The world is buzzing with anticipation over the promise of a vaccine against COVID-19. While there’s no clear timeline for distribution just yet, it's time to be thinking seriously about how to get the vaccine across the globe early next year.
As this will possibly be the most significant logistics challenge the world has ever seen, it’s important to consider the role technology could play in making delivery and distribution of the vaccine a success. Orchestrating a global distribution of one of the most in-demand items in history is not a feat that can be accomplished manually. It will require the support of technology in order to pull off seamlessly.
Apart from the extensiveness and global reach that the vaccine distribution will need to have, it will also require substantial amounts of planning, sensitivity, visibility and efficiency.
The stakes are high, and there are other elements at play, such as keeping the vaccine stored at a certain temperature, and the need for increased scrutiny throughout the delivery cycle. Reliance on technology to help streamline and improve delivery speed and capacity at scale isn’t the only factor that will make vaccine distribution successful, but it’s an important one, and it deserves more attention as the world begins to consider the great logistics challenge ahead of us.
There are two key ways in which technology could support global vaccine efforts: getting the vaccine distributed more quickly, and to more people. These are fundamental requirements for a successful distribution effort.
But what might that look like? To start, it will require improved dispatch and routing to ensure that deliveries are done with more speed. Dispatchers are central to delivery operations running smoothly, but without the support of technology to help provide real-time visibility into each delivery cycle, the complexities of vaccine distribution would be very challenging to grasp — it would be like operating blindly. Technology not only provides more visibility into operations, but also can automate much of the initial process, including the assignment of delivery drivers to specific actions, based on factors such as time between destinations, maximum distance, and assignment of the right type of vehicle if temperature monitoring is required.
Technology can also maximize the number of tasks assigned to drivers per delivery, to ensure that every resource is being used effectively and consistently. The real-time visibility and automation of certain components of delivery orchestration ensure more seamless workflows, and help to avoid roadblocks within the delivery process that might slow down distribution efforts. An example might be tasking delivery driver “A” with too many destination points, while tasking driver “B” with too few. Driver A can’t complete the deliveries within the shift, and driver B ends up having too much idle time. Reoccurring small situations such as this one add up quickly, and eventually slow the delivery process significantly. Automating certain elements of dispatching can help organizations to avoid these situations.
Another way in which technology could support the delivery visibility factor is by creating a clear chain of custody — capturing where a product is at all times, and when it will reach the next part of the delivery cycle. Chain of custody is important for any product, but it’s essential for vaccine distribution, which must be monitored carefully with a strong chain of custody.
Artificial intelligence also can come into play, by supporting improved delivery optimization and increasing delivery load and capacity. A.I. can build predictive models based on historical and current delivery data to predict how long certain deliveries, and each stage of delivery, will take. The predictive ability enables organizations to trim buffer times usually scheduled to allow for unexpected variables, ensuring deliveries at maximum capacity. It would also ensure that more accurate ETAs are given to hospitals, pharmacies and stores for when they can expect the vaccine to arrive. Finally, predictive delivery would also remove some of the risk that a vaccine stays in route for longer than it should.
Technology can also help manage and keep track of logistics, beyond getting a product to its end destination. It can automatically pair up the right travel nurse with the right delivery, to ensure that a patient is given the vaccine correctly. It might also pair up the vaccine with the right vehicles in a delivery fleet to support temperature-controlled deliveries. The possibilities are endless in terms of what technology can coordinate.
There are so many elements of the delivery cycle that are simply not worth the risk of doing manually. The COVID-19 vaccine will be the most in-demand item in the world, and its effective distribution is vital to the health and wellbeing of everyone. While technology would certainly play a background role in the larger picture of vaccine distribution, it’s no less essential than any other effort being directed to this logistical challenge. Technology touches nearly every part of life. Why should it not be at the forefront of the COVID-19 vaccine distribution?
Guy Bloch is CEO of Bringg.
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