WORLDWIDE supply chains are fast evolving into smarter, technology-driven systems to accommodate the dynamic needs of a healthcare industry in crisis, leading the charge in Australia as the largest employing industry in the country. In today’s digital marketplace, supply chains have become highly interconnected and increasingly competitive through globalisation. But COVID-19 has meant investment in supply chains has taken on a new strategic priority in Australia.

Supply chain Intelligence is a key area of focus, empowering pharma business operators to better track the entire supply chain, get real-time performance insights and full visibility, so they are in a better position to tackle today’s newfound global complexities surrounding supply chains. These systems have been strained and put to the test under the economic and logistical pressure necessary to keep our citizens safe both locally and globally, leaving supply chain investment as a priority all businesses will need to consider to enhance system intelligence so that supply chains continue to modernise in a post-COVID-19 world.

Role of supply chain intelligence in healthcare logistics
Generally speaking, the supply chain refers to the resources needed to deliver goods or services to a customer. Managing the supply chain in healthcare is typically a complex and fragmented process, and the unanticipated advent of COVID-19 brought with it increasing competition, rising costs, tighter government regulations, and demand for a higher quality of service; placing healthcare providers under enormous pressure. Logistics is the gateway for pharmaceutical companies to bring their products to a global marketplace with minimal risk.

Given the diversified locations, mergers, multiple information systems and changing organizational structures across the globe, supply chain leaders in healthcare and pharma need to optimize supply usage throughout the enterprise. The real value-add lies in innovation – a strong technology-backed supply chain can provide deeper, better insights into transportation, including temperature control and cost optimization, ensuring ample stability even in the face of unexpected volume spikes.

Complete visibility and real-time tracking will be game-changers
Products, such as vaccines, biopharmaceuticals and cell therapies, need to be transported under stringent environmental conditions where temperature, humidity, light exposure and other variables are tightly controlled. Tracking and monitoring the ingredients from supplier to factory, time and the location, to deliver reliable data and a clear line of sight at every stage is critical. This level of visibility and tracking are the top areas which can really help supply chain leaders – and therefore, healthcare and pharma providers – to identify efficiencies and gaps and tie that into their operational success.

Historical data can allow supply chain providers to deploy optimal packaging designs and utilize cold storage facilities during transportation, while real-time data analysis can flag specific shipments where intervention is required immediately to save a product. For instance, FedEx supports its customers with the ability to utilise end-to-end tracking technologies which generate extensive data and continuous visibility on biopharmaceutical shipments. One example is the SenseAware system, a FedEx innovation, that monitors temperature, humidity, light exposure, shock events, and other environmental factors that can impact supply chain integrity. The combined multi-sensor device can gather, send and monitor data, enabling a comprehensive array of real-time tracking. Customers have a clear line of sight at every stage and identify and solve potential risks along a complex supply chain.

FedEx supports clinical trial projects by providing greater transparency throughout the supply chain. It will not only make the customers’ life easier but also elevate their business and help them connect to a larger network worldwide. Furthermore, automation will only improve with time, as automated tracking systems help to reduce the need for manual inventory management and considerably reduce drug wastage due to expiration and spoilage, since facility personnel can be proactively alerted to the status of products in storage. With inventory data digitized, healthcare facilities can work faster, and with added accuracy, better meet accreditation and government regulation requirements to meet urgent deadlines.

Big data will be central to predicting and mitigating risk
Data and artificial intelligence (AI) will play key roles in supply chain management and will empower business operators to conduct real-time data analysis. Modern-day Supply Chain Intelligence is digitally driven and can better help companies slash costs and increase customer satisfaction by combining data and analytics to draw out patterns and predict the future.

Supply chain management technologies will enhance operational and transactional efficiencies in manufacturing, sourcing, and distribution. SCI technologies can integrate business intelligence with data from SCM systems, providing strategic information to decision-makers. By harnessing data and innovating with technology, manufacturers and their logistics providers can further customize solutions and effectively close the shortage gaps.

Predictive analytics can assist in identifying patterns and gaps, and suggest efficiencies, revenue opportunities, potential problems or competitive advantages. Real-time data can be processed by manufacturers and their supply chain vendors through descriptive analytics to reveal operations patterns. Companies can forecast how their supply chain may evolve and develop risk-mitigation strategies to pre-emptively fix identified weaknesses.

Logistics can drive the development of healthcare supply chain
The future of the healthcare industry is one that is global and borderless. The unprecedented biopharmaceutical boom is calling for the adoption of new technologies and higher quality cold chain services for Australia to remain self-sustaining, but also a globally leading market. With innovative solutions such as “Smart” medical inventory cabinets and sensor-based technologies, FedEx, a logistics industry leader for healthcare and other specialty shipments, continues to identify innovative ways to provide the consideration required to secure the supply chain. Accurate forecasting, faster response times, ability to recognize shipping patterns to plan for risk, saving on costs, in addition to running a low-to-zero waste operation will be key parameters for the industry to measure business efficiencies, supplemented by effective supply chain intelligence. As we begin to enter a post-COVID-19 world, logistics companies must continue to enhance their solutions and remain focused on innovation to aid compliance and cost optimization for their customers in the healthcare industry to be safely equipped for crises now, and to come.

Peter Langley is the vice president of FedEx Express, Australasia

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