Real-Time Information across the Pharma Supply Chain

February 8, 2019

Tim Willis and Oliver Wack outline the role of alternative data in supply chain risk management, and the ancillary benefits that come from adopting such technology.

Tim Willis and Oliver Wack outline the role of alternative data in supply chain risk management, and the ancillary benefits that come from adopting such technology.

If you ask a pharmaceutical logistics professional to provide a list of their top concerns, be prepared for a long list. Given the industry's reliance on supply chains that stretch around the globe, logistics professionals must anticipate and respond to an assortment of threats, ranging from mundane road closures to catastrophic weather events. While the pharmaceutical sector relies heavily on cutting-edge technology in other areas of the organization, when it comes to supply chain risk management, publicly available data-including social media posts, government data, and the dark web-remain largely untapped by the industry's logistics teams.

Consequently, today's pharma logistics teams lack access to the real-time information needed to respond to breaking events that can potentially impact the safe passage of a shipment.

Analyze local conditions from afar

Real-time alerts created from publicly available data can provide critical intelligence to help minimize the impact on a pharmaceutical company's supply chain in a wide variety of scenarios, such as a major infrastructure failure; episodes of government unrest; or the occurrence of natural disaster, such as an earthquake. 

By mapping out the overall risk in a supply chain and then determining where they are exposed, pharma companies can use alternative data to close those gaps. Alternative data can be used to set 'trip wires.' When triggered, these give a strong indication of a disruptive event or a potential disruption to the supply chain. For example, the supply chain team might pay close attention to the volume and content of alerts related to the stability of a foreign government in a country where it has a production facility. This can empower them to take corrective measures and execute contingency plans in the medium term, while their peers in more reactive companies are still figuring out what is happening.

Embracing alternative data complements a pharma company's existing risk management framework by providing a more granular, real-time picture of events taking place throughout the supply chain. By integrating alternative data into existing workflows, logistics professionals improve their understanding of the threat landscape, which allows them to focus their attention on the most important news and events.

If a typhoon threatens an area where shipments normally travel, for example, a logistics team could monitor real-time alerts for the latest weather conditions thousands of miles from the office and decide whether to delay or reroute a planned shipment. Similarly, if an earthquake hits an area near a facility, by monitoring alternative data, the team could assess the impact and decide on suspending shipments temporarily or proceeding with business as usual.

Improved coordination across the enterprise

Investing in complementary technology to unlock the value of alternative data also provides pharma companies with a tool that will help align the efforts of key departments, including security, supply chain, and communications.

Pharma executives often try to tackle the same supply chain issues from different areas of responsibility. This means having limited visibility over the disparate threats to supply chains, be they related to product security, global sanctions regimes, or geo-political tensions. Their limited efforts or even abiliies to understand the complete picture has tangible implications in terms of prioritizing resources and identifying the greatest weaknesses in the supply chain.

By identifying the specific threats to a supply chain holistically, prioritizing information gathering, and disseminating risk-related real-time alerts to key stakeholders simultaneously, pharma companies can pave the way for better communication and coordination of the response to breaking events, which is critical for global companies with a distributed workforce and departments with overlapping responsibilities.

Mitigating risk in a risky world

Pharma companies capture tremendous financial benefits from elongated supply chains, but stretching a supply chain around the world comes with risk. Given the high value of the shipments and the potential for delays to result in spoilage or product theft, transporting a shipment from an overseas factory to a pharmacy or retail location depends on the logistics team's ability to select the safest, most efficient route.

Since social media is often the first destination for people to share news of breaking events, incorporating these alternative data alerts reduces the inevitable delay between the occurrence of an event and the news reports. And given the vast number of smartphones in the public domain, real-time alerts provide access to countless vantage points and perspectives, which often eclipse the breadth and depth of coverage provided by traditional news outlets. While it can't eradicate every form of risk, alternative data can make a logistic professional's list of concerns less overwhelming and easier to manage proactively.

Tim Willis is Director, Commercial Sales EMEA, at Dataminr, and Oliver Wack is Principal at Control Risks.