Inference in the Pharmaceutical Supply Chain

In my recent essay, “RFID is DEAD…at Unit-level in Pharma”, I used relative cost estimates to theorize that Radio Frequency IDentification (RFID) will not be the predominant carrier of serial numbers applied to drug packages for compliance with U.S. pedigree laws.  My theory is that there will actually be a mix of RFID and 2D barcodes, and that barcodes will be the predominant carrier technology.  As you might expect, that was a little controversial with the RFID industry (See RFID Journal’s blog post in response to my essay).  Hey, it’s just a theory.  I too, wish everything would be RFID, and for all of the reasons cited by RFID Journal.  It’s just that I don’t believe it’s going to turn out that way and that’s based on the logic I laid out in my essay.  (Also see FiercePharma Manufacturing’s more neutral post in response to my essay.)


In a mixed-but-predominantly-barcode-serialized U.S. pharmaceutical supply chain, companies will not be able to tell which unit serial numbers are inside of each sealed case at receiving or at shipping.  Because barcodes are a “line-of-sight” technology, the only way to tell with absolute certainty what the sealed-up unit serial numbers are will be to cut the tape seal, open the case, expose the barcodes, scan each unit and tape the case closed again.

It is a ridiculous notion to believe that Continue reading Inference in the Pharmaceutical Supply Chain

The Modern Pharmaceutical Wholesaler and the Approaching Transformation

Photo by Rafael Vila

The modern pharmaceutical supply chain is an amazing thing.  No other supply chain handles the combination of volume, variety, value and complexity, and does it as efficiently and accurately as the U.S. pharmaceutical supply chain.  And it does it on an overnight order-to-delivery cycle from wholesaler to pharmacy.  Wholesalers are the key to the efficient operation of the pharmaceutical supply chain, and that’s why I am personally drawn to that segment.

The heart of the modern drug wholesale business—the thing that makes it live, kicking or screaming—is the modern pharmaceutical distribution center (DC).  That magical combination of people, processes, data and automation produces a dance every night across the country where individual drug packages are picked from cases and combined with other individual drug packages to fulfill the orders of pharmacies everywhere.  It is musical to watch and understand, and the crescendo occurs around 10:30pm every night local time at every pharma DC.  Today’s successful wholesalers have figured out how to deal with this specific complexity by organizing their people, processes, data and automation in a stabilizing way to make it all manageable, repeatable and very efficient, and thus making it possible to carve out a thin but well-earned and reliable profit.

Over the last 20 years only a few companies have found a way to surf this traditional complexity to profitability.  But faced with the supply chain transformation that will occur soon as the result of widespread serialization and pedigree requirements, the complexity these companies face seems likely to  Continue reading The Modern Pharmaceutical Wholesaler and the Approaching Transformation

Innovation and the “Authenticating Wholesaler” Idea

I have my own theory of innovation.  Almost everyone agrees that innovation is a key ingredient in growth and prosperity but in our current times, few companies are able to cause it to happen.  I think that’s because people misunderstand innovation, and particularly how to get it going.  With all the belt-tightening going on as the result of lean times, innovation could not be more essential, but at the same time, seemingly more out of reach.

In my view, there are three main stages to innovation:  experimentation, enlightenment and transformation.   Experimentation is the most assured pathway to innovation but it is also one of the first things to get cut when belt-tightening occurs.  It requires an organization to spend time on lots of things that eventually get discarded because they end up never taking root.  To an accountant, experimentation looks a lot like “play-time” activity that isn’t needed.  Innovation can occur without an experimentation stage, but reliance on “bolts-out-of-the-blue” to kick-start innovation will ensure that you will almost never actually get there.

Enlightenment is nothing more than an improved understanding of reality.  It occurs when a series of experiments from the experimentation stage are accepted by a group as having special significance because they reveal a part of reality that was previously hidden from view.  Enlightenment is the removal of blind-spots.  Once the blind-spots are removed, easier or more profitable paths become more obvious—or at least one of them becomes less foggy.

To actually benefit from enlightenment, and thus achieve the final stage of innovation, transformation, you need Continue reading Innovation and the “Authenticating Wholesaler” Idea