For some time now the markets, competitiveness and globalization, but above all the pandemic crisis of the last two years, have brought new challenges for companies in every sector, in relation, among other things, to cost structures, flexibility, transparency and risk management associated with operations and compliance.
In the healthcare supply chain of the future, if we consider the number of parties involved in the flows of supply and distribution chains, transparency has become an essential parameter in providing services, to satisfy the requests of patients / customers and to identify and prevent criticalities and potential problems.
Coping with these requirements means being on the right path to make the supply chains of the future true “value chains”, i.e. integrated solutions capable of improving reliability, identification of responsibilities and effectiveness in managing the flows of complex supply chains.
Implementing blockchain and artificial intelligence, supporting the adoption of “IoT” (“Internet of things”) technologies, using “ledgers“, “smart-tags” and “apps” means for clients, manufacturers and logistics players to implement technical solutions and scalable infrastructures that transform traditional infrastructures into innovative supply chains of the future in which there are both new ways of managing the dynamics of the supply and service supply chains and new potential for involvement and engagement of end users.
Transparency and collaboration
Today a systemic vision is increasingly necessary that is able to look at and intercept the needs and requirements of the players in the supply chains, bringing operational flows closer, increasing interoperability and exponentially and pervasively increasing the information resources of professionals and final consumers.
To give a concrete example, the adoption of a digital platform of “supply chain visibility” in the production and logistics phases allows the connection of existing company management systems active in the various players present, for example the MES (Manufacturing execution system), the WMS (Warehouse management system), and the TMS (Transport management system), in favor of a more complete transparency and collaboration.
The most interesting thing is that all this information, normalized and decoded with respect to the cryptic operating and computer language, can be projected and disseminated even among end users, recipients of the products.
Let’s take a concrete example, considering the growing number of NFC-enabled devices. This technology, acronym of “Near field communication“, already incorporated in almost all smartphones and tablets (but also in industrial devices), allows the final recipients of production and distribution processes to connect in real time to the data relating to the origin of the product received, its possible certifications and the path taken through the supply chain.
Consumers then use the Internet of Things to reach the Internet of Value, gathering information on the provenance and quality of the purchased item not just at the generic level of the category or type of item, or lot, but in relation to the specific physical item, identified by a unique digital ID.
Thanks to a single element, the so-called “tag“, and thanks to a single gesture, the “tap“, in addition to effectively allowing the traceability of the individual product, a pointer is available that leads back to a large amount of archived support data on the web, in the cloud or on specific content management platforms.
Even the Data Matrix technologies (already present in the pharmaceutical sector) and conventional QR-code can adopt this option, but they are much less reliable than NFC technology.
The ability to read two-dimensional codes by the various devices mentioned depends on factors such as lighting, viewing angle and image clarity (unscored label or other damage).
The “chip“, thanks to the NFC component (but we could certainly also consider the “BLE” technology, “bluetooth low energy”), applied in the packaging production phase, becomes a protected entry point to the transaction register for the specific object for all the actors of the entire supply chain, including the final recipient, the customer / patient.
It is possible to take another step towards an even higher level of “digital health”, towards further transparency, guarantee and data integrity in the supply chain of the future.
If blockchain technology is also applied and brought into play, here is the creation of a true “value chain” and each actor in the supply chain or each end user, having defined the appropriate “read / write” privilege levels, can be authorized to view the non-editable history of the object (for example a drug pack) which suddenly becomes much more than its simple physical dimension because its entire history, from creation to the current instant, is stored and becomes available.
Think of the infinite possibilities and opportunities connected to these digital transformations in the supply chain of the future: trying to summarize, a supply chain visibility platform, together with product authentication processes through “tags”, based on blockchain technology, can provide a defense to multiple levels against the well-known risks that can occur in the management of production, supply and supply chains, primarily counterfeiting.
To try to break down the serious impact of illegal production and distribution chains and mitigate the problem of counterfeiting that has always been present, a decentralized supply chain that uses blockchain technology stands out as a suitable network for establishing effective countermeasures at the same time on a global and local scale.
The mix of unique identifier and blockchain is also ideal for tackling the plague of counterfeiting by virtue of its ability to create uniquely identifiable identities for all objects.
Using this combination, in the supply chain of the future it is possible to create a solid link between the physical object and its digital life, its “digital twin“, with the added value determined by the absolute transparency and trust in the authenticity of the goods and in the integrity of information.
For the benefit of all stakeholders
Returning to the point of view of the end user, the patient / client, thanks to a simple application for reading the unique identifiers (be they NFC, Beacon, QR-code, Data matrix) to be installed on your smartphone, it would be possible to have immediate information on the product purchased, on its characteristics, on the supply chain traveled, while increasing the efficiency and reliability of the logistics players themselves in managing supply chain flows.
With such a significant number and with such heterogeneous characteristics of stakeholders involved in production and distribution chains, a supply chain visibility platform with application of artificial intelligence, machine self-learning modules and blockchain networks can certainly promote efficiency, integrity, transparency and accessibility of data within the managed network.
All this creates particular benefits and advantages for each stakeholder and in the supply chain of the future such a vision cannot be missing in digital transformation strategies that look to digital health.