Turning supply chain data into intelligence

By Daphne Allen in Supply Chain on March 04, 2016

There’s likely more data on today’s global supply chain, but is it being put to use? 

The pharmaceutical supply chain has traditionally been a “push-driven” one, with product moving from manufacturing through wholesale to hospitals or pharmacy chains, says Jonathan Blamey, Vice President Global Solutions Design for Life Science and Healthcare, DHL Supply Chain. “There’s limited visibility—a gap in supply-chain data in this model,” he notes.

The supply chain is evolving, perhaps more toward a “pull rather than push supply chain,” Blamey continues. And there’s “interest in greater data,” such as that pertaining to “doctors and patients.”

Adds his colleague, Gary Keatings, Vice President Global Solutions Design Center of Excellence and Product Development, DHL Supply Chain: “We are moving away from a one-size-fits-all supply chain and toward agile supply for tiered levels of service.”

Technology is certainly available to help gather supply chain data. “Ever since the advent of RFID and GPS, it is possible to track product throughout the life cycle,” says Keatings. This is of particular importance to the pharmaceutical supply chain, because “as pharma becomes more business-to-consumer, we need to have control over where drugs are,” he adds.

But to utilize that technology to achieve an agile, customer-centric supply chain, companies need to better utilize the data they likely already have, Keatings explains. There’s a staggering amount of data in today’s digital universe, but only a small percentage of companies understand how to analyze it to improve their supply chains, suggests a new white paper sponsored by DHL, “The Predictive Enterprise: Where Data Science Meets Supply Chain.” (The paper is authored by Lisa Harrington, President, lharrington group LLC and Senior Research Fellow, Supply Chain Management Center, Robert H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland.) 

“Data has been available, but it hasn’t been in a format for analytics,” says Blamey.

Through data analytics, though, companies could “manage inventory more proactively and increase service levels with more granular levels of data to respond to demand,” Keatings says.

About a year ago, DHL launched Resilience 360, which essentially “pulls together a big database from multiple input sources for managing, planning, and executing supply chain decisions,” Keatings explains. “It allows you to map out the chain, from sourcing raw materials through manufacturing and distribution to the customer.”

The system takes “real-time information,” which he says could even include “disruptions like snow storms, port strikes, even volcanic eruptions,” and provides “visibility of risk.” Users can “execute response planning to avoid stock outs” by “mapping out alternative routes or tapping inventory in reserve in other locations.” To date, 25 customers are currently using Resilience 360, including one in the life sciences industry. 

DHL has seen use of data analytics in healthcare pay off before. “In the United Kingdom, DHL delivers nonmedical equipment to hospitals,” Keatings explains. “We’ve been able to help optimize deliveries flow and efficient ordering for a chain of hospitals. We’ve set control limits and warning limits for reacting quickly. We can see the whole supply chain.”  

For pharma, “we can look at the incoming supply chain, and see how supply shortages can impact manufacturing and result in any shortages,” he says. “We can take customer information and draw maps.”

For some customers, “it’s like they’re seeing this information end to end for the first time. We can identify risks and inefficiencies they didn’t even realize. To see the implications of a supplier change, we can set the length of the supply chain and the time involved, and then see how long it takes to flush out products,” Keatings says. 

Supply chain data could also include usage information to avoid sitting inventory as well as temperature to reduce risk, adds Blamey. For instance, “if you track known peaks in particular nodes, you can package appropriately,” he says. 

There are “impacts on cost and the environment,” Blamey says. “Analytics can drive an optimized inventory approach. If you compare healthcare to tech, there’s a lot of cost tied up in inventory, which can be a financial burden.

“If you’ve got great demand data, you can link it to supply data,” and then determine “time to serve, what networks should look like, and whether to move into new areas or markets,” he says.

Acknowledging that companies may have some questions about sharing data, Keatings says that “we are finding we can overcome concerns about handling data.” Thanks to “firewalls, we can maintain high amounts of data, with quality. And the data has already been shared if DHL has been used for shipping. We just add value by interpreting it.”

In addition to offering Resilience 360, DHL launched its Supply Chain Global Solution Design Center in Mumbai in December 2015. According to a DHL spokesperson, the shared-user center provides advanced data analytics and design support for the global solutions design function of DHL Supply Chain. And “in addition to being a part of the global solutions design function offering warehouse/transport and network design services, the center will also be a solution design academy for the development of new talent into the function on a global basis,” the spokesperson reports.

“We have experts to design a whole new network fit for purpose,” says Blamey. “And our engineering team can help optimize packaging.”

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