Launched rapidly to tackle challenges of unparalleled magnitude – namely, delivering COVID vaccines to the UK’s population of 67+ million and overseas during a global pandemic – the Vaccine Taskforce (VTF) faced a myriad of supply and logistical challenges that could only be addressed through a comprehensive data-driven Integrated Business Planning (IBP) function.
Efficio was engaged in May 2021 as an end-to-end supply chain partner with significant public sector expertise to address these challenges and custom-build an inventory-balancing Scenario Modelling Tool, optimising the VTF’s life-saving work.
The VTF (now the COVID Vaccines Unit, or CVU) was set up in April 2020 in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, bringing experts from industry, academia, and government together. Its objectives were to:
- Secure access to promising vaccine(s) for the UK population and achieve lasting immunity.
- Make provisions for the international distribution of vaccines.
- Strengthen the UK’s onshore capacity and capability in vaccine development, manufacturing, and supply chain to provide resilience to this and future pandemics.
As supply chain specialists, Efficio was engaged to help the VTF adapt its supply chain to the changing demands of the vaccine deployment programme. This involved setting up:
- An Integrated Business Planning (IBP) function: Joining the Taskforce in May 2021, Efficio helped the VTF prepare for the shift from a “push”1 to a “pull”2 supply model, which would enable the organisation to make longer-term strategic decisions.
- A Scenario Modelling Tool (SMT): Efficio identified the need for a custom-built tool that generates complex demand-supply inventory balancing scenarios, enabling the IBP’s data-driven decisions.
Efficio helped develop and implement a weekly IBP process, powered by our custom-built SMT, enabling:
- Clear stakeholder alignment on objectives and timelines within the VTF and with its suppliers and customers
- Proactive management of any opportunities and risks to the programme
- Longer-term decision making enabled by a data-driven “single source of truth” approach
Efficio’s digital, supply chain, and public sector expertise, combined with its embedding into the VTF, enabled the Taskforce to run over 600 supply and demand scenarios in 12 months to navigate a rapidly evolving COVID-19 landscape.
Key Challenges and Solutions
Transforming the VTF’s decision-making processes
While organisations typically have lengthy IBP cycles (quarterly or monthly), the VTF needed a more dynamic process suited to its unique situation: deploying an extremely high volume of an unusually small range of products with an unprecedented level of international demand amidst a global health crisis and extreme supply chain shortages, ultimately delivering the largest vaccination programme in the UK’s history.
Efficio’s deep supply chain expertise meant it was well-placed to help the VTF rapidly tackle the challenge of implementing a weekly IBP cycle that addressed:
- Strategy reviews to align on the latest Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation’s advice (JCVI), regulatory developments, and planning assumptions
- Demand reviews with each of the UK’s nations (England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland) and it’s Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories, to standardise, challenge, and validate short- to medium- term demand profiles
- Supply reviews with vaccine developers to agree on clear short-term and long-term delivery plans
- Supply-demand balancing through the Scenario Modelling Tool, modelling varying Supply Chain and inventory risks and opportunities
- Pre-executive reviews with VTF Deputy Directors to refine the outputs and propose recommendations based on scenario modelling
- Executive reviews with the VTF’s leadership team to formalise recommendations for the vaccine programme
The resulting IBP process has become the main framework for senior stakeholder agreements, with regular, transparent, and aligned communication with a streamlined decision-making process. This has brought a high level of confidence in the VTF’s work, setting it up for success to continue delivering millions of life-saving vaccines.
The Vaccine Taskforce has stood at the forefront of accelerating the development, manufacturing, and distribution of vaccines. Efficio’s subject matter expertise, digital capabilities, and on-the-ground “can-do” attitude have been key to building a sustainable data-driven IBP function and Scenario Modelling Tool. This has helped us to continue supplying the country with the vaccines they need, at scale, and at the right time.
Delivering vaccines with the right data
One of the major challenges the VTF initially faced was that different teams used different data sources, analysed them in different ways, and therefore came to different conclusions. As a part of developing the IBP process, Efficio custom-built an inventory forecasting and modelling tool for the VTF, which enables informed decisions on complex matters including:
- Deliveries: Ensuring stock comes in on time to match demand or deciding what future procurement should look like
- Expiry: Identifying supply batches that would not be used before they arrived, arming the VTF with knowledge on which deliveries could be delayed or cancelled
- Donations: Allowing the UK to respond to donation requests by identifying which deliveries we could afford to divert to other countries, whilst minimising their impact on the UK’s vaccination campaign
The tool takes a supply and a demand profile (pre-agreed with stakeholders through the IBP cycle) and balances one against the other, offering a host of capabilities:
- Detailed supply planning, isolating individual vaccine deliveries at batch level with individual expiries
- Complex demand planning, prioritising vaccines for the most vulnerable population groups
- Defining which vaccines will be used when, based on JCVI or VTF planning assumptions
- A bespoke logic aligned to the VTF’s inventory management rules
- UK-wide operational capacity restrictions
- A granular week-by-week analysis highlighting any supply or demand shortfalls and identifying whether future deliveries will be needed, years in advance
- An interactive set of dashboards which highlights any risks, which leadership may use to scrutinise the outputs
With this level of flexibility comes significant complexity. On top of this, Efficio implemented the tool in a complex government environment, navigating a plethora of cybersecurity risk assessments, and led its digital migration from BEIS to UKHSA infrastructure in 2023.
Another key to the project’s success was Efficio’s management of the SMT throughout its entire lifecycle: identifying the challenges, proposing and designing a solution, creating and testing a custom-built tool, embedding it into the VTF’s IBP cycle, using the tool to run scenarios, and refining it over time based on learnings achieved from usage. Efficio consultants both developed and used the SMT, which gave them a real understanding of the end-users’ needs and challenges.
Overall, the tool brought a significant time saving to the VTF, increasing the number of models that could be run, reducing modelling work by a minimum of 30 hours per week, and ultimately allowing for greater focus on other high-value tasks.