Fax

Five Reasons Why Cloud Computing Helps to Develop Greener Supply Chains

Last year I posted a blog, in support of Earth Day 2010, relating to the volcano that erupted in Iceland, I said at the time that it was nature’s way of reminding us that we should be thinking about greening our supply chains and making our logistics networks more efficient. This year Japan faced a significant natural disaster which not only brought hardship and distress to many families but it also led to global supply chains being significantly impacted by parts shortages from Japanese based suppliers.  Globalisation can be a great thing, BUT you must remember that wherever a new manufacturing plant is established you must be able to ensure prompt delivery of parts. I am sure many Japanese manufacturers, especially those in the automotive sector, will be re-thinking their supplier and logistics related strategies to support their global network of plants moving forwards. With Earth Day 2011 fast approaching I thought I would discuss some of the green related benefits that can be obtained through implementing a Cloud based B2B infrastructure. Now much has been discussed about the benefits of Cloud based infrastructures and in an earlier blog entry I discussed how Manufacturers could benefit from Cloud based environments. There have been many research articles written about how Cloud based  environments are quick to deploy and easy to maintain on an ongoing basis but I have seen very little written about the green and sustainable reasons for deploying a Cloud based infrastructure. Therefore I thought I would highlight a few green benefits in this blog entry.   1. Lower power consumption requirements – This is one of the most important green related benefits that a company can realize by adopting a Cloud based B2B infrastructure. Many companies around the world have spent millions of dollars establishing their own in-house data centres or server environments. From  investing in highly available power supply infrastructures with uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) with diesel generator backups, extensive lighting infrastructures, through to implementing complex networking systems and air conditioning systems.  All of these when combined together produce a relatively large carbon footprint from a day to day infrastructure operations point of view. As Cloud based environments are hosted by an external vendor, this not only helps companies remove the cost of supporting an in-house data centre or server infrastructure but more importantly it can help to significantly reduce a company’s carbon footprint by reducing the power consumed to run the supporting utilities related infrastructures such as those mentioned above. 2. Less equipment packaging required for server and networking hardware – In-house data centres require numerous servers, storage devices, networking equipment etc and these typically arrive from the IT suppliers in large, over packed boxes containing cardboard, wood, plastic and polystyrene.  Once these pieces of equipment have been delivered then the packaging needs to be disposed of carefully or recycled.  In addition, the software installed on the servers will typically arrive on a CDROM and via an extensive paper based installation and setup manual. Cloud computing based environments remove the need for buying and running extensive computer servers and other associated infrastructures. Therefore there is an opportunity to minimise the amount of wasteful packaging materials that are used to transport these pieces of equipment to an office or manufacturing location. 3. Minimises travel requirements for IT implementation teams – Many companies have globalised their operations over the years and in a bid to reduce operational costs many companies have established a presence in emerging markets such as China and India. However one thing that is often overlooked is that when entering a new emerging market you will need to secure local IT implementation resources in order to help setup your IT or B2B environment.  However due to the limited availability of skilled IT resources, many companies deploy their own implementation resources which means that companies must fly personnel into the region and perhaps keep them onsite for a few weeks.  However typically these employees will be seconded to the new plant to not only get everything setup but to also cross train local staff in the future maintenance of the equipment.  So if a North American manufacturer sets up a new plant in China, how many people will it have to fly across the world to support the operation?, how many tonnes of green house gases will the planes burn to carry staff and equipment to the new plant? As Cloud computing environments are hosted by an outside provider and are typically very easy to deploy, you can, in most cases, remove the need to send employees half way around the world as these environments can be brought online and monitored remotely. 4. Less paper required as hosted platform encourages full participation from a trading partner community – Many companies have struggled to encourage all their trading partners, especially those in emerging markets, to send information electronically. Instead, many smaller suppliers still use manual paper based processes. For example in China the fax is still seen as one of the main business related communication methods. Also, there are various systems for exchanging shipping related information between logistics carriers and across customs and border control agencies.  The very nature of Cloud based environments means that they are quick to deploy, easy to use and simple to maintain on a daily basis.  The use of web based forms to replicate paper based form content means that even the smallest or least technically aware supplier or border control agency can simply enter or view information directly via the web based portal environment. Paper based copies of web forms can still be printed off if required, but in a Cloud environment this is more of an on-demand process. Once you enter information via web based forms it automatically gets fed into some form of hosted application within the Cloud environment. Cloud based environments significantly reduce the amount of paper flowing across the extended enterprise, at the same time it encourages less technically capable trading partners to participate in your B2B program. 5. Increased availability of information improves supply chain efficiency – Many companies typically store their business information in multiple enterprise systems across many different servers located in different countries around the world. Trying to track down the information that you require and then access via some form of networked computer system can be difficult at the best of times.  This is made more difficult if you are working remotely and you need to connect into a business system via a laptop computer. Over the past couple of years smart phones and Tablet devices have changed the way in which users can get access to enterprise information on the move.  Whether you are using an office based desktop PC or a laptop, they will either need to be connected to a power supply or charged up in order to be able to do any lengthy or meaningful work. An Apple iPad on the other hand is extremely eco-friendly from a power consumption point of view, especially when you consider that on a full charge the iPad’s battery will last for ten hours. In addition, the very fact that information is held in a central location and is accessible anywhere in the world via the internet means that logistics carriers for example can process shipping information a lot quicker, minimizing border control related delays and thus ensuring that shipments reach their destination in a much shorter period of time. Cloud based environments allow users to access information using more power friendly mobile devices and also helps all trading partners to get access to one central source of information. This helps to minimize supply chain disruption and improve green related efficiencies of logistics carriers. So in summary, Cloud based infrastructures offer companies a way to completely change the way in which they deploy and manage their IT or B2B environments and more importantly helps to significantly reduce a company’s overall carbon footprint. I am sure the recent events in Japan will make manufacturers think very carefully about their future data centre strategies and provide an opportunity to introduce greener ways of working.  I am also sure that as well as the global disruption to parts supplies, many Japanese based suppliers will have seen some form of disruption to their IT and B2B infrastructures following the recent Earthquake and Tsunami.  The main reason for this is that culturally, Japanese companies typically prefer to implement behind the firewall software based solutions rather than depend on external providers to host their IT or B2B solutions for them.  Given the green related benefits mentioned above and the ability to maintain continuity of a business in the face of a natural disaster, I would expect to see more Japanese companies taking an interest in Cloud based B2B infrastructures in the near future. For further information about Earth Day 2011, please click here. For further information on GXS Trading Grid, the world’s largest Integration Cloud Platform, please click here. The Earth Day website highlights the number of  ‘Acts of Green’ occuring in the world, well I guess you could say that every electronic transaction passing across GXS Trading Grid could be considered an ‘Act of Green’ as it removes an equivalent piece of paper from the supply chain. For more information on how GXS can help to introduce green supply chains and to get an idea of how many business transactions we are processing at the moment please visit our dedicated green supply chain microsite by clicking here.  

Read More

Electronic Health Records and Your Pizza Delivery Company

There is a commercial running on CNBC Radio this week from United Health Care that states “Even my pizza delivery company stores my information digitally online.”  What does a pizza company have to do with health insurance?  United is, of course, referring to the antiquated system we have in the US for maintaining paper copies of medical records.  If you have visited a new doctor lately, you are probably aware of the small mountain of paperwork that needs to be filled out before you can be seen.  The forms ask for details about your demographics, family history, current medications, known allergens, surgery history and insurance carrier.   And the forms are required even when your primary care physician refers you to a specialist for consultation.   Equally concerning is the fact that once you actually speak to the specialist you find that they seem to know very little about your situation and medical history.  The situation is not very confidence-inspiring.  You might presume that the redundancy in information gathering is due to the cautious and overly inquisitive nature of physicians, but this is not necessarily the case. In today’s health care system there is very limited sharing of information between different providers.  The limited data sharing that does occur is usually over the phone, fax or illegible handwritten notes, infamously known as chicken-scratch. 

Read More

E-Prescription Networks – Making Health Care Less Painful

One of the most annoying parts of the US health care system is all the paper work you have to fill out.  Every time I visit a new provider, I have to fill out a whole series of paperwork answering questions about my demographics, medical history and current prescriptions.  Even when you visit the same provider consistently, you are still asked a series of repetitive questions.  For example, every time I visit my primary care physician, both the nurse that checks my vitals and the physician who consults me ask for a list of current medications.  If I fail to list one (e.g. the Ambien Rx I requested nine months ago for an international flight), then they query me about any disconnects between their records and my answer.   Why is it my responsibility as the patient to know the names and strengths of all the medications I am taking?  Why doesn’t the provider track this since they are the ones recommending the medications in the first place?  Surely, the process of tracking prescription medications by patients could be simplified.  The good news is that there has been an effort underway for almost a decade now to digitize the exchange of prescription data throughout the health care system. 

Read More

A Proactive Recall Solution, Constructing the Calling Bell – Part II

It’s about time the defensive driving courses across the globe start including lessons on how to tackle the ‘Drive-by-Wire’ challenges. The Toyota recall was soon followed by Honda’s expansion of a previously announced recall due to lingering concerns on airbag hazards. Blame it on the supplier who provided the faulty part or the software program, or be it the manufacturer’s unilateral dependence on a single supplier to supply those parts, it is a problem that needs to be owned by the manufacturer. As in this case, lenience in their quality assurance measures paved the way for glitches both on the engineering side as well as the software side. Part I of this blog entry addressed the root causes of a product recall. To avoid just being an arm-chair critic and advisor, in this entry, I would like to address the tougher part of the recall problem, i.e., to help design a sustainable recall-solution that has actionable manufacturing intelligence. For ease of laying this out on paper, let’s split the recall problem into two parts – the upstream and the downstream challenges in the recall supply chain with OEM at the fulcrum. The Upstream world The up-stream value chain begins with the flow of raw materials and semi-finished components from various tier-n suppliers across the geo-borders all the way to the OEM Production Hub. Due to stringent quality mandates from federal regulatory committees, Pharmaceuticals and A&D industry verticals have subscribed to the ‘Recall traceability and Reverse logistics’ procedures to a certain extent. However, the adoption of such quality control programs within the manufacturing execution cycles is quite low in other industry verticals because of: – the perception of these processes as an overkill investment – lenience or lack of industry-specific regulatory guidelines – economics (significant upfront costs) – potential data-Integration difficulties – lack of industry-specific standardization of business documents around product recalls The Downstream world The downstream value chain is all about the distribution of finished goods all the way from the production hub to the channels and end consumers. While the technological capability to solve the ‘Packaging and Dispatching Traceability’ challenges (i.e., tracking the flow of goods / containers / bulk loads etc. all the way to retailer shelves or dealer points) exists today; what is lacking is the capability for manufacturers to alert the retailers and/or end-consumers efficiently and directly to resolve the product-recall issues. This is because every participant in the downstream supply chain, be they retailers or end consumers, have their own method of communication (phone, fax, emails etc.) and, in many instances, the final ownership of a product is almost always unknown. The Fix A comprehensive Recall Solution framework has to be a tripod of People-Process-Technology. Process – Manufacturers must invest in establishing quality gates at various strategic nodes of the supply chain to capture the product metamorphosis data in real time. Business rules and alert mechanisms must be put in place to scan the captured data for weeds and other quality control issues. This will help OEMs capture the rotten apple right at its point of occurrence, thereby preventing any further amplification of problems in the downstream value chain. Technology – The figure below is a technical footprint to enable the process discussed earlier. The components that make up this framework are: – DATA PROBES: Any medium capable of collecting supply chain data and passing it to a Master Data Server. This could be RFID Chips, Barcodes, Kiosks, Web Portals or the evolving Mobile Application interfaces that helps feed the product location and/or status data from across various preset nodes on the supply chain, either automatically (as in the case of RFID) or manually. The table below details such possibilities. – DATA Management: Considering the lack of data standardization for the Recall Industry, a Master Data Management tool would be needed here to establish a single version of truth, to cleanse all the data from the supply chain nodes, enrich downstream and upstream data as needed before making it available to other systems for meaningful correlation and analysis. This would be clear spot for B2B integration given data needs to be consolidated from across numerous global business partners, from different mediums, and in different form and formats. – VALUE ADDED APPLICATION: An exception-driven, reporting-based Management Dashboard that provides a product traceability view to the manufacturers. This will require leveraging the SOA/BPM building blocks to weave the various resident applications, rules engines, and other UI elements to build a rich composite user-friendly decision support system. Bear in mind, both the Data and the Application layer can remain on the cloud thereby letting the manufacturers focus just on their core process improvements. People – You will notice that it is relatively easier to capture the data from anywhere on the supply chain but from the end-consumers, and here lies the biggest challenge and the opportunity to win this game outright. This requires taking collaboration to newer heights where in manufacturers collaborate with end-consumers directly and in real-time. Consumer-driven manufacturing will let OEMs heavily partner with the downstream partners of their supply chain to constantly gather data on the last-inch product location and status, by leveraging the POS data, the data captured from loyalty cards and potentially the interactive slick mobile applications in the future. The upside for manufacturers is huge if the end-consumers are enticed and incited to participate and become a value-added participant in the supply chain, be it a product-design, beta-use or real-time consumer feedback. The Direct-to-Consumer attitude will not only help tackle recall issues, but also has the potential to bring in strong brand loyalty and help OEMs establish a strong foothold in the marketplace. Bottom-line, supply chains can be reinforced with a recall-proof jacket if the leaders remain grounded, acknowledge the issue and get their acts straight. Simple yet creative supply chain innovation is the need of the hour. Adoption of cloud technologies, and collaboration with consumers directly holds a key to bringing a sustainable solution that works towards pushing the top line for the manufacturers while keeping their COGS at a minimum.

Read More

B2B Integration could help improve tracking of Pandemics such as H1N1 Swine Flu

I was watching the movie I am Legend on HBO Sunday evening.  I’m not sure if there is any correlation between HBO’s decision to broadcast of the film in May and the outbreak of the H1N1 Swine Flu.  However, it did start me thinking about pandemics and what could be done to better contain these outbreaks before they turn all of Manhattan into nocturnal, cannibalistic zombies.  The widespread outbreaks of H1N1 in Mexico and the US have made this subject top of mind for everyone from politicians to economists.  Of course, pandemics are yet another area in which B2B interoperability and integration technologies could play a significant role. The Center for Information Technology Leadership published a comprehensive report on how B2B interoperability in the US health care community could not only reduce costs but improve the quality of care.   Much of the data cited in this post is sourced from the 2004 report entitled The Value of Healthcare Information Exchange and Interoperability.   See my January post on how the Obama administration could save $75B annually from B2B interoperability in health care for more background information. Tracking Pandemics at the State, Local and Federal Level State laws require providers and laboratories to report cases of certain diseases to local and state public health departments.  Nationally “notifiable” diseases are forwarded by the state agencies onto the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  Connections between the states and the CDC are electronic and highly automated.  However, the first mile between the providers and the local and state agencies is highly manual.   Providers typically submit data via phone, fax, hard copy forms or very basic B2B communications methods such as a web portal.  For larger provider groups operating in multiple regions, notifications to state health agencies become even more cumbersome.  The 50 US states maintain more than 100 different systems to collect data each with its own communications mode. The most closely monitored “notifiable” diseases are frequently under-reported in the US.  Various studies conducted between 1970 and 1999 showed that only 79% of all STD, tuberculosis and AIDS cases were reported to public health agencies.  Reporting rates for other diseases was much lower at 49%.  There are several reasons for the reporting challenges.  But certainly one of the key issues is the ease with which the information can be transmitted to health authorities.  There is no question that the primitive communications methods used to collect provider data is a critical barrier to success.  However, even more problematic is the dependency upon overworked and understaffed provider personnel to take the time to consistently file the reports. Electronic Health Records – Public Health Benefits A better methodology for reporting on “notifiable” diseases would be to eliminate the need for human initiation altogether.  The process could be completely automated by connecting health care provider’s Health Information Systems and Practice Management Systems which contain the patient data to Public Health and Safety tracking systems.  However, connecting the tens of thousands of medical practices to the hundreds of different public health systems could prove quite an ambitious integration project.  A less complex and costly alternative would leverage the concept of Electronic Health Records (EHR).  The EHR would significantly simplify tracking of public health epidemics without the need for bespoke integration between various state agencies and each different medical provider. The EHR provides a comprehensive set of information about each patient including demographics, medications, immunizations, allergies, physician notes, laboratory data, radiology reports and past medical history.  EHR information could be stored in a series of centralized repository deployed around the country.  Each repository could contain the full medical records or just pointers to the locations of the records.   Triggers could be set up to automatically identify trends in data sets that might not be otherwise noticed, helping to provide an early warning system for potential disease outbreaks.  In the event of a pandemic or bioterrorist event, public health officials could easily access de-identified EHR data such as physician’s notes, patient demographics and medical history.  Without the dependency upon manual data entry, the latency of information flow could be reduced and the quality of information collected could be improved.  Administrative costs would be reduced considerably.  Average cost to send a report manually is $14 as compared to only $0.03 electronically.  CITL estimated that the use of electronic data flow from providers and laboratories to public health agencies would reduce administrative costs by $195M annually.  CITL did not quantify the potential economic savings from early identification of pandemics and bioterrorist events, but there is no question that these could be in the billions of dollars. B2B Interoperability and EHR Of course, a key technology enabler for EHR is interoperability between the various health care providers and the corresponding state, local and federal agencies.  Medical data is transmitted between providers, payers and public agencies using a variety of B2B standards including DICOM, HL7, NCPDP, and HIPAA-compliant EDI transactions.  EHRs could aggregate the available data related to prescriptions, claims, lab reports and radiology images into an electronic record.  Additional services could be layered onto the B2B integration framework such as data quality could be used to ensure the completeness of records and business activity monitoring to identify behavioral trends. Another concept evangelized in the CITL report is the idea of a National Electronic Disease Surveillance System (NEDSS).  The NEDSS would collect data from a number of relevant sources outside of the health care system which could be useful for monitoring   Examples might include 911 call analysis; veterinary clinic activity; OTC pharmacy sales; school absenteeism; health web-site traffic and retail sales of facial tissue, Orange Juice.   Such practices have been deployed by the US Department of Defense and the Utah Department of Health during the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002.  Such an effort would require integrating additional state and local agencies, educational institutions and retail chains electronically using B2B.  

Read More