Logistics companies are often described as being in the business of moving goods from points of origin to end-use destinations, and that is, of course, true — but they are also in the business of data collection, processing, and analysis. That’s because efficient transport and delivery require data from sources such as real-time navigation systems, enterprise resource planning systems, transportation management solutions, analytics solutions, and more, as well as from sensors that track internal and external environment factors: location, the temperature of shipping containers, vibration, speed, sudden stops and starts, and so on.
But just having this data isn’t enough. To successfully navigate the intricacies of the global supply chain, logistics companies must also ensure data integrity — and the challenges of COVID-19 vaccine distribution are proving just how critical that is.
What is Data Integrity, and Why Does it Matter?
Transporting mission-critical supplies around the globe is innately challenging, but successful COVID-19 vaccine distribution is proving particularly tricky for a number of reasons. A high volume of vaccines must be quickly moved from a handful of pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities to tens of thousands of global locations ranging from government facilities to private pharmacies, and deliveries must be coordinated around cold-storage availability at the receiving end. Timing is critical, because the vaccines have a limited shelf life, and the stakes are sky-high. Any vaccines that don’t make it from port to end destination on time and in compliance with certain metrics, such as appropriate temperature thresholds, represent a lost battle in the ongoing war against the pandemic.
That’s why logistics companies need to ensure data integrity, which comprises:
Quality: Vaccine shipment data must be complete, unique, valid, timely, and consistent. For example, most vaccines, that must be kept frozen, can be shipped and stored between -58°F and +5°F (-50°C and -15°C), but Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine must be stored at -94°F (-70°C) to remain stable. Sensors must provide real-time, accurate readings of shipping container temperatures to ensure vaccines remain at the optimal temperature throughout transport, so they can be administered to people. About 25% of shipped vaccines are compromised due to poor temperature management, according to a 2019 report from the International Air Transport Association — an untenable figure for a vaccine on which global population health and economies depend.
Location intelligence: Location data, is often used, to help identify connections between people, places, or things at specific geographic places, and what exists or occurs there. The critical need for efficient last-mile delivery of vaccines, especially to rural and remote healthcare facilities, shows why location intelligence is so important. It takes more than an accurate delivery address to complete the last mile; logistics providers also need up-to-date data on weather, road conditions, road restrictions, and traffic along the route to the destination, as well as site-specific information such as loading dock location. Location data that is outdated, inaccurate, or lacking in context can make the difference between a community that receives viable vaccines, and one that doesn’t.
Enrichment: This gives context, nuance, and meaning to the logistic firms internal data by supplementing it with data from outside sources. For example, a logistics company must supplement its own routing and scheduling data with external data on cold-storage availability at end destinations. Without this context, drivers may arrive at facilities that have no room to store the vaccine shipments, and the vaccines go to waste.
Integration: All of the systems and technologies logistics organizations use to get shipments to the right place at the right time collect and provide their own data, but none of it is much good if the systems can’t talk to each other. Seamlessly integrated data provides complete situational awareness to support decision-making at each link in a supply chain. This helps companies get time-sensitive, mission-critical supplies like the COVID-19 vaccine where they need to go, exactly when they need to be there, using the most efficient path.
Data Integrity is the Key to Logistics Success
Accurate, consistent and relevant data, integrated across all platforms and enhanced by location intelligence and enrichment, help logistics companies achieve data integrity. This elevates data’s usefulness and usability, helping companies react quickly and in real-time to any issues, and make better overall business decisions.
The need for data integrity has never been more clear — and more urgent — than it is now, and lessons learned from vaccine distribution may redefine the way the logistics industry thinks about data. By achieving data integrity, logistics organizations are better equipped to get shipments to the right destination on time — and, in scenarios such as this vaccine distribution, play an integral role in saving lives and protecting global population health.
Clarence Hempfield is the Vice President, Product Management, Location Intelligence at Precisely. Clarence has been with Precisely through the Syncsort and Pitney Bowes days and first joined Pitney Bowes in 2006. He holds degrees from the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Maryland. Clarence is based in the Washington D.C. area.