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The Key Logistics Issues in Life Sciences

Jim Burleigh, chief executive officer of SmartTurn, talks about the challenges faced by small and medium-sized companies in a time of tight budgets, slow demand and stricter government regulations.

Any discussion of logistical challenges in the business of life sciences is likely to focus on the high-profile issues of drug counterfeiting and the tracking of controlled substances.  But the bigger concern is basic tracking and traceability, Burleigh says. Manual processes traditionally have dominated in that area, leading to mistakes in such critical areas as patient codes, lot numbers and expiration dates. It takes an "intelligent inventory-management system" to reduce those errors, Burleigh says.

There is a pressing need for new techniques that can monitor components for drug trials, surgical kits, and supplies destined for hospital stockrooms. Larger companies have made big strides in adopting the necessary technology, but small and medium-sized businesses have been less willing to spend the money. Still, intensifying government oversight of the life-sciences sector is forcing suppliers to clean up their act. The result has been a number of information systems that are geared toward smaller customers with lower IT budgets.

One solution is the emergence of software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications, which are cheaper to deploy because the systems reside in off-site servers maintained by vendors. Some companies have been slow to adopt the model out of fears over security breaches. Burleigh believes their concerns are "overblown." He points out that SaaS has proved itself in online banking, where security is critical. "Ultimately," he says, "SaaS is going to provide most of the folks who are not in a position to spend large amounts on technology with a much more secure, reliable IT infrastructure than they would otherwise be able to access."

Burleigh predicts a gradual increase in life-science inventories in the first half of 2010, as the industry begins to emerge from recession. "Orders are picking up a bit," he says. "That's going to ripple throughout the supply chain." Meanwhile, companies will have to find ways to make the necessary IT investments that will position them for market dominance when customer demand returns.

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