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A guide for smart supply chain visibility

Pharmaceutical companies are facing uncertainty on a variety of fronts. To remain competitive, they must go beyond developing tamper-proof packaging and invest in tools and infrastructure to manage complex logistics while meeting high requirements for speed and reliability. While the costs of drug development is soaring, so is the risk of fraud, theft and other costly supply chain disruptions. Due to the distributed global economy, more individuals than ever are handling cargo, which increases the potential for nefarious activity.

Supply chain visibility is key to a safer pharmaceutical pipeline, but implementation is challenging. Amidst thinning margins, distributors must balance the increased pace of new drug development with evolving consumer delivery expectations and rigorous regulations. In this article, I’ll explain the pillars of a functional supply chain for those operating at the multi-regional level to a global scale.

Start small

Pharmaceutical shipments are fragile, environmentally sensitive and at high risk of theft. Rather than deploying a solution across operations, invest in the business units with the highest risk potential. For example, the most critical juncture in the supply chain is the handoff process when humans are involved. To mitigate theft, mishandling, and other errors, you can deploy smart tags and Bluetooth sensors.

These lightweight and low-cost trackers can be engineered to log a variety of environmental conditions. These include humidity, light exposure, pressure, NIST traceable temperature, motion, impact and vibration. Installed at the item or pallet level, these devices can alert operators when shipments may be damaged, stolen or need to be rerouted. There are also disposable trackers for shipments over air and sea when device retrieval is not required or possible. Trackers like these are difficult to compromise and can be synced with your data management software of choice.

While you might be unsure about integrating smart tags and sensors onto your legacy infrastructure as-is, there are a variety of providers who offer end-to-end subscription-based SaaS solutions. A SaaS solution relieves the complexity of integrating your devices with existing fleet and supply chain logistics systems and instead provides a seamless all-in-one place where your data and device management can live and operate.

Engage your fleet

Driver training is central to supply chain integrity. Drivers are at the front lines of keeping products safe by avoiding unnecessary stops and high-crime areas on their route and minimizing idle time. By investing in a centralized command center and fleet management applications you can provide real-time coaching and maintain shipment integrity across your fleet.

Continuous driver training is essential to maintaining pharmaceuticals within the correct temperature range. You can also prevent fraud and tampering at the pallet level, and receive alerts when operators are behaving suspiciously. Fleet management applications can be further integrated with advanced sensors and probes to gain a comprehensive view of shipment integrity. Shipping information, compliance history, and traceability can be leveraged to expedite claims and investigations, as well as to optimize future routes and inform training for your entire fleet.

Integrating fleet management and supply chain logistics technology decreases risk and lowers your maintenance cost via real-time insights into vehicle health. Rather than relying on drivers to self-manage details — such as confidentiality and prompt incident response — you ensure that drivers are compliant with your standards at all times.

Train your team

Amidst the rise of theft, fraud and shipment tampering, maintaining a single source of truth from the point of pack to patient is critical. However, you also need to invest in an accessible platform for easy day-to-day decision-making in the office as well as on the field.

Pharmaceuticals have a limited window of use, so it’s critical to ensure that they are disposed of and not redistributed on the black market. With a secure command platform, you can reroute damaged goods or dispose of them in an environmentally-friendly manner. You can also execute time-critical decisions to meet sudden fluctuations in demand, such as natural disasters and epidemics. With agile logistics enabled by telematics, you can easily repackage to deliver critical medications to those who need them most.

Provide adequate ramp-up periods for individuals with different skill sets so that they not only recognize the business value of IoT telematics, but can deploy these solutions with minimal oversight. Keep operators honest with regular check-ins and training. Also, replace the traditional handbook with an up-to-date web portal or mobile application to route queries and frequently asked questions. By investing in resources for your employees early on, you minimize the risk of major mistakes or miscommunication in implementing complex IoT solutions.

From a security standpoint, make sure that you set clear ground rules and expectations for BYOD and devices that operate outside of your internal networks. With IoT telematics devices and applications, you can ensure instructions outlined in your contracts are carried out. Advanced location tracking and sensor tech can immediately notify you when there is a security breach, failure to follow driver rules and instructions, or accidents and natural disasters.

Employees will have greater peace of mind with adequate avenues to mitigate daily decision-making as well as oversight to avoid breaches of data or other compromising information. While breakthroughs in sensor tech, location tracking and analytics may be able to help you contain costs, it is up to your team to realize that return.

Interest is mounting among major drug supply chain stakeholders for real-time, interoperable supply chain management solutions to identify and trace certain prescription drugs as they are distributed within the country. In addition to minimizing human error in handling, IoT telematics and supply chain logistics technology ultimately improves the line of sight for shipments in transport, allowing you to make better purchasing decisions and develop proactive plans to react to data breaches, equipment malfunction and other crises. With smart investments in IoT telematics devices, applications and infrastructure, you can easily secure shipments while delighting your customers with reliable delivery and superior service.

All IoT Agenda network contributors are responsible for the content and accuracy of their posts. Opinions are of the writers and do not necessarily convey the thoughts of IoT Agenda.

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