Case Study: Real Time Tracking of Donated Supplies Anywhere in the World

Next week, Standard Code will travel to Berlin to present at the Econsense Conference, where we’ll discuss how we’re using technology to advance the cause of enhancing Global Health. This is a topic that is close to our hearts as we’ve dedicated the past four years to building a set of tools that makes it easier for Global Health organizations to collect, analyze, and share data anywhere in the world.

“Real Time Tracking of Donated Supplies Anywhere in the World”

Here in the US (and Western World) we take for granted how easy it is to track things. If you’ve ever ordered something from Amazon you know exactly where the package is--if it’s late, who’s delivering it, how much it weighs, etc. This level of tracking is nonexistent when it comes to donated medicines and other goods. There is very little accountability when supplies are sent abroad: donors are unaware of whether goods arrived on time (or at all), where they went, or how much inventory was already in the country. When you’re donating millions of tablets of medicine every year (or billions as a world record was set this past January!), knowing where everything is, is critical.

Given our extensive experience building tools to solve problems like this, we partnered up with Merck (KGaA) to devise a solution that could track medicines from the moment they’re requested by a country, all the way to when they’re distributed in that country. The preliminary results of the first implementation are positive:

  • 39% increase in feedback from the field

  • Turnaround time on data reported from the field went from 12 months to less than 30 days

  • Total implementation time was less than 3 months to get up and running in Kenya

Here’s a little about what we’ll be presenting in Berlin on the 22nd...

We need meds!

This isn’t as simple as calling your local pharmacy and getting a prescription refilled. The process for requesting drugs is something that can take up to a year and involves some seriously complex excel spreadsheets being sent around. These applications are sent to the donors, and other NGOs, and ultimately make their way into our cloud-based system. At this point, we know what the country wants and when they want to distribute the medicines. This kicks off monitoring of the entire process. We closely watch over 20 key performance indicators (KPIs) to make sure goods are where they should be.

Drugs are manufactured

Ok that’s easy enough! Done, right? WRONG. We need to know where are they manufactured, in what batches, how big the batches are, when they expire, etc. Lots of good stuff. So getting this info should be as easy as making an API call to a really big company’s ERP system, right? WRONG AGAIN. We decided to keep things simple for them, by having them email us a copy of a packing list. We then use a combination of machine learning and good ol’ fashioned data entry to read those packing lists and input the data to our system. So, at this point, we know who asked for the donated goods as well as what they’re getting.

Time to hit the road

When you’re shipping lots and lots of donated goods, it’s not as simple as hopping over to your local Mailboxes, Etc to ship them. No, it’s a lot more involved than that: You need shipping documents, and customs documents, and bills of lading, and invoices, and lots of other things. Our system has automated routines to easily gobble up these documents, attach them to a Purchase Order, and then integrate with the shipper to track every step of the journey (by land or sea or air). We make all of this visible and sharable (with the right people of course) via our cloud-based tool.

Let's do some good

Now that the medicines have made it to the country who originally asked for them, it’s time to give them to people in need. However, we do one more thing in the supply chain--it’s called “The Last Mile” and is the best part of the whole operation. We work with local ministries of health and other NGOs, to track supplies from the port where they landed, until their final destination (schools or district-level pharmacies).

Final reporting (old school technology to the rescue)

The last part of this entire puzzle is getting the wonderful folks to report back to us how much they gave out, how much they have left, and from what batch. When you’re dealing with a diverse audience, in places with limited internet connectivity, the solution is clear: SMS. Roughly 80% of the population in the developing world has a feature phone (less than 40% have a smartphone compared to 80+% in the US). So we built a tool that allows us to interact with anyone who has access to a feature phone. This allows real-time communication with the people on the ground who have the most reliable information.

As you can see, this is a pretty hefty process. But it allows us to have an unprecedented level of perspective into what’s going on with the entire supply chain: We can predict when things are going to be late, we can help consolidate deliveries, and we can help estimate when demand will exceed capacity.

May. 18 2017