Ops uncertainty not just pharma's problem

"It's not so different," says John Musante, VP for pharma and medical device services at consultancy Tompkins Associates. He's comparing pharma manufacturing and supply chain operations with those of other industries. And he believes that's so in spite of complications from regulations and healthcare reform, and perhaps a greater emphasis on counterfeiting and theft.

Musante looked at the subset of data provided by pharma respondents to a cross-industry Tompkins Supply Chain Consortium survey. At 12 percent, the pharma/chemicals industry category was the second-largest represented.

The survey finds that uncertainty rules over supply chain leaders, so much so that it's become a new variable in their business planning calculations. Some 60 to 80 percent of respondents say that uncertainty has a high to medium impact on supply chain costs and speed: 83 percent report uncertainty-related cost increases while 69 percent indicate a higher than average increase in lead-time. Sixty-two percent see their speed to market reduced thanks to uncertainty.

"People feel they're not getting data they can use," says Musante, in a phone interview. It's a feeling that's part perception and part reality. "The key is visibility into the supply chain so you can react to what's happening."

Visibility comes from supplier relationships. Extracting data from them is important. But the issue is managing the data and getting the disparate systems to speak to each other.

Technology tools are available, he says. But the tools don't take the place of interacting with suppliers.

A complication is the large number of individuals using those tools and the various locations of supply chain data. The consensus, he says, is that supply chain technology "can continue to evolve and get better."

- see the Tompkins release