Recent news around vaccine progress and the prospect of vaccine distribution on the near horizon has the world buzzing. A vaccine will be the most in-demand item everywhere once it becomes available. However, when it comes to market, there will be one significant hurdle standing between the vaccine and people—distributing it at scale.
How do you get an item into the hands of everyone across the world? This will be the great logistics challenge of 2021. And, organizations, carriers and logistics companies that become a critical force in the delivery of the vaccine will all need to ensure the distribution is efficient, fast, precise and as sensitive as possible.
Leaning on advancements in technology can help support that overarching effort. It is impossible, regardless of the hours spent by organizations strategically planning and orchestrating distribution and routing, that any company can take on this effort without encountering some unexpected roadblocks and challenges. Modern digital solutions will not only help to reduce the impact of the “unexpected,” but also will lay the groundwork for more seamless distribution and delivery.
A strong chain of custody
The vaccine will be, by many regards, the most valuable item in the world and one that must reach a large ratio of the global population in order to have meaningful impact. A strong chain of custody with vaccines, while en route, is going to be vital to distribution success. For comparison’s sake, if a retailer lost track of a huge shipment of home exercise equipment, delaying orders to customers, it would be a significant headache and expense for that company – but if a shipment of thousands of vaccines got lost or delayed in the distribution process, that means thousands of people would continue to be at risk for the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19), slowing the global recovery. Chain of custody is important in any logistics situation; however, with the vaccine, a strong vs. weak chain could be the difference between entire communities being safe or at risk.
Advancements in delivery orchestration technology can ensure both security and a strong chain of custody with real-time delivery tracking and verification. The level of tracking and visibility provided by technology would enable logistics teams to see exactly where vaccine deliveries are in terms of their location and get more accurate insight into time to completion of reaching end destinations.
Additionally, there will be nothing simple about the vaccine supply chain – the closer to a destination, the greater number of different parties and fleets will be involved in the distribution process. Tracking technology helps organizations maintain more control over the entire delivery cycle, no matter how complex it may to get or how many third-party service providers are involved.
The real-time tracking also better equips organizations to handle errors in distribution before they become a larger problem that has impact down the entire supply chain. For example, if a vaccine shipment remains at a warehouse for longer than it is supposed to be there, that could have a domino effect down the supply chain, delaying fleets and drivers and, ultimately, delivery. Tracking technology would uncover that the shipment was not moved from the warehouse on time, which would alert an organization that there is a problem that needs to be solved quickly, enabling people to take action much sooner than had the problem been discovered organically.
A bird’s eye view and increased connectivity
The most challenging element for a massive logistics puzzle is not having the full picture. When approaching delivery orchestration in a manual way, even the finest logistics manager in the world cannot possibly have the perspective he or she needs to always make the best decisions. Technology adds a new layer of perspective to delivery orchestration, enabling people to make more sound choices throughout the distribution, fulfillment and delivery cycle.
The vaccine, for example, needs to be transported in cold temperatures – technology can work out, automatically, exactly which vehicles within a fleet have refrigerated interiors or capabilities and could match those vehicles automatically with vaccine shipments or last mile deliveries. It could also orchestrate deliveries so that they are arriving in tandem with a nurse to facilitate the shots. Pairing specific nurses with deliveries and matching specific vehicles with vaccine shipments all adds to the complexity of the vaccine distribution ecosystem, but it’s nothing technology cannot handle. Manually working out additional layers and components of the distribution process would not only be a resource drain but might also lead to large-scale mistakes and inaccuracies.
Apart from the visibility, technology also connects drivers, patients and healthcare workers seamlessly, and ensures connectivity between drivers and the home office. The connectivity the technology provides goes beyond merely connecting people involved, it also connects and centralizes logistics data within an organization, giving them more flexibility and agility while ensuring data security and privacy.
Technology also optimizes routing in real-time for drivers, ensuring they are taking the most efficient routes. But, efficient routing is not the only way to pick up speed in the delivery cycle – technology considers bandwidth and vehicle capacity before it assigns drivers, ensuring that drivers are neither over nor underutilized, helping to improve capacity. Automatic order batching and optimization as well as artificial intelligence (AI)-powered delivery timing prediction are two key technology features that can streamline delivery capacity, especially when demands overburdens capacity. It enables organizations to reduce the number of resources needed per delivery and creates more availability within a fleet to accommodate for peak demand. Technology also has the capability to automatically connect organizations to third-party fleets that can actually handle the logistics requirements, eliminating miscommunication or misunderstanding on that aspect of the delivery cycle. When all resources are being used most effectively, that adds to the bottom line across the entire supply chain. Nuances like this are difficult to see with the human eye – it requires the bird’s eye view from technology and connectivity to make processes the most effective they can be.
Humans will ultimately power vaccine distribution, but they will need the aid of modern digital tools to be successful and make the best decisions. Worldwide vaccine distribution in such a short timeframe is simply not possible if cutting-edge technologies are not a core part of the foundation in that effort.