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This blog aims at providing a short introduction regarding SAP Information Collaboration Hub (SAP ICH in short) including some additional technical details for e.g. architecture, scenarios etc.


SAP ICH - What it is and Why is it needed:

Counterfeit medicines are not just dangerous, in certain cases, they may even prove to be fatal. The menace of fake drugs is not limited to any one part of the world rather it impacts all, including developed countries like America and Europe. Several governments across the world have come up with regulations with a view to control production and distribution of drugs. This includes uniquely identifying products at the saleable level (i.e. drug units as sold to the end user). This unique identification of products in Pharmaceuticals industry is also known as “Serialization”.

Regulatory requirements differ across the world. Governments in different countries require varied level of controls on how to ensure only genuine drugs are produced and sold to the patients. Large pharmaceutical firms with presence in multiple countries must ensure they meet the local government regulations in all the countries they do business. Serialization requires significant commitment from the Pharmaceutical companies and several of them have one or the other software solution in place to get the job done.

However, when we look at the complete supply chain of the process it includes several parties like Marketing Authorization Holders (MAH or the company that holds the license to produce drugs), Contract Manufacturing Organization (CMO or the company that produces drugs on behalf of the MAH), 3PL (companies providing third party logistics support) and of course regulatory bodies. To ensure complete traceability from production till distribution and beyond there should be complete visibility at each step of the supply chain process. SAP Information Collaboration Hub for life sciences or SAP ICH in short is a cloud-based solution that allows pharmaceutical partners to exchange serialization information in a secure and easy manner. This includes exchange of various types of serialization data for e.g. commissioning, de-commissioning and various serialization events. Launched in Nov. 2017, SAP ICH formally known as the Pharma Network is a Public Cloud based solution offering developed and managed by SAP.


How does it work

To use SAP ICH to exchange serialization information among Pharmaceutical partners one must follow what is commonly known as the “Onboarding Process”. This usually being with the Marketing Authorization Holder (or the MAH) being onboarded to SAP ICH and the MAH then invites its partners (Contract Manufacturing Organizations – CMO or Third Part Logistics providers - 3PLs) to join the SAP ICH network. The onboarding process is assisted by the SAP ICH onboarding team that guides the customers/partners through different steps of the process.  This blog does not cover the details of the onboarding process rather it focuses is on other technical aspects of the product.

SAP ICH uses Integration Services of SAP Cloud Platform to exchange messages between a sender and receiver. SAP ICH provides various connectivity options to its customers/partners depending on their business needs and technical requirements.

  • Web App: SAP ICH provides a simplified web-based interface allowing customers/partners to define master data and exchange serialization data. In this case, all that a user needs are a computer with a standard web browser and an internet connection. The Web App provides the required functionality and allows authorized users with appropriate authorizations and roles to perform different tasks and functions.

  • B2B: SAP ICH allows a machine to machine connection if the customer/partner can connect to SAP ICH via SOAP, AS2 or SFTP. The connection setup requires TLS (formally SSL) certificates or SSH keys in case of SFTP. The partners are provided with detailed message specifications and required to send messages in predefined format.

  • TPI: SAP ICH also allows connection to various Third-Party Integrator services. This usually means that a shared connection is established between SAP ICH and Third-Party Integrator service provider which results in shorter / less complicated onboarding for the customers/partners. SAP ICH and the Third-Party Integrator exchange messages in a mutually agreed format.

As in any integration scenario, it is not uncommon that the sender and receiver “talk in different languages” i.e. they use different message formats. Not only does SAP ICH have a predefined message specification that all partners(CMOs) need to follow but SAP ICH also support some other built-in formats for e.g. SAP ATTP message formats are supported out of the box. It also provides an option for defining supplementary specification allowing customers to provide ad-hoc specifications. Customer specific mappings are developed in this scenario to support specific customer needs and requirements.

For security, SAP ICH uses both TLS (Transport Layer Security) and MLS (Message Level Security). TLS, like it’s now deprecate predecessor SSL (Secure Socket Layer protocol), aims at providing a secure communication between the client and the server. It requires the use of public private key pair and certificates issued by a CA (Certifying Authority) from a list of allowed Root CAs only. It follows what is commonly known as the SSL handshake process to establish a secure connection between the sender and the receiver. MLS or Message level security provides improved communication level security by allowing the message to be digitally signed and/or encrypted. The digital signature authenticates the business partner signing the message and ensures data integrity of the information carried by a message. Message-level encryption helps in keeping the message content confidential across the communication lines.
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