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UPS’s Latest Survey of Healthcare Supply Chains- Some Interesting Conflicts and Needs for Broader Perspectives

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This week, UPS announced the results of its seventh annual “Pain in the (Supply) Chain survey involving pharmaceutical and healthcare supply chains. According to the authors, the survey was conducted from phone interviews with 536 senior supply chain management decision-makers within the healthcare industry.  Global coverage for this survey is noted as Asia, Canada, Latin America, the United States and Western Europe.

For the third consecutive year, the survey points to regulatory compliance as the top supply chain pain point, cited by 60 percent of the 2014 respondents, indicating that this trend alone is driving current business and supply chain changes.  From our Supply Chain Matters lens, that finding is not a surprise since so many pharmaceutical and healthcare supply chain are indeed regulated, but more importantly, they are now globally extended for both supply and service demand needs.

The next largest concern was noted as product protection challenges, with 46 percent of respondents citing product security, and 40 percent citing product damage and spoilage as top concerns. Again no surprise, given the ongoing challenge of counterfeit drugs and global extensions of transportation and logistics networks.

However, what was surprising, at least for us, was that a mere 26 percent of these supply chain leaders cite contingency planning as a top supply chain concern. Perhaps this is an area that these supply chain leaders feel is being adequately addressed. Yet, 34 percent of those surveyed in Asia and 22 percent of those residing in Latin America indicated their firm’s supply chain was impacted by an unplanned event in the past 3-5 years. Cited reasons that were noted were:

  • Events being too unlikely or infrequent
  • Back-up infrastructure too expensive to deploy
  • Little or no prioritization being given to this area vs. other challenges

For an industry that is required to spend so much on product development, brand value and patient trust, it is surprising to once again note such viewpoints. The industry need only look to the previous supply chain disruptions that occurred at Johnson & Johnson to ascertain how about contingency planning has become.

Deeper in the UPS news release perhaps finds a rather important assumption related to the above concerns in compliance, product protection and contingency planning.  Many healthcare supply chains are not viewing production, distribution, logistics and transportation as a core capability and have thus outsourced these activities. According to this latest UPS survey, 62 percent of decision makers cited increased reliance on third-party logistics providers as a strategy into the foreseeable future. (3-5 years) Therefore business partners have become an important enabler in helping to overcome stated supply chain challenges.

In a previous Supply Chain Matters commentary, we called for a broader technology vision among supply chain execution partners, specifically 3PL’s. As more and more industry supply chains opt to outsource logistics, transportation and customer fulfillment to logistics and transportation partners, leveraging the potential benefits of newer technologies in item-level tracking, Internet of Things (IoT) and supply chain control towers become a de-facto capability requirement to overcome business challenges and deliver required business outcomes. Too often today, the outsourced 3PL decision has been driven solely by cost control vs. broader requirements for supply chain resiliency and responsiveness. While UPS and FedEx have embraced advanced technology, other 3PL’s have relied on customers to fund such investments, and there remains the conundrum. For us, these latest UPS survey findings concerning healthcare focused supply chains have special meaning to the new reliance on supply chain execution partners for joint goal enablement. Beyond logistics, globally dispersed contract manufacturers have an important enabling and support role as well.

The report’s executive survey indicates that healthcare supply chain leaders are themselves eyeing technology investments in two specific areas of the supply chain, namely front-end order fulfillment and overall product protection in the form of serialization and item-tracking.  Supply Chain Matters advises these leaders to also consider the all-important supporting element for connecting the front and back-end of the extended healthcare supply chain. That would be a cohesive supply chain business network that synchronizes planning, execution and early-warning intelligence to unplanned events.

Bob Ferrari

 


Alcoa Announces Supply Deal with Boeing

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In our streaming Supply Chain Matters commentaries related to Boeing’s supply chain efforts in commercial aircraft production, we have highlighted that the global aerospace provider has been re-negotiating its key commodity and specialty supplier agreements in an effort to reduce long-term costs.

Last week, Alcoa announced a multiyear aluminum supply with Boeing’s Commercial Airplane unit valued to be more than $1 billion. According to the announcement, the agreement makes Alcoa the sole supplier for wing skins on its metallic structure commercial aircraft, while aluminum plate products used in wing ribs or other structural aircraft components.  The two parties indicate that they will continue to collaborate on developing newer, high-strength and corrosion resistant alloys including aluminum-lithium applications. This supply agreement represents nearly a 25 percent potential boost to Alcoa’s existing aerospace industry business unit. Details of the new supply agreement were not disclosed and thus how much Boeing was able to save remains an open question.

Earlier this year, Alcoa previously announced its intention to acquire United Kingdom based Fifth Rixson, a reported leader in aerospace jet engine components. The deal was reported to be approximately $2.9 billion.

In its reporting, The Wall Street Journal noted that Alcoa has been strategically targeting aerospace amid declining aluminum supplies amid a current glut in global aluminum supply, and a reduction of 1.2 metric tons of smelting capacity since 2007.  Combined industry production cuts have enabled to boost raw aluminum prices to above $2000 per ton for the first time in 18 months.


Breaking: Report Indicates Apple is Preparing to Launch 12.9 Inch iPad in Q1

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In mid-July, business and social media was abuzz with the announcement that two long-time rivals, Apple and IBM, would team-up in an alliance to create business apps leveraging Apple’s iPhone and iPad devices.  Under the alliance, IBM will create what it terms as “simple” business productivity apps leveraging the respective Apple mobile devices.

Today, Bloomberg released some somewhat stunning news which many are speculating is directly related to above announcement. Supplier sources informed Bloomberg that Apple is preparing to manufacture the largest model iPad ever, a 12.9 inch screen device, with production scheduled to commence in the first quarter of 2015. That is 6-9 months from today.

As we have echoed in previous Supply Chain Matters commentaries, the Apple supplier network is feverishly ramping-up production volumes for new models of iPhones and iPads for the all-important upcoming holiday buying surge period. Apple’s three key suppliers of LCD screens are especially challenged due to a rather late design change incurred on the new iPhone 6 model.

According to the Bloomberg report, this rather large iPad screen model is being positioned to compete in the business applications arena as an alternative device for business tasks currently performed by laptops. The Q1 timing is especially noteworthy since that is the time when Apple’s China based suppliers and contract manufacturers temporarily shut-down for celebration of the Lunar New Year as workers return to their homes and families. It is a period where suppliers recover from the hectic end-of-year scramble.  The fact that Apple is targeting yet another product release in this period is a probable sign that the IBM-Apple discussions were already in the planning stages prior to the official announcement last month. Both parties are aggressively planning to take advantage of the alliance opportunities.

Apple’s supply chain, S&OP teams and value-chain partners are once again going to be put to the test of simultaneous volume production ramp-ups involving a multitude of products including a new iWatch as well as phones and tablets.  There is obviously little room for snafu’s and LCD screen suppliers may well be the critical linchpin to pull-off a series of simultaneous successful product launches.

Bob Ferrari


Report of Apple iPhone 6 Supply Chain Scramble with Late Product Design Change

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Supply Chain Matters has featured previous commentaries reinforcing the critical dependence of product design and new product introduction (NPI) with supply chain network decision-making. We now have another real-world reminder of the challenge that many high tech and consumer products focused supply chains continually encounter in the constant dependency and alignment of NPI decisions with the external supply chain network.

Reuters, in an exclusive report, indicates that LCD suppliers for the pending Apple iPhone 6 product NPI launch have been scrambling to scale volume production, after a late product re-design disrupted supplier production plans. The Reuters report cites two supply chain sources as indicating that the backlight design of the LCD panel was supposed to feature a single layer instead of the standard two-layers of film. Apparently the new design was not bright enough to meet Apple’s product management expectations and was sent back to design to fit in the extra layer. That step is reported as “costing precious time and temporarily idling some screen assembly operations.”

While Reuters indicates that out is now back on track, suppliers Japan Display, LG Display and Sharp are working flat-out to make-up the lost time.

As noted in many prior reports, Apple is a task master in incorporating constant changes in product design up to the last minute.  This culture stems from the passion of Steve Jobs and his relentless pursuit of product perfection. However, Apple’s value-chain ecosystem and production volume requirements are far larger in scope.

An engineering or product-driven culture can certainly be an important factor in delighting customers.  However, when such design changes occur in a highly outsourced supplier network involved in the critical phase leading up to new product production ramp-up, information and assessment related to the implications of such product design changes is equally important. Apple has a unique culture, and the firm’s suppliers are well aware that the ability to scramble at the very last moment is an expected and required capability.

Dynamic tension among product design and supply chain teams is a normal occurrence. This latest takeaway for our community is that even one of the top-rated supply chains has its own challenges in synchronizing product design disruption in critical new product ramp-up phases. It is yet another reminder of the critical importance for taking a broader supply chain business network perspective in information integration, assessment and decision-making.

Bob Ferrari


Apple Takes Steps in Requiring Safer Supply Chain Substances

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The bulk of Apple’s component supplier and contract manufacturing partners reside in China and Asia where many high tech electronics products are produced.  Unfortunately, this is an area that continues to deal with high levels of industrial pollution, worker safety and industrial accidents.

Apple is now taking meaningful steps to initiate substance regulations across its supplier network. 

According to a recent posting appearing on Apple Insider, the company is banning the use of cleaning agents’ benzene and n-hexane within supplier factories. This moves is part of Apple published Regulated Substances Specification which has recently been made available for open viewing. The purpose of this specification reads in-part:

We require our suppliers to adhere to this Regulated Substances Specification, which describes Apple’s global restrictions on the use of certain chemical substances or materials in our products, accessories, manufacturing processes, and packaging used for shipping products to Apple’s customers.”

Apple’s vice-president of Environmental Initiatives has additionally published a letter regarding the company’s stance on safe working environments. Apple further intends to establish a new advisory board made up of chemical and pollution prevention experts who are tasked with finding additional ways to minimize or eliminate the use of toxins across Apple’s supplier network.

These moves come after activist groups submitted petitions calling for the company to place a ban on dangerous substances.

The fact that one of the top rated global supply chains has taken this proactive stance regarding supply chain safety and environmental responsibility is quite meaningful.  Hopefully it will be an impetus for more high tech and consumer electronics brand owners to join in citing higher standards for safe chemical use.


General Electric’s New Transformational Start-up Mentality

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Bloomberg BusinessWeek published an article profiling General Electric’s efforts to get the company acting more like a 21st Century startup.  Taking a cue from Silicon Valley’s start-up culture, GE recruited tech entrepreneur Eric Reis, author of the book The Lean Startup, to initiate the company-wide movement titled FastWorks.

Similar to Lean Six Sigma that fueled rallying and transformational efforts in the 1990’s, FastWorks is targeted to motivate GE employees to be more customer focused, speed new product development, reduce costs and improve customer engagement. The Reis philosophy is that faster product innovation is garnered from building imperfect early versions, gaining timely customer feedback, while continuously “pivoting” and adapting products to address market opportunities. The initiative is described by GE Chief Marketing Officer Beth Comstock as “giving employees the freedom to try things that may not prove successful: Fail fast, fail small.”

Easily stated, but with far different implications for a rather large, global based manufacturer.

According to Bloomberg, GE has already trained 40,000 employees in FastWorks. With more than 300 projects underway, the program is described as one of the largest initiatives in GE history. Early product development projects include a high-output gas turbine developed two years faster with 40 percent less cost than would traditional program management would have yielded.  Other product initiatives cited were a light bulb with built-in wireless dimming chip, an oil well flow meter which launched after a year in development and is being commercialized in alliance with an energy company.

In the article, a Harvard Business School professor is quoted as observing that as large companies get bigger and scale, they tend to slow down because they have so many processes, systems and structures. Having worked at large and small companies on technology related projects, and having observed the enterprise and supply chain technology marketplace for over ten years, this author can well relate to the obstacles and bureaucratic inertia of large organizations. Most of the innovation in software has come from smaller, best-of-breed start-ups who were laser focused on customer and supply chain needs. That said, failing fast is quite different in a larger vs. a smaller organization. If the philosophy is an integral fabric of the organizational culture, than teams expect to incur failures, learn quickly and move on.  In larger organizations there tends to be analysis paralysis as to why the failure.

Supply chain transformation initiatives take on similar characteristics. In a previous Supply Chain Matters commentary highlighting the Supply Chain Management Review article, Culture Eats Strategy, authors John D. Hanson and Steven A. Melnyk provide us reminders that organizational attempts for implementing strategies of radical innovation are often stymied by inherent organizational culture.  That includes the spillover of efforts directed at a firm’s value-chain focused processes. If an organization was previously managing suppliers based on cost competitiveness, adding quicker product innovation implies a potential conflict in culture. The article reminds us that the management myth of showing teams a better way and they will embrace it is often de-railed by an inherent organizational culture that can, and often will, resist radical change unless old ways are discredited.

Similarly, many organizational transformational initiatives need to address inherent organizational culture, especially if it detracts from desired outcome objectives, whether they target innovation, efficiency or responsiveness. Is it any surprise that certain enterprise software vendors have embarked on an acquisition frenzy to secure product innovation?

In the case of GE, culture has always been addressed from the top, and down.  The legacy of Jack Welch and the current leadership of Jeff Immelt each demonstrated personal passion toward changing organizational culture.  FastWorks will no doubt include GE’s internal business groups but its value-chain suppliers as well.

The takeaway is regardless of what name and purpose an initiative takes on, it must incorporate strategy and organizational culture needs.

What’s your view?

Are large organizational transformational efforts another means to employ large numbers of teams, or is changing existing organizational culture the prime objective?

Bob Ferrari

 


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