Digital technologies will support the supply chains for COVID-19 vaccines and medical goods

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Digital technologies will support the supply chains for COVID-19 vaccines and medical goods
Woman analyzing information from a digital management system | © gettyimages, metamorworks

 

This blog is part of a series on digital safeguards and enablers for COVID-19 vaccine delivery.

 

The coronavirus crisis has revealed the fragility of our current supply chain systems. Supply chains, which are often considered the backbone of national economies, have been forced to respond, like many other sectors, with unprecedented speed and agility to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. Governments and federal emergency management agencies are operating supply chains through degraded communication, rapidly changing needs and operating environments, and imperfect information.

No challenge will be bigger than that of delivering COVID-19 vaccines in a timely and efficient way.

Traditionally, supply chains and vaccine delivery have been organized in a linear manner, with few feedback information loops, predominantly paper-based communication and few interactions between siloed stakeholders. The latency of communications in a system like this is high, agility to respond to disruptions low, and visibility poor. Inefficiencies abound, exacerbated by information asymmetries, broker interference, and suboptimal resource allocation.
 

Source: DHL and McKinsey & Co. September 2020


COVID vaccine delivery will have to take on these monumental challenges, with a huge element of added difficulty: keeping the vaccine cold (or ultra-cold). At the core of the challenge in vaccine delivery is not only organizing the services that carry the vaccine, but rather making sure that every part of the supply chain is running like a well-oiled machine, to avoid losses throughout the system and prevent delays that could extend the pandemic or spoil vaccines due to unstable temperatures.

Luckily for us, there is a plethora of modern technologies readily available for the digital transformation of supply chains. Digital Supply Chain Management Systems (DSCMS) manage the application of digital technologies to every aspect of the supply chain. DSCMS can support the deployment of vaccines, but also set the groundwork for a new era of supply chain management, leveraging digital tools to provide end-to-end visibility, flexibility, responsiveness and agility.

The historic and massive task of COVID-19 vaccine delivery will require a transformational coordination and integration effort, which, if done correctly can lay the groundwork for the digitization and modernization of the trucking and logistics sectors. It has the potential for reshaping the face of freight logistics in the coming years. Deployment of digital solutions can universalize the adoption of GPS and temperature-tracking technologies that will improve the efficiency of trucking. This would alter the market structure of logistics sector, moving countries towards integrated supply chain services.

Having an end-to-end DSCMS offers a series of benefits that contribute to the efficiency and resilience of supply chains, more specifically:

  • Visibility: the integration of data from all stakeholders improves visibility and coordination.
  • Accuracy: the proliferation of devices that produce real-time granular data allows for accurate monitoring and interventions.
  • Responsiveness: visibility and accuracy enable responsiveness against disruptions.
  • Productivity: the availability of digital data and computational power enables the automation of processes and continuous optimization of resources.
  • Sustainability: the transition to paperless procedures and the optimal use of resources yields substantive environmental benefits.
  • Security: in coordination with cybersecurity strategies, digital technologies enable secure data-sharing and hinder tampering (counterfeiting, theft, and illegal diversion of vaccines) along the supply chain. Given the high levels of sensitive information that will be stored and shared through this system, it is essential to have  a strong cybersecurity layer protecting its integrity and confidentiality. 
  • Integrity: temperature integrity of the vaccine can be tracked in real-time to detect and rectify any issues.


How could DSCMS tools be used in vaccine delivery?

Electronic logistics management information systems can leverage mobile and cloud-based technology to capture real-time data across the entire vaccine cold chain, from the zonal store depots to the last-mile health facilities and administration. Among these digital systems, deploying a DSCMS for vaccines would connect and leverage:

  • Global, real time data on supply chain, sourcing and distribution network, such as the ONE Source, COVAX or distributer specific platforms
  • Integrated B2G connection portals, such as single window platforms, provide a single hub for necessary government transactions, expedite the country entry and customs time and provide visibility to the handling of vaccines.
  • SIM-enabled location and temperature sensor attached to cold chain equipment and warehouse monitoring (particularly important in cold and ultra-cold chain delivery)
  • Mobile applications allow cold chain handlers to report data on vaccine stocks, consumption and movement
  • Real time connection to immunization registries finally provides the final end confirmation of administration.
     

Source: World Bank

All these data sources would then be stored in a cloud server that provides web-based dashboards and data analytics for technicians, program managers, and policymakers to view the information in real time. The aggregation of data, including data from global supply chain networks would provide actionable analytics and inform decision making.

The goal of implementing and end-to-end DSCMS is a long-term multi-phase challenge, and will be the backbone of supply chain in the future. It would also need widespread coverage of secure digital connectivity that would allow these technologies to work where and when needed. But, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the pace of the digital transformation and supply chain stakeholders, and the challenge posed by vaccine delivery demands that we utilize all tools available to improve the efficiency and resilience. It will be a long process that will require multi-stakeholder coordination, but now is the perfect time to start.

With the approval of several COVID19 vaccines for use, there is light at the end of the tunnel; the use of Digital Supply Chain Management Systems can help us navigate the tunnel quickly, securely, and sustainably.

 

Related: 
Digital Development at the World Bank 
Digital Development Partnership 

This work is supported by the Digital Development Partnership, administered by the World Bank. For more information or how you can receive assistance with these topics, please contact [email protected]    

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