The notion of a platform holds the key to building true end-to-end supply chains, says Roddy Martin, chief digital supply chain officer with TraceLink.
SCB: What do you mean when you use the word “platform” as a way of creating the end-to-end supply chain?
Martin: A platform is an ecosystem of networks. What is Amazon? It has an ecosystem of suppliers and customers. Think also about Uber, Lyft, and even Disney, which has theme parks, toys, movies. and all sorts of stuff. A platform requires codified integration between partners in an ecosystem.
Take life sciences and pharmaceuticals. The FDA has said that by the year 2023, every product that's regulated will be uniquely serialized, making it traceable and recallable all the way from the point at which it was made to a patient's hand. That’s an incredibly big task. But you need to know whether a product has been subjected to temperatures that are out of specifications. And you need to prevent counterfeits.
SCB: So the FDA lays down the law, then you have to come up with a process to meet that.
Martin: And what better way to do that on a platform? It connects to you all the big drug manufacturers, retailers, hospitals and your mom-and-pop pharmacy shop. You want to know that at any point in time, you can recall product. It has to be traceable all the way from the contract manufacturer to the hospital. Right now the FDA is doing some interesting pilots with a number of manufacturers and platform vendors, to demonstrate that you can recall a serialized product.
SCB: What does it take to get all of these partners on the platform?
Martin: It’s like asking you to connect with me on Facebook. If you're a pharmaceutical manufacturer and want to connect with Walgreens, you send a request via this cloud-based platform. From that point onwards, every serialized product coming out of that manufacturing plant going to that retailer is traceable through every single step of the supplier. The platform is a codified integration mechanism on the cloud that allows you to collect the data and connect these transactions.
SCB: How does that map onto the end-to-end supply chain?
Martin: Here's the incredible story. If I own a big portion of the serialization track-and-trace marketplace, and I can trace a product all the way from the manufacturer to the retail pharmacy shelf, isn't that what an end-to-end supply chain is?
SCB: So that’s the value proposition that every company has been seeking? The holy grail of supply chain is end-to-end connectivity.
Martin: Again, take Disney. All of the hotels around it are part of its ecosystem. It's less expensive to pay to be in the platform than it is to be out. For pharmaceuticals, it’s more expensive to be out of the 80-percent market share of manufacturers, retailers and pharmacies that are on the platform, because you’ve codified the way you can collaborate.
SCB: It would seem important to have as few of these platforms as possible, though.
Martin: That's an astute point. A platform is an ecosystem that's built on a cloud-based network where you have multiple internal and external parties, and you’ve codified the way they collaborate with each other. It's got intelligence.
SCB: What’s the future of platforms?
Martin: Going forward, you going to see more orchestration analytics, such as artificial intelligence, models and algorithms, on top of these platforms. These very sophisticated algorithms give you insights into what social media is saying. And you get visibility into what you can buy, where it’s going, and how you can trace it. That's a platform.
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