Bringing the Cloud Down to Earth

When Jim Cafone, Vice President, Supply Chain, Pfizer Inc., was traveling in Germany recently he dropped his iPad, broke the screen, lost his music, ebooks, and other files. He bought a new iPad and within 10 minutes had regained the lost files by simply retrieving them from the cloud.

Cafone used this personal mishap at MIT CTL’s Crossroads conference this June to illustrate the power of the cloud, and why Pfizer is using the technology to provide an end-to-end view of its supply chain.

The pharmaceutical company is using the cloud and a device-agnostic, external information platform to connect with every freight forwarder, carrier, and other logistics service vendor across the globe.

A third-party logistics provider oversees and monitors the performance of this network. Why use a third-party to keep tabs on the network? To free Pfizer’s logistics team from day-to-day management tasks, so they can concentrate on more strategic objectives.

Pfizer requires every service provider to send their data to the cloud, so the manufacturer can track and trace all of its shipments worldwide. This virtual supply chain is delivering vastly improved visibility.

For example, certain vaccines have to be refrigerated while in transit. The cloud-enabled tracking system monitors shipment exceptions, so the manufacturer can intervene if, say, there are flight delays. Two years ago refrigerated product delayed in this way was frequently lost owing to inadequate temperature control.

The company has also been able to step up its analytical capabilities. It can identify the primary landed cost components of product, for instance, and decide on the relative importance of cost, service, and agility factors. Supply chain managers are able to identify the spend drivers such as fuel and accessorials.

Just 20 people in the in-house global transportation team manage these shipment flows. Six individuals focus on supplier management exceptions and data quality, five manage cold chain moves, and seven to eight concern themselves with extending or optimizing the platform.

The team can see across all regions – Europe, Asia, and the Americas – and spot where loads can be consolidated. That’s quite a view bearing in mind that Pfizer operates in 150 countries and uses over 400 third-party companies to make products in 600 major categories that translate into 35,000 SKUs.

A key advantage of the control system’s cloud-based structure is the ease with which service providers can be switched. If a carrier is not performing, for instance, it can easily be taken out and another operator plugged in with a minimum of effort.

This is the kind of plug-and-play convenience that is making the cloud such an attractive option for large, complex companies such as Pfizer – and consumers who damage their mobile devices.

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