I recently read a fascinating Wall Street Journal article that detailed the incredible inner workings of COVID-19 vaccine mass distribution. As I learned about the complex, highly synchronized, collaborative effort, I couldn’t help but think of ASCM’s Top 10 Supply Chain Trends for 2021, developed by ASCM’s Research, Innovation and Strategy Sensing Subcommittee.
Let me highlight a few of them: One trend involves enhanced visibility by taking a more proactive approach to digital supply chain. In the coming year, our experts believe more businesses will create fully integrated, end-to-end networks. Furthermore, information-sharing and global data standardization are set to shift the focus from putting out fires to predicting them.
It’s no surprise that vaccinating the world begins with the complete integration of factory workers, ultracold freezers, data scientists, truck drivers, pilots, dry ice, health care workers — all converging simultaneously at thousands of locations. “Every one of the many and complicated links of the chain has to hold,” the Journal authors write. This will be impossible without a visionary digital approach.
Next up in the voyage: trucks that transport the vaccines to airports and distribution hubs, while keeping them at a brisk -94 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s a huge challenge, but the good news is that temperature, light exposure, location and jolting are constantly monitored. “We actually know every moment in the journey,” says Mike McDermott, president of Pfizer’s global supply chain.
Here, the corresponding ASCM trend is the continued rise the internet of things (IOT). The IOT will revolutionize supply chains by increasing visibility and real-time tracking. This will make networks more responsive and competitive in the future.
Even though Pfizer has instituted safety measures, there have already been cyberattacks aimed at the companies and organizations distributing vaccines. It’s unclear whether the goal was sabotage or theft of the refrigeration technology.
Cybersecurity is a prerequisite for survival, ASCM’s Top 10 notes. The explosion of data and data-driven organizations through artificial intelligence, blockchain and the IOT is creating much more interwoven areas of vulnerability. Supply chains must protect their networks, devices, people and programs.
Furthermore, vaccinating the world requires a simultaneous, mass distribution of saline, face masks, needles, syringes, alcohol wipes, and other supplies used during the actual administration of the shots. As Bruce Gellin, president of global immunization at Sabin Vaccine Institute, points out: “Having syringes without vaccines isn’t very helpful.” And vice-versa.
Meanwhile, delivery networks are being stretched thin by a pandemic-fueled surge in online shopping. As our trend-setters note: E-commerce is forcing companies to create new and innovative last-mile delivery solutions, such as turning retails stores into fulfilment centers or delivery vehicles into pickup points.
All of this really comes down to one thing: resilience. Whether it’s spoilage, delivery timetables, quality control or cyberattacks, successful supply chains can only support patients and customers if they are resilient.
Which brings me to number-one on the ASCM Supply Chain Trends for 2021: resilience as a key focus of risk prevention. Supply chains are complex, global and increasingly interconnected. When one part of the network is exposed, all face disruption. Take a look at the full list here. The lessons inside will help the global supply chain community keep a sharp focus on supply chain resilience to succeed in 2021 and beyond.