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From slow start to rapid digitization: How IoT will transform the life sciences and healthcare supply chain

 From slow start to rapid digitization: How IoT will transform the life sciences and healthcare supply chain


From slow start to rapid digitization: How IoT will transform the life sciences and healthcare supply chain
Last Updated: 26-May-2017

By Scott Allison, President, Life Sciences & Healthcare Sector, DHL Customer Solutions & Innovation

The life sciences and healthcare industry as a whole has been slow to digitize. But things are starting to change now, fast-tracked by the growing phenomenon of the Internet of Things (IoT). 
We are told that by 2020, more than 50 billion objects will be connected to the Internet (Cisco Consulting). So far, an absence of agreed industry standards and some genuine security concerns have restricted IoT innovation. But today there is clear evidence of an upswing in industry-specific applications, and it is only a matter of time before pharmaceutical and medical device companies are fully exploiting this megatrend.
In a nutshell, what is IoT?
The Internet of Things has the potential to connect virtually anything on the Internet and accelerate data-driven logistics. Everyday objects can now send, receive, process, and store information, and thus actively participate in self-steering, event-driven logistics processes. IoT promises far-reaching payoffs. First-movers are already using data from connected objects to generate actionable insights that drive change and new solutions, stealing a march on their competitors.
Where and how will IoT impact LSH?
IoT is likely to have significant impact in the life sciences and healthcare industry in several key areas including knowledge-intensive applications, labor-intensive applications, patient services, and direct engagement and interaction with patients and consumers.
A critical success factor for business growth in life sciences and healthcare is forecasting the future. Huge competitive advantage can be achieved by analyzing big data, by which I mean high-value information arriving in large volumes and in a variety of formats. IoT information definitely falls into this category. Effective big data analytics enables the organization to identify new ways to grow the enterprise – better ways of storing and transporting pharmaceuticals and medical devices, predicting demand and improving inventory management, getting closer to customers and patients, and more effectively achieving auditable regulatory compliance.
In the not-too-distant future, the life sciences and healthcare industry will develop clear, standardized approaches, a common technology architecture, and seamless interoperability for data exchange in heterogeneous environments. It will also establish trust and ownership of data to overcome privacy issues in the IoT-powered supply chain. At DHL, we are collaborating on pilot projects and implementing innovative solutions with several key customers to advance the digital transformation of the industry. Here are just a few examples.

  • Using AR to improve picking productivity

With one of the world’s premier biopharmaceutical companies, we are piloting an innovative warehouse ‘vision picking’ solution in Australia. Our aim is to co-discover whether augmented reality smart glasses can be used for order picking in a more cost-efficient manner than standard manual scanning processes. Warehouse personnel see the digital picking list and the optimal warehouse route in their field of vision (an ‘augmented’ view) to save time, reduce errors and enable real-time inventory updates. Similar pilots with other companies in Mexico and in the Netherlands have achieved 15-25% productivity gains.

  • Deploying robots and tagging in a connected warehouse

Productivity gains are also under investigation in a substantial pilot with a multinational chemical, pharmaceutical and life sciences company. DHL and this customer have equipped an entire warehouse with wifi infrastructure beacons enabling precise location of tagged items throughout the facility. In addition, warehouse personnel are supported by robots undertaking repetitive and heavy-lift activities, and safety is enhanced with the use of heat maps that clearly track the movement of assets and people throughout the warehouse.

  • Bringing healthcare direct to the patient

With many life sciences and healthcare customers, DHL is providing the fastest possible connection between patients and their primary point of care. Express delivery services use sophisticated technology to achieve end-to-end temperature-controlled transportation. These services require a robust logistics supply chain with contingency measures to ensure the integrity and quality of clinical samples and pharmaceutical products. In addition, these services are designed to meet the most rigorous life sciences and healthcare transportation requirements; provision requires a deep knowledge of all country-specific regulations and health requirements. The impetus for further development is the astronomical cost of hospital treatment (let us say $10,000) versus treatment in the doctor’s office (ten times less at $1,000) versus treatment at home (ten times less again at $100).
Forecasting the future in life sciences and healthcare
The pace of digital change is rapid and – as in many industries – there is an imperative to disrupt or be disrupted. Many companies are currently working hard to forecast the future and, at DHL, we continue to seek new ways to deliver healthcare to the world