Mass inoculation against COVID-19 has begun in Britain, and large-scale and urgent vaccine distribution is now an imperative across the globe. Supply chain leaders will have to drive many of the critical protocols and best practices related to resourcing and distribution.
“ Final-mile requirements will especially test agility and resilience, as will the vast spectrum of novel risks that may emerge”
In short, supply chain leaders must develop streamlined, yet resilient, service centered on patient healthcare. But to achieve that, they will have to contend with vast amounts of data, insights and advisories, and deploy processes and technology solutions that can balance agility with speed and efficiency in ensuring final-mile fulfillment.
Final-mile requirements (also known as last-mile) will especially test agility and resilience, as will the vast spectrum of novel risks that may emerge, especially at a country level. These potentially include suboptimal logistics and transportation infrastructure, data communications network capabilities, security, local regulatory and trade management demands, and even local weather and temperature forecasts.
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Ensure robust but coordinated and agile supply chains
Even before COVID-19, supply chain leaders often told Gartner they were being challenged to navigate and plan in a much more open and holistic manner, especially when it came to establishing a cadence for best practices that could scale across functional domains.
“ More than ever then, supply chain process models have to be highly robust but agile enough to accommodate numerous shifting variables”
The pandemic has only added to the multiple layers of data insights generated in a dynamically changing environment, and has increased the scale, scope and volatility of information supply chain leaders receive. Data insights, opinions and news on vaccine developments seemingly change daily.
More than ever then, supply chain process models have to be highly robust but agile enough to accommodate all these shifting variables — and respond at speed to any emerging events and threats.
Global media visibility amplifies the urgency for a coordinated supply chain response in areas not previously encountered. For example, we have an extensive ethical duty to ensure that new processes conform to specific patient needs at the point of healthcare and a progressive duty of care to internal associates and stakeholders involved in delivering new service models.
Read more: 6 Key Actions to Manage Logistics and Supply Chain Disruptions
Use disruption as a catalyst to be agile
Progressive supply chain business leaders will navigate and channel disruption as a catalyst to streamline new business responses — even though those new service responses may challenge the efficacy or resiliency of practices, standards and technology solutions that have been embedded as best practice in supply chains in recent years.
“ There may not be one “best in class” standardized model of governance and testing across countries anytime soon”
In other scenarios, new service models for vaccine fulfillment could extend or append to existing best practices or technology solutions, working at a complementary, integrated or augmented level.
Ultimately, a range of responses even across emerging vaccine variants are likely, given the differing specifics of logistics and fulfillment. There may not be one “best in class” standardized model of governance and testing across countries anytime soon.
As companies begin to execute their planning and strategy across physical deployments, there will be opportunities to leverage early lessons and expertise that can translate and contribute to future phases of evolution in more responsive service models.
Our message to supply chain leaders is that with so many moving parts, remaining ultra-agile is best in class.
“ The integrity of the finished dose is obviously vital, but agility is still the critical driver of best practice in the end-to-end supply chain response”
Agility from information gathering to final mile
Many of the early concerns we’ve heard from supply chain leaders relate to the vaccine product and dosage, including stability, storage and transportation, especially given that many vaccines require ultra-low temperatures. Although the integrity of the finished dose is obviously vital, agility is still the critical driver of best practice in the end-to-end supply chain response.
The imperative for supply chain leaders is to adopt a responsive, risk-based approach to assimilate and respond to continuous streams of new data and advisories that impact the vaccine sourcing and life cycle, and the mechanisms and products needed to maintain continuity in dosage delivery to healthcare providers at global, regional and local levels.
“ With even the most advanced level of planning and foresight, supply chains will need to streamline and secure operations across vaccine life cycles”
This requires an open approach to assessing all the requirements that may impact decision making — which is why many organizations are conducting vaccine risk and readiness surveys across their supply chain networks of partners, right through to healthcare and patient groups.
Visibility, real-time communications, collaboration and digitalization are all key to supply chains being adaptive, agile and responsive enough to the new criteria, risks and requirements that new generations of vaccines present. A virtuous cycle of filtered and targeted data insights at the right place, at the right time, will also become a critical process to drive continued innovation and optimized fulfillment responses.
With even the most advanced level of planning and foresight, supply chains will need to streamline and secure operations across vaccine life cycles — from inception to patient delivery across both B2B and B2C commerce channels, with or without public-sector involvement.
Read more: Diversifying Global Supply Chains for Resilience
10 questions for supply chain strategy
As supply chain leaders prepare their vaccine distribution response, make sure to answer these 10 questions:
- Who is best placed in our supply chain to orchestrate new streamlined service models for vaccine distribution?
- Do we have a shared and unified vision of our end-to-end supply chain for vaccines — and where are the gaps and opportunities?
- How should we network and collaborate across our supply chain to ensure we can model resilient and agile processes?
- What is our role for collaboration on and influencing of protocols for compliance, regulatory and governance mandates, globally and by country?
- Can we leverage, integrate and augment across existing technology infrastructure to accelerate levels of collaboration, communications and digitalization across our supply chain networks?
- How can we streamline and translate continually updated demands and risks for vaccines into actions across existing logistics distribution and transportation practices?
- Where, what and how do data and events need to be captured to meet requirements for vaccine distribution — and at what level of distribution should this be enabled (e.g., label, package, asset, unit)?
- What are the best process and technology solutions available that can embed product integrity and security at a scalable level (including continuous temperature monitoring) across supply chain networks. especially logistics and transportation?
- Can we collaborate at a peer, industry or governmental level to expand the sourcing and distribution options of global vaccines through joint manufacturing licensing, stakeholder models, sharing of formulations and co-development partnerships?
- Can we reconfigure regional or localized manufacturing and distribution networks against criteria including product stability and storage capacity utilization, temporary manufacturing fabs or postponement strategy?
Andrew Stevens is Senior Director Analyst in the Gartner Supply Chain Technology group. He assists clients in the life sciences, medical devices and healthcare value chain to manage and plan across complex global regulatory and compliance challenges to help them minimize risk and enhance product integrity across the end-to-end supply chain.