“The life sciences industry is in a place where there is a need to adapt to seamless information exchange,” believes John Hogan, SVP of Engineering at TraceLink, an integrated digital supply network for life sciences industry.

The digital supply chain is changing the enterprise landscape unrecognizably. How do you envisage the SCM technologies changing over the next twelve months?

The supply chain, particularly the pharmaceutical supply chain, has been surprisingly ‘un-digital’ but it is definitely undergoing a transformation. The more entities we can get to participate on a digital network platform, the more efficient the supply chain will be. With this, certain business processes will be improved, and will become a lot more seamless.

For example, when working through a process like a product recall or suspect product identification, there are many cases where one party is trying to transmit or exchange information back up the supply chain. Currently, the process is quite fragmented and manual. If this process is digitalized, and all parties involved in the recall process are on one network, digital information sharing would allow the process to become much more efficient.

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The other factor that is changing is that everything is becoming very personalized. The pharmaceutical industry is evolving – with innovative approaches to treatments like cell and gene therapies and personalized medicines. There is a much stronger need for specific knowledge on how these therapies and medicines travel full circle through the supply chain. Considerations around logistics, and temperature control are critical, as these drugs are life-dependent and expensive, leaving absolutely no room for error. The industry is in a place where there is a need to adapt to seamless information exchange between supply chain partners, and you need a digital network platform for this to happen.

How has the adoption of SaaS impacted the delivery of innovative products in this vertical?

I think it has changed in many ways, and that is true for other verticals as well. This is significant, since the life sciences vertical is particularly slow to adopt. I think the general value proposition of SaaS is that you can continuously innovate, and those innovations can be delivered to the customers immediately, because once signed up, it is treated as a service. If the customer is on the SaaS platform, they do not need to worry about downloading and installing a new version of the software in dispersed locations and they don’t need to be concerned about the interoperability of systems.  This can also present challenges for customers, as the rate of change and updates is immediate, and therefore, customers must be prepared to adopt the change and innovation available to them.

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Could you share some instances where cloud adoption has helped a Life Sciences business to create and deliver innovative products?

Cloud-based “network” applications have really opened up opportunities for collaboration, because they provide a very simple way for people to communicate with each other on a many to many basis. When you sign up for a service like Facebook or LinkedIn, you immediately have access to everybody else who has joined that network. What TraceLink offers to the life sciences industry is a cloud-based network where organizations can safely connect and exchange information with all of their partners. It is a network of more than 275,000 companies that leverage those connections to transact business with one another.

What makes Blockchain an effusive enterprise technology?

Blockchain has a few important characteristics that make it a useful technology. Fundamentally, it is about transparency, especially among parties that may not trust each other. It provides security, replication of data and can guarantee the integrity of transactions. This quality of non-repudiation is an important facet along with the distributed nature of Blockchain technology.

When Blockchain technology initially came out, it was a ‘public technology’ in that there was no governance and all the nodes could be anonymous. This makes it particularly useful in cases in which parties don’t necessarily trust each other. In a private network, entities may still have the need for confidential information-sharing and non- repudiation but it might not require the need to be anonymous.

Another thing to remember is that in general, Blockchain is not free. The effort of replicating and maintaining transaction history and verifying the accuracy of every transaction by consensus carries a sizeable cost from a computing and networking perspective. For supply chains, this would be an expensive proposition due to the high volumes of information exchanged. Therefore, while Blockchain may be applicable for supply chain business cases, I do not think it applies to every use case in supply chain. Businesses must be considerate when looking to apply new technology so as not to simply invest in tech for tech’s sake.

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Given a choice, which technology would you rate as the biggest disruptor for the life sciences industry?

Given what I just mentioned about the increase in personalized and specialty medicines, IoT continues to disrupt the industry. IoT devices can transmit real-time data, and within the pharma industry, these benefits are crucial, as processes are often complex. As mentioned above, there is no room for error in transporting some of these medicines, and the product quality must be perfect and temperatures must be controlled along the way to ensure product efficacy for customers. The use of IoT devices in the pharma supply chain allows pharma companies to track products from manufacturing to warehouses, to final delivery, including product conditions and temperature-monitoring along the way. This can all be done through smart tracking, and in real-time.

“The industry is in a place where there is a need to adapt to seamless information exchange between supply chain partners, and you need a digital network platform for this to happen.” 

John Hogan, SVP of Engineering at TraceLink

Senior Vice President of Engineering John Hogan leads product design, development, and testing of TraceLink products and solutions, ensuring the seamless processing and tracking of high-volume, highly distributed events, and facilitating shared customer value up and down the supply chain. He joined TraceLink in January, 2018 from Boston-based cybersecurity startup Barkly, where he served as VP of Engineering and was responsible for product development and DevOps building out the company’s unique approach to endpoint protection.