IT intelligence for improved supply chain speed
Posted on - wednessday, Febravary 23, 2011 By IT Mantra
Leveraging mobility and auto ID
Enterprise mobility and auto-ID technologies are the missing link between a pharma company's opera ons in real- time and its business information systems. Easy access to these technologies allows for much more functional capability on the shop floor, in the field and in the supply chain. It is generally true for all industry verticals that these technologies increase supply chain speed. It will also lead to a significant competitive advantage in the case of the pharma industry .
The pharma industry is increasingly embracing the supply chain as a competitive differentiator. Trends in the supply chain management practices and the route to market options have begun to change the way business is done. More and more pharma companies today outsource production globally, consequently, their products move through multiple layers of distribution before they are available at a pharmacy or a healthcare facility. There is intense pressure on these companies to leverage their supply chains to bring about a fast turnaround of supplies to meet market demands. This means that all stakeholders in the supply chain need to work closely to enable faster and leaner operations. Further, pharma companies need to maintain regulatory compliance throughout their operations.
From a supply chain management standpoint, following are the challenges that impact its speed:
- Integrating compliance, especially product tracking and traceability, into all manufacturing processes and distribution touch points
- Removing latency of information without disrupting operations
- Adopting best practices to accelerate product flows in the supply chain Enabling new and more efficient routes to market
- Adopting innovative practices to drive product demand
Like any other manufacturing company, a pharma company too looks to accomplish this while eliminating wastage and potential bottlenecks that can threaten its efficiency and profitability. This is where mobility and auto-ID technologies are making a difference. Mobility eliminates wastage of time hidden in its business processes -- and speeds up the entire supply chain.
Integrating compliance without slowing-down operations
The pharma industry has to adhere to specific and important mandates to ensure consumer safety, especially those related to product tracking and traceability. Counterfeiting, diversion, mishandling, mislabeling and unintended or mistaken administration of prescription drugs are major concern areas. The ability to track and trace products across all manufacturing processes and distribution touch points, right from the point-of-production to point-of-care, not only ensures product safety and security, but also supports efforts to improve productivity and profitability.
Automated track-and-trace systems, built around auto-ID technologies like bar coding and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), now ensure that products can be uniquely identified with a serialised number that serves as a `fingerprint' for only that particular bottle/package. Auto-ID technology allows instant verification for any drug, at any location in the supply chain. It also facilitates `no-touch' track and trace capabilities to support true pedigree information about drugs, and this information can be accessed by all supply chain partners. Industry experience indicates that these capabilities constitute strong barriers for potential counterfeiters to overcome.
Companies are now using these technologies to easily refine dominant industry practices to embrace compliance, without slowing down operations in the supply chain. These technologies also provide unprecedented control and efficiency for recalls, returns processing and inventory control.
Many pharma companies today rely on their enterprise systems to help them make the smartest use of effort and resources, but the process of manually entering information into the appropriate forms can be a drain on productivity. Workers--¬ whether on the shop floor, in the warehouse or on the shipping dock¬¬¬ -must interrupt the flow of work to key information into a form, or wait until they have completed an activity to update the system. Both approaches are error-prone and compromise the accuracy of the enterprise record. Also because enterprise software can be difficult and expensive to customise, many companies are often forced to adapt their processes to fit existing functionality -- jeopardising any competitive edge resulting from unique, innovative business practices.
With many companies relying on logistics service providers for physical distribution, the problem of latency acquires larger proportions on account of the varying levels of their IT savviness, and orchestrating collaboration across multiple organisations.
Rather than manually entering information into enterprise systems, with enterprise mobility solutions, workers use handheld barcode and RFID scanners to collect information and complete transactions on the spot. Rules-based guided put-away and picking enforces compliance with inventory policy and optimizes warehouse traffic. Companies would also be able to use these solutions to streamline cycle counts, WIP pulls and labeling activity with advanced functionality that supplements the existing ERP capabilities without costly modifications.
Improving delivery times
Cross-docking is a popular strategy for Third Party Logistics (3PL) providers and organisations with extensive distribution networks. The practice of immediately converting inbound deliveries to outbound shipments offers significant financial and operational advantages. Effective crossdocking requires continuous real-time visibility of shipments as they move from the factory to the end customer. Unfortunately, even with warehouse management modules supporting cross-docking installed, traditional ERP technology does not offer real-time visibility and accountability to optimise cross-docking efficiency.
Without the ability to track shipments on a real-time basis down to the level of individual bottle or package, companies can lose control over inbound and outbound materials, thereby increasing the potential for duplicate shipments, delayed shipments and other errors that can offset any gains in efficiency. This functional technology gap poses a significant challenge for 3PLs and distributors. Without tracking and tracing capabilities designed specifically for cross-docking, companies risk building up excessive inventory and incurring the administrative overhead required to receive and process `rogue' shipments.
Auto-ID technologies coupled with mobile technologies allow drivers, shipping and receiving personnel to scan inbound and outbound shipments slated for cross-docking. The handheld devices communicate directly with the tracking database in real-time via a wireless connection or, alternatively, store scanned information for batch uploads to the database at a later time. The devices also feature applications that enforce predefined receiving, delivery and cross-docking parameters designed to minimize shipping errors and subsequent returns.
Alternative routes to market
While most pharma companies rely on the traditional wholesale distribution channel, companies across the world have begun to leverage information technology to ship direct-to-pharmacy or even direct-to-patient. A direct channel gives the company more control over the inventory ¬ versus ceding inventory control to wholesale distributors --¬ while helping to reduce returns and keeping costs low. However, it also increases the administrative workload. Direct distribution requires increased real-time visibility and control across all nodes/ touch points in the supply chain, and this is again enabled by auto-ID and mobile technology capabilities.
Some of the more successful pharma companies today are using mobile technologies to overcome the limited amounts of time that physicians are willing to spend with their sales reps, enrich the interactions and drive increased prescriptions for their products. These solutions help their sales personnel perform pre-sales planning, on-the-road preparation, and post-meet follow-up activities related to a meeting with a physician.
In addition to complex planning tasks like goal setting, calendar management, route planning and researching customer issues, these solutions enable on-the-go look-ups for updated information about comparative drug efficacy, interactions, contraindications and adverse effects. Companies have also extended capabilities to perform related activities like filing in meeting summaries and expense reports using these technologies. Of late, these solutions are also helping to provide information to strengthen the personal bonding between medical representative and the physician, as well as enabling a new selling paradigm of collaborating with colleagues in real-time.