we are forward-looking.” 

The quest for more visibility  

Sanofi’s journey toward achieving greater visibility in its intricate supply chain network is a testament to the complexities of modern global operations. Managing a network as vast as Sanofi’s is far from trivial. With 59 manufacturing plants and over 200 contract manufacturers, the task of tracking production alone is daunting. Adding to this complexity, Sanofi operates more than 120 distribution centers, utilizes 6,000 different transportation routes and manages 13,000 product references. Such a sprawling network inevitably leads to a multitude of variations and complexities, making the mapping of lead times from suppliers through manufacturing, distribution—and ultimately to customers and patients—an intricate task. 

Complicating matters further is the historical legacy of Sanofi’s IT infrastructure. The company operates across at least 10 different ERP systems. As materials and products move across these varied systems, inconsistencies arise, such as different IDs for materials or suppliers and changes in product or batch numbers from one system to another.  

“I would argue that even if we hired an army of people it would never be possible for humans to map that out end to end; it’s simply too complicated,” said Jakobsen. “This is where the Bluecrux Axon solution comes in handy.” 

Transformation with a digital supply chain twin 

Sanofi’s approach to confronting the increasing frequency and impact of global disruptions—such as pandemics, wars, inflation and supply shortages—reflects a strategic shift in its supply chain management. Recognizing these challenges, Sanofi embarked on a radical transformation two years ago, aiming to evolve into a “smart supply chain” capable of delivering scientific breakthroughs to patients efficiently. This new supply chain is characterized by heightened agility and resilience, enabling the company to navigate and respond to disruptions while ensuring a steady supply of products. The vision is to establish an end-to-end connected supply chain, from supplier to patient, that is data-driven and digitally accelerated.  

The core of this transformation is the development of a digital supply chain twin with Axon. This tool harnesses raw data from ERP systems, including transactional and master data, to identify patterns and connections, even among products not uniformly represented across systems. Through iterative collaboration with business experts, the tool refines its findings, ensuring accuracy and relevance. Business experts play a crucial role in validating and adjusting the tool’s outputs, ensuring that the algorithms and parameters are precisely tuned to reflect the realities of the supply chain. 

The impact of this digital twin on Sanofi’s supply chain management is profound. With just a few iterations and minimal business expert involvement, Sanofi has achieved detailed mapping of end-to-end lead times and value streams for its products. More than just mapping, the tool provides insights into the actual lead times at each step of the supply chain, as well as the variabilities in these lead times.  

“This is super, super powerful information that we’re getting there—extremely fast and with very limited business interaction,” said Jakobsen. 

Concrete improvements & savings 

Sanofi’s integration of improved data into its plai app marks a significant step in optimizing its supply chain. By correlating this data with additional information, the platform aids in predicting risks, understanding root causes and implementing effective mitigating actions.  

This advanced data usage has led to tangible benefits in three key areas.  

  • Planning accuracy: The comparison of actual lead times with planned parameters allows Sanofi to align their system closer to reality, leading to improved results in planning outputs, which in turn optimizes supply chain performance. 
  • Inventory management: High inventory levels are costly, and by aligning safety stock levels and policies with the demonstrated lead times, Sanofi has been able to significantly reduce overall inventory. This reduction not only cuts costs but also streamlines operations.  
  • Process efficiency: The insights provided by the digital twin reveal areas in the supply chain with prolonged lead times and high variability. Targeting these areas with LEAN consultants helps optimize processes, reducing overall production cycle times and accelerating product delivery to patients. 

While Sanofi has achieved a remarkable ability to predict 80% of low inventory risks, the journey toward full mitigation of these risks is ongoing. Although the company is only half a year into this process, the progress is evident. Not only are they understanding how these systems interplay, but they are also actively realizing their value. A significant achievement in this journey has been the identification of three-digit million Euro opportunities in inventory savings.  

“We are working with product planners, with people on supply chain, people on our products and sites to turn those opportunities into real action and harvesting the value,” said Jakobsen. 

Sanofi & the power of AI

As Sanofi continues to push the boundaries of what is possible with AI in the pharmaceutical industry, it’s important to recognize that the journey has just begun. The company’s ambitious goal is to transform the practice of medicine, leveraging disruptive technologies to enhance every aspect of its operations. While the focus of Jakobsen’s presentation was on the supply chain, Sanofi’s vision encompasses the entire value chain. With a commitment from the highest levels, including the CEO, Sanofi aims to be the first pharma company fully powered by AI, equipping its people with tools and technologies for better decision-making. This journey of exploration and experimentation in AI is not just about finding the right path but also about adapting and evolving along the way. 

Sanofi’s approach to AI integration is twofold: snackable AI for everyday use and expert AI for more complex, data-intensive tasks. The concept of snackable AI, exemplified by the plai platform, is crucial, as it brings AI’s power to all employees, enabling them to make more informed decisions in their daily tasks. This democratization of data and decision-making is a key element in Sanofi’s transformation. By making AI accessible and easy to use, Sanofi is enhancing its operational efficiency while empowering its workforce to contribute meaningfully to the company’s evolution. 

To the future

Looking ahead, Sanofi is poised to build on its current achievements in supply chain management, using AI not only to predict and mitigate risks but also to recommend effective actions. The digital twin developed with Axon offers a comprehensive view from patient to supplier, improving planning accuracy, optimizing inventory and reducing cycle times. As Sanofi explores more advanced applications like stress testing the supply chain for disruptions, optimizing distribution networks for efficiency and sustainability and adopting dynamic safety stock policies through probabilistic analysis, the foundation laid by current AI initiatives will be instrumental. The future holds immense potential for AI to revolutionize not just Sanofi’s operations but also the broader pharmaceutical industry, leading to more efficient, responsive and patient-centric healthcare solutions. 

Are you interested in learning more about the Sanofi Customer Story? Don’t miss the Axon and Sanofi presentation at Gartner EMEA! Curious to learn more now? Contact us today.