Is the “Technical Revolution” in the Supply Chain Worth the Investment?

By Cory Shouse, Senior Vice President of Information Technology with BioCare, Inc.

Over the last two and a half years, shortcomings in supply chain management have become incredibly apparent. From complications with transporting the COVID-19 vaccines to limited food on grocery store shelves, the general public became more aware and critical of certain gaping holes. 

While many supply chain issues have been around for quite some time, it was the dire circumstances of the pandemic that exacerbated them and brought them to light. Suddenly, the ability for companies to rapidly respond and shift course in an ever-changing landscape became necessary. 

All in all, this led to a heightened focus on digital capabilities in the supply chain, leaving executives skeptical of whether technological advancements are worth the investment. 

Technological Advancements and Their Use Cases

The technological revolution is nothing new. It’s all around us, improving our cars, household appliances, phones and more. Right now, we’re seeing that same revolution take hold of the processes behind traditional supply chain management. 

Today, one of the biggest issues in supply chain management is the overall lack of visibility. While every technological tool being developed has a unique purpose, most aim to increase visibility and reduce unseen errors. For example, radio frequency identification (RFID) solutions offer automated tracking of cargo for effective and efficient product management. This provides a more holistic look at a product’s journey from beginning to end. Additionally, artificial intelligence and bots offer ways to streamline processes and remove some of the manual workload from employees, ultimately limiting human error and creating a more data-driven, computer-automated approach. 

The Uniqueness of the Pharmaceutical Supply Chain 

The pharmaceutical supply chain faces a unique set of challenges, as it’s charged with carrying medications that often require very specific capabilities such as temperature management and location tracking. Additionally, there is a more rigorous set of regulatory requirements for the pharmaceutical supply chain – for example, the Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA) requires distributors, manufacturers, pharmacies, and hospitals to track products at a serialized level.

With this, the pharmaceutical supply chain can greatly benefit from leveraging advanced data and analytics. Traditionally, a distributor provides insights to a manufacturer through a batch electronic data interchange (EDI) feed, which allows for the electronic exchange of documents between companies with different business systems. However, with the use of advanced data and analytics, real-time information can be shared through interfaces built directly into trading partner systems, allowing real-time insights across the entire network. These types of capabilities can be used to remove information silos and create next generation supply chain control towers, which can help provide efficiency both upstream to manufacturers and downstream to customers.

In addition to real-time insights, technologies like Blockchain are helping trading partners reduce waste and improve processes by providing a decentralized ledger of transactions and movements that can be used to provide a clear look at contracts, chargebacks, pricing and more for all partners. This minimizes errors and disputes across networks and creates a trusted and secure hub for transactions.

Pros and Cons of Technological Advancements 

For the most part, technological tools and advancements are an asset to the supply chain and will lead to decreased shortages and disruptions when properly implemented. At the same time, it’s important not to view them as the be-all and end-all. 

When considering investments in new technology, evaluate all factors to ensure it’s more than chasing buzzwords and hefty promises driving the investment. No technology is going to replace consistent processes and a competent, dedicated team. Start small when integrating new technology and only commit to a tool once you’ve conducted a small proof of concept (POC). In the POC, consider how much the technology truly streamlines your workflow and allows for a more error-free environment. Additionally, consider the cost associated with the technology and whether it could trickle down to your customers.

Looking Ahead to the Future of Supply Chain Management

The technological revolution in supply chain management is here to stay. Interestingly, as more technologies emerge, it will become apparent that smaller, more agile companies are the ones with the ability to adopt and capitalize first. For example, we have a flexible model and high-touch, customer-centric approach at BioCare. This allows us to swiftly make changes to adjust to our customers’ needs. Just this year, we launched a third-party logistics (3PL) offering and a quality and regulatory consultancy service in response to customer requests. The same agility can be applied to implementing new technological tools, which would be a heavier lift for larger organizations.

Data-driven capabilities will continue to grow. Many companies developing advanced tools will integrate them directly into management systems, leading to improved ease of use and the ability to have the latest insights at the point of action.  

As we continue to see an emphasis on increased visibility and streamlined processes, the future is bright for technology adoption in supply chain management. While this kind of improvement is important across all sectors, it’s especially critical in the pharmaceutical supply chain due to its integral role in transporting and delivering potentially life-saving medications.