In pharmaceutics, security is a big issue, according to Ian Rosenblum, associate director for IT at Weston, Mass.-based Biogen Idec. "Counterfeit products endanger patients, but also diminish revenue," he says, noting that he's seen reports that as much as 40 percent of pharmaceutical products in developing countries may be counterfeit. "The entire industry is concerned about it, and we're starting to see global regulations aimed at preventing it."
The result is a marked increase in traceability and serialization mechanisms. Traceability at Biogen Idec involves using two-dimensional data matrix bar codes (similar to QR codes) to label packaging. While these barcodes require line of sight, Rosenblum says, they bring additional functionality: You can read each code, create a new label for the case, scan the cases, and create a label that's associated with everything on the pallet. (RFID isn't feasible, he adds, because "with biologic products, we have to make sure the RFID waves don't affect their efficacy.")
Carlos Alvarenga, global lead for operations, finance and risk at consulting firm Accenture, sees these track-and-trace capabilities being used more frequently with high-end items such as cosmetics and wine, which are more vulnerable to theft and counterfeiting. "You apply the track-and-trace seal to the bottle. You can see if the seal has been tampered with, but it also tracks where the bottle has been to determine if it deviated from its designated route. It's like a product passport that authenticates where it's been before it arrived, while at the same time ensuring that the content hasn't been compromised."
Serialization involves creating unique numbering on each unit to be sold. "The number conforms to a standard GS1 that lets you track a container from the time it's manufactured to the time it's dispensed, the same way you'd track a package," says Rosenblum. Within Biogen Idec, the supply chain team and the security team are working to implement these capabilities.
Capture data and analyze it
Even with advanced track-and-trace technologies, reducing supply chain vulnerabilities can be cumbersome, Rosenblum warns, echoing a common concern among IT executives. "You have to be able to manage the data from an IT perspective. These new serialization systems generate unique numbers, and we have to allocate them to sites that do packaging, whether we own those sites or contract with them," he explains.
"That means making changes to the printing equipment on the assembly line, making sure they're readable on the pallets, compiling the unique numbers and transferring them accurately among all the parties in supply chain," Rosenblum says. It involves systems and standards issues, training and exception handling.
Indeed, for CIOs, the challenge is not just getting the data -- it's sharing the data, analyzing the data and acting on the data.
At Ports America, Johnson's aim is to use information and analytics to drive productivity. Its ports are run as store-and-forward operations encompassing a 200-acre warehouse where containers are kept until they're loaded onto the next leg of the journey. Many times there are issues with unloading items or customs clearance.