In 2000, six independent South Wales pharmacists joined forces to get a better deal from suppliers in order to compete effectively with the multiples. Today, Cambrian Alliance boasts around 840 members and is the third biggest buying group in the UK.
The group, based at Greenmeadow Springs in Tongwynlais, Cardiff, now represents pharmacists in Wales, England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
It has just launched an online automated guide – e-Cass – which provides members with regular updates of the best prices, based on tenders to nine different suppliers every month.
Charting the group’s progress in the past 10 years, Commercial Manager Jonathan Smith said: “At one point there was an explosion of pharmacy outlets in England. Supermarkets, for example, were able to provide prescription services outside normal hours because of 24-hour opening. This has now been stopped because it was diluting the business too much, but it resulted in a significant increase in group membership, especially in the past two years.”
Streamlining IT systems
Group membership continues to grow steadily, and it was vital for Cambrian Alliance to streamline its somewhat disjointed IT systems to become more efficient. It turned to the Welsh Government’s eBusiness Project Support team for help.
“The problem was that many components of the IT network were working in isolation. With the launch of eCass the system required a complete overhaul so that it could be co-ordinated to provide more efficient service to our members, as well enabling us to actively promote ourselves nationally,” Jonathan said.
“We had already decided to update the website, but the team undertook a complete infrastructure review, looking at the database and IT hardware, and we now have a new, future-proof Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. The next phase will be to issue our eight business managers throughout the UK with iPads.”
He added: “None of us here are IT experts; we needed somebody with broader expertise who could look at every aspect of our IT system and help us make the right choices. It is a big investment for us and we needed to think carefully about how we were going to do it. The help and advice has been invaluable, and the result is that we are now much slicker.”
Grant Wilton, of Welsh Government consultants b2b IT Services, said: “Cambrian Alliance is now a UK-wide buying group and needed to move away from disjointed, independent IT packages to boost efficiency. We conducted a complete review of their system and requirements, identifying solutions to pull together their existing IT packages, providing faster internet connection and a future-proof CRM system to serve the company as it moves forward.”