Looking to get a better grasp on the current state and future outlook for the pharma supply chain, experts from FourKites and Accenture conducted “The Pharmaceutical Supply Chain: Closing the Visibility Gap.” The report reveals supply-chain visibility is viewed as critical to helping stem product loss and alleviate security concerns; about one-third of those polled are not happy with the solutions their operations have in place.
“Real-time visibility is a building block for us to support a customer-centric ecosystem of health care products, supply chain solutions, and adjacent services,” said Joshua Dolan, vice president of global logistics for Cardinal Health. “We’re pulling together all of the components onto our platform for awareness of what’s happening, and it will unlock our supply chain to perpetually operate at the highest level. Visibility is allowing us to actually see — it’s really hard to collaborate when you can’t see what’s happening.”
Outsourcing-Pharma checked in with Glenn Koepke, general manager of network collaboration at FourKites. He offered insights into SC challenges, the evolution solutions offered, and what could improve the current state of things.
OSP: Could you please share some of the continuing and newly emerging supply chain challenges the pharma field has dealt with over the past several years?
GK: Product protection and chain of custody assurance continue to be a major focus and challenge, with companies losing $34 billion annually due to temperature excursions alone. While temperature requirements exist in other industries, pharmaceutical companies face very tight restrictions that limit the number of suppliers and carriers with which they can work.
Additionally, the cold-chain ecosystem has become more complex in recent years, with higher volume demand and shifting inventory models with the rise of direct-to-consumer businesses.
OSP: How did those challenges change and evolve in the months since COVID-19 arrived on the planet?
GK: The most significant change is how visible the physical supply chain has been to the consumers and patients around the world since COVID-19 first began. The challenges magnified as the global community became singularly focused on solving one problem – operations from every corner of the globe were stretched thin once suitable vaccinations were identified.
Material suppliers for PPP, vials, needles, and every component have been at full production, while transportation capacity has become scarce. The spike in demand has made it harder for pharmaceuticals to operate as pressure for all supply chain components to work in harmony mounts.
In response, companies have rushed to gain efficiencies however they can and to resolve the bottlenecks highlighted in recent months. One area of opportunity has been supply chain visibility technologies, which help logistics teams better manage their flow of goods with the ability to track shipments at the unit level, real-time ETAs, and a single platform for communication and collaboration. In addition, supply chain planners and sales teams know when inbound product and finished goods reach their respective destinations.
OSP: Why did you decide to launch this study into the pharma supply chain?
GK: We wanted to hear directly from pharma supply chain leaders to understand their needs and industry-specific challenges better. In a rapidly changing landscape - from more affordable IoT devices, direct-to-consumer models, and, most notably, COVID-19 - it’s crucial that we continue applying customer and industry insights to advance FourKites’ platform and capabilities.
OSP: Could you talk about some of the current and future concerns with the pharma SC this study pointed out?
GK: More than half of the executives surveyed identified coordination of delivery windows and security compliance as their most pressing challenge. While delivery coordination at each supply chain link poses a challenge for any company, cold-chain requirements make it all the more difficult for pharmaceutical companies. As a result, real-time ETAs are imperative.
Historically, manufacturers, carriers, and warehouses operate with disparate systems that create data silos and require emails, phone calls, and paperwork for each hand-off, which risks human error. As the report points out, end-to-end agility and transparency can prevent costly, ineffective cold chain management. While disruption is sometimes inevitable, having a single, integrated platform for real-time visibility, ETAs and automated alerts can make it easier to address.
OSP: Were there any surprising or otherwise notable findings you would like to highlight?
GK: It was somewhat surprising to learn that only 68% of pharmaceutical supply chain organizations are using serialization tracking technology. Having visibility at the unit level is critical to eliminating waste, improving security, and ensuring consumer confidence should recalls occur.
OSP: Please share how end-to-end visibility helps pharma firms and their partners deal with present and future SC challenges.
GK: End-to-end, real-time supply chain visibility plays an expansive role - especially in an industry where accurately tracking the flow of goods is critical. Whether it’s the ability to understand where third-party manufacturers are in the lifecycle or when goods have shipped, having a single-pane-of-glass view improves efficiency and security across the supply chain.
For example, having notifications and messaging embedded in the systems can significantly reduce the number of phone calls and emails employees must make. Meanwhile, security monitoring can alert when a shipment is delayed or off-route and quickly determine how to enact secure formal hand-offs in the process.
OSP: Could you please share how FourKites is poised to assist pharma firms and their partners in taking these challenges head-on?
GK: FourKites can help companies create a secure historical ledger of an order’s status throughout its time in transit by enabling stakeholders to monitor products at a highly detailed level — including tracking totes and packages, as well as a shipment’s location, status, and environmentals in real-time. Companies can then quickly and effectively communicate changes if/when they occur.
Additionally, FourKites enables:
- collaboration with suppliers, manufacturers, and distributors
- secure shipment and red zone alerts
- facility optimization through yard management
- improved planning through inbound visibility.