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The increasing role of digital technology in cold-chain custody

  • Posted on March 2, 2021
  • Estimated reading time 3 minutes
The increasing role of digital technology in cold-chain custody

The past year has brought several significant challenges to the health and life sciences industry and now we can add the massive movement of cold-chain dependent vaccines to the list. Ensuring a temperature-controlled journey from the source to the end user is critical to the success of the COVID-19 vaccination effort. Technology is a powerful ally that’s helping us meet this challenge.

Is mastering the supply chain worth the investment?
Cold-chain logistics has significant complexities and challenges that involve a series of processes, equipment and workforces that need to work together seamlessly and with alacrity. Avoidance of cold-chain custody failure and thus, supply chain disruption, creates a reliable and successful organization that is typically rewarded with customer loyalty and increased growth.

Accenture research shows that, on average, companies rated in the top 10% of supply chain “Masters” achieve 13% higher growth and 2.5% higher EBITDA margin than their peer group. It’s no wonder that 90% of the supply chain top 25 global companies have implemented or upgraded supply chain planning and supply chain visibility technology.

Rethink cold chains and supply chains with digital technologies
As you rethink your cold chain and supply chain, understand the wide range of IoT smart devices, their functionality and connectivity to each other. Smart, connected supply chains can use cloud and digital technologies to help their organization drive end-to-end supply chain visibility and predictability, reduce manual processing, manage inventory and ensure security.

End-to-end visibility critical for cold-chain custody
When it comes to cold-chain custody, 20% of temperature-sensitive biopharmaceuticals are estimated to be damaged during cold-chain transportation. Blockchain, cloud storage, and technology-enabled tracking and monitoring sensors provide real-time visibility into temperature changes — and an opportunity to intervene before damage is done.

Without sensors, there's no understanding of what happens to the temperature once the pharmaceutical materials leave the labs or manufacturing facilities. Organizations can use RFID or Bluetooth tagging to understand what they have and where it is. IoT throughout the supply chain can see how and when supplies are delivered. This view is critically important for vaccine shipments that need to be maintained at a certain temperature.

Technologies such as AI and IoT provide increased visibility and connectivity with tighter control of product inventories across the supply chain. This reduces loss and waste.

Use intelligent automation to address top challenge
During a recent Avanade and Microsoft webinar on supply chain and operations for life sciences and medical devices, 64.7% of respondents rated manual processes in operations as a top challenge. In this webinar, we covered supply chain automation among other technologies, highlighting that automation is not about replacing people. It’s about helping people use intelligent automation to focus on more complex tasks that need their attention and time.

In addition, manual processes tracked from different IoT connected devices with the use of AI-driven algorithms can apply predictive analytics to help people make more informed decisions and anticipate potential supply disruptions.

Understand inventory in real time
For fleet management, it’s important to be able to understand inventory in real time. Modern technology such as computer vison helps organizations understand what they have and where it’s located at anytime and anywhere. Computer vision uses visual data to understand movement in physical spaces.

For one client with dispersed stock locations, we used computer vision to design a low-cost, no-code platform in less than two weeks. The platform helps the organization see supplies virtually in real time. Now the client can view what’s available without driving to various locations only to find out what supplies are out of stock and then drive back. This has saved significant time and cost, and helped employees ensure needed supplies are stocked and available.

Improve security throughout the supply chain with blockchain
Most digital communication in the supply chain still happens via Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) and Excel spreadsheets. While both have their place, when the data in these communications needs to be distributed to multiple parties, traditional supply chain systems, which are centralized, are limited in the ability to grant independent and auditable access controls to each party.

When created properly, suppliers can securely distribute their data to others using a blockchain network. At Avanade, we use Microsoft’s cloud supply chain to help our clients protect and secure end-to-end item-level traceability, reduce cycle time and expand margins by digitizing items in a shared data structure.

More important to use digital technologies than ever before
Given the challenges we face in healthcare today, it’s essential for life sciences and medical device organizations to rethink how digital technologies can help them drive the most value from their supply chain. Now with the distribution of temperature-sensitive vaccines and other much needed healthcare supplies, the stakes are higher than ever before.

The good news is the technology exists to rapidly provide organizations with increased visibility, tracking, predictability and security throughout the supply chain. Smart, connected supply chains that use cloud and digital technologies are helping organizations quickly transform manual systems and provide supplies, equipment and vaccines when and where they’re needed most.

Be sure to visit Avanade in health for the latest in tech innovation and contact us at Avanade Health to learn more.

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